Actually, they may. But Rod Dreher uses them to introduce some other observations that will continue to miss the brain matter of the Roman Catholic interlocutors who hand around Old Life.
First, Rod tracks Leah Libresco’s further dissecting of Pew’s numbers on Christianity in the U.S.:
If conversions went on as they do today and all other factors were held steady, America would wind up with the religious demographics of the stable distribution.
Unaffiliateds would wind up modestly gaining ground (from 23 percent at present to 29 percent).1 And Christian denominations would drop a little (from 69 percent at present to 62 percent at equilibrium).2
But there would be substantial redistribution among Christian groups, with evangelical Protestants gaining (26 percent at present to 32 percent) and Catholics losing more than half their current share of the population (21 percent to 8 percent).
Why do evangelicals wind up ahead of other Christian sects in this model? They’re better at holding on to the people born into their tradition (65 percent retention compared to 59 percent for Catholics and 45 percent for Mainline Protestants), and they’re a stronger attractor for people leaving other faiths. According to Pew’s data on conversion rates, 10 percent of people raised Catholic wind up as evangelicals. Just 2 percent of people born as evangelicals wind up Catholic. The flow between mainline and evangelical Protestants is also tilted in evangelicals’ favor. Twelve percent of those raised evangelical wind up in mainline congregations, but 19 percent of mainline Protestants wind up becoming evangelical.
Oh, great. A country of pious Republicans and atheistic Democrats. Let the search for Aaron Sorkin’s America continue.
That demographic reality prompts Rod to ask what Roman Catholics are doing wrong. First, he notes parish life:
In Catholicism, the ethos at the parish level is, in general, more like a sacrament factory. The worship experience is a lot like Mainline Protestantism, actually, and if you’re going to do Protestantism, the Evangelicals are much, much better at it. Some intellectual Catholics of an orthodox orientation, conceding the flaws in worship, liturgical and otherwise, stand firm on the intellectual arguments for Catholicism. Despite its problems, they will say, the Roman church remains the church that Christ founded, and unlike all other churches (except the Orthodox, who are negligible in an Americn context) it has the Real Presence of the Eucharist at its center. I spoke to a frustrated but faithful Catholic recently who said that despite all the problems at the local level, he keeps going to mass because he believes that is the only place to truly experience Jesus in the Eucharist.
As an ex-Catholic turned Orthodox, I obviously don’t agree with that analysis, but it does make sense. The problem with it is that it does not make sense to most dissatisfied Catholics, as the dramatic Pew numbers show.
Hello (vd,t, Susan, Mrs. W.)!! But it does make sense of the Roman Catholic apologetic strategy. Point to the logic, the history, the paradigm, the writers like Flannery O’Connor and Evelyn Waugh. But whatever you do, don’t look at life on the ground in this incarnated world.
And then Rod reflects on the conundrum that updating the church presented to post-Vatican II bishops:
The leadership class of the Catholic Church — bishops, theologians, and so forth — “gave themselves up to modernity just as the real avant-garde was beginning to critique it. They came out of their bunkers with their hands in the air as the enemy was departing for a new battlefield. The Catholic elite of this generation was left to look effete and irrelevant.” In an effort to be relevant to modernity, they surrendered the Catholic distinctives that stood in contradiction to the currents of modernity. Thus while Catholic theology remains intact, the transmission of that theology in the lived experience of the parish — both in worship and in catechetics — has badly broken down. Paradoxically, in many parishes, a worshiper in this most sacramentally-oriented of the major American Christian churches may find himself having to hold on to the truths of his faith by exercising his will and his imagination to an extraordinary degree, because what he sees happening around him does not convey what the Church proclaims to be true.
So? Protestants are divided. All’s well.