Thursday, August 31, 2006

GenY Catholicism: "C+" on the old scale or "E" on the new Vic Education Dept report card?

Here is my “report card” for the Catholic Church on the basis of the results of the Spirituality of Generation Y survey and report.

“In February and March 2005, a national telephone survey was conducted with the assistance of the Social Research Centre. Respondents from all Australian States and Territories were selected randomly using both listed and unlisted telephone numbers, and 1619 completed survey interviews were conducted.”


Almost half of the 13-27 year old Christians in the sample group were Catholic (17.9% as compared to 22.6% non-Catholic Christians). This may be compared to other statistics that has about 27% of Australians registering themselves as Catholic on the census, and NCLS figures that suggest that on any given Sunday there are more Catholics in church than all the other types of Christian added together (about 750,000).

The Survey returned much lower figures than the Census for allegiance to the Uniting Church (about a third), Anglicans (about a half), and Catholics (about three quarters), but higher figures for “Other Christian” and much higher for “No religion”. This seems to substantiate for me a theory I have held for some time, namely the phenomenon of the “cultural Christian”. Individuals belonging to the mainline churches (Catholic, Anglican, Uniting) are much more likely to identify themselves “officially” with these religions (eg. for purposes of Births, Deaths, Marriages and Census forms) even when they no longer actively participate in the life of these communities, than are those who belong to the category of “other Christian”. For instance, a Catholic who does not go to Mass still calls himself a Catholic, but a Baptist who never goes to Church calls himself a “no religion”. Hence the higher “non-participation” rate of mainline Christian denominations.

So what about specific beliefs? I am interested in Gen Y “Catholics” here, compared to the rest of the mob.

25% of Catholics (43% of Anglicans!) compared to 9% of “Other Christians” declared their “belief in God” to be “unsure”—although 90% of those “unsure” still said they believed in an “higher being”, so perhaps that begs the question of what they think the word “god” means.

61% of Catholics (43% again of Anglicans) compared to 74% of “other Christians” related to God “as a person”. Of these 33% related to God in a “close” or “very close” way (27% percent for Anglicans, and 55% for other Christians). Mind you, Catholics were the absolute lowest of any believers except the “no religion” category” when it came to describing their relationship with God as “very close” (only 9%).

Again, Catholics scored the highest for “OK to pick and chose beliefs” (75%--looks like Gen Y has caught Cafeteria Catholicism from their baby boomer parents…) and the lowest (except for “no-religion”) in the “Only one religion is true” category (10%--what a change from pre-Vatican II!). Again, among the Christians, they scored the highest on the “morals are relative” scale (56%). All a bit worrying really. What have our priests and school teachers been telling them, I wonder…

They are more certain that Jesus is God and that he rose from the dead (55%) than the Anglicans (45%) but less certain than “other Christians” (71%). The same pattern is repeated for miracles (59% compared to 46% and 75%), angels (54% compared to 42% and 69%) and demons (least popular despite Buffy: 39% compared to 31% and 55%). However, Catholics are actually more likely to believe in life after death than any other Christian (68% compared to 45% and 66%)—put it down to Mary and the Saints, I guess.

34% of Catholics said they attended church “once a month or more” (compared to 19% Anglicans and 55% other Christian), all Christians equally said they found church to be generally “welcoming” (over 80%), but at the same time about a quarter of Catholics and Anglicans found church “boring” (compared to only 15% “other Christian”).

With regard to private prayer, more Catholics said they prayed privately “once a month or every few weeks” than any other religious group (36%), but were the lowest on daily prayer (21%). Still, 36% said they prayed with their families which was up there with “other Christian” and “other religion” at 36% (Anglicans only scored 17%), which says something about the family and communal nature of Catholicism at least.

Catholics were close to “other Christians” and “other religion” when it came to wearing religious symbols (43% compared to 50%; the Anglicans were more reserved at 14%), but when it came to listening to religious music and attending religious groups, the “other Christian” category equalled the Catholics and Anglicans put together (around 50% compared to 25% respectively).

Finally, the pattern of the Catholics falling somewhere between the Anglicans (lowest) and “other Christian” (highest) was born out in the categories of religious experience: Spiritual worship (12%, 26% and 56%), Answer to prayer (26%, 32%, 59%), Miracle from God (18%, 20%, 40%) and the final parting shot at “personal commitment to God” (34% Anglican, 44% Catholic, 62% “Other Christian”).

So, if this were a traditional school report card, I guess we would probably get a “C+” for being about middle of the road when it came to our success in passing on the faith to this new generation. However, I suspect that if the report card was one of the new fangled Victorian Education Department type, we would be somewhere around an “E” as in “well below the standard expected at the time of reporting”. What say you?

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