Imagine if You Were Orthodox Presbyterian

John Zmirak is back to pester (unintentionally) Jason and the Callers with an explanation for what conservative or traditionalist Roman Catholic culture is so weird. He thinks the problem is numerical. Not as many good Roman Catholics exist as “Sunday Catholics”:

How many people in America actually believe all the central truths of the Catholic Catechism? Public opinion surveys have revealed that high percentages of Sunday Mass-goers do not hold, or perhaps never learned about, transubstantiation (the change of bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist). Depending on which faction of the Catholic fragment you belong to, you can chalk up that ignorance to either the collapse of Catholic schooling, the dumbing down of the liturgy, or even to the suppression during the 1970s of the “unconscious catechesis” that used to occur every time the most unlettered peasant knelt for the Host and reverently took it on his tongue from the blessed hands of a priest.

I don’t know that public opinion surveys have asked “Sunday Catholics” what they believe about the physical resurrection of Christ, or the Immaculate Conception, but if average Catholics believe what I was taught in my Catholic high school, then they are heretics – and probably don’t even know or care.

Practice is not a perfect mirror of what we believe, but surely it tells us something that the rates of divorce, premarital sex, and cohabitation are not a whit lower (and in some cases higher) among Roman Catholics than among most churchgoing Protestants. The explosive growth of annulments is partly an outright abuse on the part of bishops, and partly a recognition that many Catholics enter the sacrament with “defective intent.” Remember that if either party going into a marriage considers divorce and remarriage a possible option it invalidates the marriage. So most of the annulments given out nowadays are quite likely valid – unlike too many Catholic weddings. . . .

The implication of this sad fact is clear: On a grave moral issue where several popes have invoked their full moral authority short of making an infallible declaration, 95 percent of U.S. Catholics (the number is surely higher in most of Europe) have rejected the guidance of Rome. They are not “bad Catholics” so much members of a new, dissenting sect – which happens to occupy most of the seats in most of the churches, and many of the pulpits and bishop’s offices, too.

This means that the market for serious Roman Catholic reflection and works is small:

A good friend of mine who works for a major Catholic publisher reported to me the results of some very pricey market research his company undertook, to turn up the actual size of the “orthodox Catholic market.” Many thousands of dollars later, his company learned that if you count Catholics who go to Mass more than once a week, or spend a single dollar on Catholic books or other media, or volunteer for any parish activity, the grand total for the United States of America is no higher than 1.2 million.

That is the whole Catholic market. No wonder there isn’t enough revenue to go around. All the quarrels between traditionalists and Novus Ordo conservatives, between the lovers of Dorothy Day and fans of John Courtney Murray, are fights for pieces of this tiny pie. A pop tart, really.

And pop tarts aren’t health food. It isn’t normal for the Church to consist just of saints and zealots, ascetical future “blesseds,” and Inquisition re-enactors. Faith is meant to be yeast that yields a hearty loaf of bread. But since 1968 there has been nothing left to leaven, and we find ourselves eating yeast. (My apologies to English readers who love their Marmite.) The last time I was at the Catholic Marketing Network, which includes all the leading companies in the orthodox Catholic market, most of the attendees seemed to be people who’d bought their own booths – so the whole day was spent watching vendors try to sell each other their stuff. (“I’ll trade you three copies of The Secret of the Rosary for one of those 3-D Divine Mercy holograms.”) . . .

The weirdness, bitterness, crankiness, and the general mediocrity that pervade the Catholic subculture – from its newspapers to its TV shows, from most of its tiny colleges to the poorly-penned books, and sloppy, sentimental blogs that flood the tiny market of conservative Catholic readers – is the direct result of having few people to choose from. Right off the bat, 95 percent of potential applicants for any position have disqualified themselves for doctrinal reasons.

Well, John should console himself. At least Roman Catholics have newspapers, tv-shows, and colleges even if it is weird. With only 30,000 in the OPC, the best we can do is a summer Family Bible Camp at some state park in need of serious renovations. And even if you are the much “bigger” PCA, at 300,000 large, the best you can do is one college and a magazine that is sometimes in print.

Even so, Zmirak makes a useful point. When your numbers are low, your options for communicating are meager. If you want to blame this on the free market system — maybe Pope Francis would — then consider how much you can subsidize with only 30,000 small donors. If a potential market of 30,000 doesn’t provide the kind of scale that makes modern media affordable or even conceivable, the potential giving of 30,000 will hardly allow you to subsidize a college or radio station.

So if conservative Roman Catholics feel marginal, try being a conservative Presbyterian.

This entry was posted in Are the CTCers Paying Attention?, Christ and culture, Reformed Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Tom Van Dyke
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    D. G. Hart
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink
    Stephen, like feminism, neo-Calvinism is not funny.

    As in:

    How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?

    It’s not funny.

    Good one. Another is “Two–One to change it, the other to shoot the documentary.”

    How many Old Lifers does it take to change a light bulb?

    Edgardo Mortara. Besides, the Inquisition.

  2. Stephen
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Tom -This is indeed a brave new world–one of liberal Protestantism and liberal Catholicism–that has such wimps in it.

    Stephen- Do you get points for referencing Mark Hamill’s Joker, or is that just Shakespeare?

  3. Posted February 8, 2014 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    Somebody can be ignorant and still influential.
    Think politics.
    Need I say more?

    Jason’s whole schtick is premised on the thesis that Jesus and James oppose Paul on justification, i.e. the prot Pauline version of justification as opposed to the roman version which thinks we can co-operate with grace and our law keeping plays apart in faith working by love which saves/justifies us.

    So contra WCF 1:9 and the clearer Scripture explaining the darker, he hunts and pecks around the margin to find where law is equated to the gospel. (the law of faith Rom. 3:27, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus Rom.8:2, the law of Christ, Gal. 6:2, and the law of liberty Jm. 1:25, 2:12.)

    Then he glosses Rom 2 to teach the possibility of law keeping in gross contradiction to its context as prolegomena and the build up to Rome. 3:1-21, “there is none righteous, no not one” i.e. total depravity: that man can do nothing good spirtually in his natural state.

    But after hopscotching over Rom. 3 entirely, in his latest, he is pushing a wet noodle when it comes to Rom. 4 in an attempt to demonstrate again, that lawkeeping/sanctification can contribute to our salvation.

    Bryan, wants to lump the reformed in with the anabaptist, but he has to know that the reformed saw both the anabaptist and the romanist as distinct enemies of the gospel. The first denies history and anything beyond personal opinion/interpretation, the second adds history to Scripture and denies the perspicuity of Scripture and private judgement.

    Further, that Bryan doesn’t agree with the reformed take is no matter, there is still some obligation to meet the objections particularly since a large part of his whole claim to fame is that as ex P&R he has a peculiar insight into why only romanism anwered his questions and concerns about the reformed faith.

    See, that was easy.

  4. Posted February 8, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    This was an interesting article. if three guys in their twenties come to you saying that they’ve figured out that no one is doing church right but them, tell them to come back in their sixties. Of course they’re “Calvinists” with no hint of Reformed polity or circumspection. We may have the nuttiest nuts of any Protestant ideology, which is saying a lot when Pentecostals are in the competition.

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