A new study of young American Catholics suggests religious relativism doesn’t necessarily weaken commitment to a faith, that there is not a large influx of Hispanics out of the church, and that GenX Catholics are not much different than baby boomers.
The current issue of Visions (November/December), a newsletter on demography for churches, discusses the findings of the forthcoming “Young Adult Catholics: Religion in the Culture of Choice” (University of Notre Dame Press), and notes that they challenge several widespread assumptions about today’s religious landscape. The book, by Dean Hoge and a team of researchers, is based on a survey comparing confirmed young Catholics with older generations. They find that Catholics are unlike mainline Protestants (Hoge previously studied Presbyterian baby boomer confirmands in the book Vanishing Boundaries) in their stronger commitment to the church.
Compared to Presbyterians, who had a 75 percent dropout rate, about three-fifths of Catholic young adults, had left the church — usually at around age 20 — and almost half of them became active later.
When individuals come from stable families where both parents are practicing Catholics, the young adults tend to remain Catholics as adults, although they may deviate from their parents’ style of devotion and are more liberal on moral teachings and how the church should be run. There has been much written on the deviation of younger, particularly GenX Catholics from baby boomers, but Hoge and company find less of a generation gap.
Few differences in attitude and behaviors were found between the two age groups. The study also found few young Latinos who have left the church for other congregations (although those surveyed were more loyal and more assimilated than most Hispanics). In fact, more Hispanics (two-thirds) than non-Hispanics said the Catholic church was the“one true church.” Hoge and colleagues find that their tolerance toward many religious groups and a relativism in these young Catholics’ own beliefs regarding whether other religions could also possess the truth did not affect their commitment to their own churches.
A trend that suggests that young Catholics are turning more to tradition than to the spiritual marketplace is the popularity of adoration of the Eucharist found in many Catholic campus chapels. The National Catholic Register (Dec. 24-30) reports that Eucharistic adoration, where worshippers pray before the consecrated communion host, is on the rise nationally. College chapels that have introduced eucharistic adoration — from Georgetown University and Catholic University in America to the University of Dallas — are finding their pews filled with enthusiastic worshippers.
The practice is drawing students to chapel who never thought of attending before. The Catholic University service is marked by “praise and worship” singing followed by a homily and silent prayer before the consecrated host. Hoge’s study of young Catholics found that one-quarter of them had attended eucharistic adorations. Yet it is a mistake to label such a practice as a traditionalist revival, says sociologist Mary Johnson, one of the researchers with Hoge. In the National Catholic Reporter (Feb. 23), Johnson says that when young Catholics attend eucharistic adorations, hardly any of them refer to a theology of the Eucharist.
Instead, they describe the experience of quiet and stillness in contrast to their hectic lifestyles. Johnson says this is part of the new “weavings” in religious life where old symbols are imbued with new meanings.
(Visions, P.O. Box 94144, Atlanta, GA 30377; National Catholic Register, 33 Rosotto Dr., Hamden, CT 06514; National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141)