By Mary DeTurris Poust
One of my favorite parts of every soccer season is knowing at some point, with any luck, I will run into one particular friend I’ve known since our now “tween” daughters went to preschool together. We get along famously, so well, in fact, that every time we bump into each other I wonder why we restrict our get-togethers to chance meetings on the sidelines.
The interesting thing about our friendship is that it is absolutely held together by our shared religious convictions, hers Muslim and mine Catholic. It doesn’t matter that we come from different faiths. The places where our values and our beliefs intersect are more important than the places where they diverge, and that reality provides us with a starting point for some great conversations about our families, our work and our world.
Last week, as our daughters faced off on the field, my friend and I covered a lot of religious ground during our semi-annual chat. My friend told me that more and more she is running into Catholics who are worshipping outside the box – not on social issues or gray areas but on what she knows to be basic doctrine.
Her daughter was told by a Catholic friend recently that Mary was not a virgin. My friend was confused to hear a Catholic contradicting what she rightly assumed was one of our basic beliefs (and one of hers, incidentally). Another Catholic friend told her she doesn’t believe in the Trinity. And almost all of her Catholic friends, she said, support abortion rights.
My friend, who knows I’ve written books and articles on Church teaching, asked me to explain how there could be this shift in beliefs she thought were rock solid. My answer? It’s a combination of things, but there’s one definite: We stopped teaching people the basics of the faith, and now many adult Catholics – influenced heavily by our culture -- don’t know what it is they profess to believe or why they should care.
We’re seeing a growing secularization of Catholics, people who go beyond “cafeteria Catholic” mode to a place where they don’t even feel the need to believe the most basic core doctrine in order to call themselves Catholic. One day my daughter came home from school and told me her friend said she is Catholic but doesn’t believe in God. That may be an extreme version of a “cultural Catholic,” but it’s just one of many variations on the same theme.
For decades now we’ve been throwing off old traditions and “rules” in effort to create a big tent, so afraid that requiring things of people might scare them off. But that approach seems to have done just the opposite of what was intended, hoped for. We now have a generation adrift, not sure of what they believe and convinced that every belief is negotiable or disposable. And the tent is becoming more empty than full.
It’s pretty telling when a Muslim recognizes a seismic shift in Catholic belief – or lack thereof, and when a Catholic feels she has more in common with someone of a different faith than her own. But that’s the reality.
Trappist monk Thomas Merton once said that Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh was more like his brother than his fellow monks and fellow Americans “because he and I see things in exactly the same way.”
I know what Merton meant. My friend and I get along so well because we know who we are, we know what we believe, and we know how those beliefs can shape our own lives and the lives of our children in positive and powerful ways.
Whether living according to the Muslim faith or the Catholic faith, one thing holds true: Trifling with basic teaching and tradition does not lead to stronger faith but weaker conviction. It leads to watering down, not building up. And before you know it, all that’s left to do is fold up the tent and go home.
This column originally appeared in Catholic New York. To read previous Life Lines columns, visit www.marydeturrispoust.com.