Q: On a more general note, what do you think that Catholics can learn from atheists? In turn, what can atheists learn from us, and how can we present that knowledge in a way that will be met with receptivity?
Catholics can learn the tradition of critical thinking and useful skepticism that is so highly valued in atheist communities. Answering someone else’s questions can be constructive in showing you your own faith; it helps us to know our own framework better, and to question yourself.
We can also learn to respond constructively to the anger of atheists. For example, there’s a lot of anger about how religion shows up in science classrooms in the US. We need to acknowledge that the anger is legitimate; even when it’s not our fault, when speaking to someone, they have no reason to differentiate us from others who are doing harm.
One area where atheists are eager to learn from religion is on ritual and community-building; we see this in the growing Sunday assembly tradition and secular solstice celebrations. People see a real need that church meets and try to meet it in their own way. I think it’s a good impulse; there is a dearth of communities for people to connect to in a positive way. It’s good that more atheists are seeing this ritual as an actual human need; it should eventually lessen the tendency some atheists have to see Christianity as only being a social organization and to look beyond the warm/fuzzy benefits it gives its members.Q: Statistics (and my own experience) show that young people are leaving the Church. What could be done to bring millennials back?
A: Parishes need to recognize that millennials are not a homogeneous group and should not all be treated the same (by offering them generic social events, etc.) Some will want to move into non-age-specific groups based on interests. For example, in my parish (which is right on Capitol Hill in DC) we have an adult Sunday school program after Mass; it’s rich in content and really draws people in. DC also has monthly meet-ups where we listen to a speaker discuss an interesting topic. Organizing activities like these will appeal to young people and give them a chance to learn more about the faith.
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