In considering the media coverage of declining enrollment at Catholic schools, TMatt finds one important aspect routinely unexamined by the press as it parses through the demographic data:
So if the key issue is at the parish level, what are trends in these parishes? The bottom line, in my experience: Find a parish with high worship attendance, a high baptism rate and, yes, large families and the odds are much better that the adjoining elementary school is in fine shape.
In this case, the story notes, local church leaders are trying to plug the holes in the existing system, combining resources so that strong schools with lots of kids can help support the parishes that have few, if any, children. There are also plans for an improved marketing campaign.
Over and over the story states that people remain committed to the “mission” of these schools. That’s important.
But something is missing in this story, a key element in the mathematical equation behind those empty chairs in all of those classrooms.
It’s the bigger “why” question. Are people committed to spiritual and sacramental life in these parishes? What are the worship trends there? And, yes, are these struggling parishes full of people — at all economic levels — who are committed to Catholic doctrines and to family life? In short: Where are the children?
The doctrine and praxis issue comes up again in this fascinating social science piece from The Federalist — a high-quality conservative website, in case you don’t know — making the claim that a little religion is actually worse for you than no religion at all. Excerpt:
It appears, then, that conservative family values do “work,” but only when those values are regularly reinforced and supported by integration into a local religious community.
Nominally religious young adults are in a vulnerable position: they are religious enough to be pushed into early marriage, for instance, but, lacking the social support mediated by an in-the-flesh religious congregation, they don’t reap the benefits of involvement in a religious community. Instead, religion may become a source of conflict. Like Kayla and Adam, most of the working-class, divorced individuals interviewed in the Middle America Project either reported pressure from religious relatives to marry earlier than they would have liked, or reported conflict because one spouse was not on board with the other spouse’s religious involvement.
In other words, a little bit of religion can be a bad thing for marriage.
Given this, while Kayla and Adam identify as Baptist, it’s not surprising that their religious affiliation did little to protect them from divorce. Their actual church attendance was sporadic, and both expressed ambivalence about conservative religious beliefs, particularly those concerning sex and marriage. “I believe there’s a God. I believe in the Bible. I believe in the beliefs, but I don’t exactly walk every line that you’re supposed to walk,” Kayla says.
Kayla and Adam’s attitude toward religion is typical among working class adults, for whom religious attendance is declining. In the 1970’s, 40 percent of high-school-educated adults regularly attended church. By the 2000’s, only 28 percent did.
This could explain why the South, which reports a higher level of religiosity, and also of religiously and socially conservative beliefs, also has higher levels of divorce and single parenthood. Believing in God does you no good in terms of strengthening your marriage and keeping childbearing within marriage if you don’t strongly hold to conservative beliefs, and ground them in commitment to a church community that supports those values by living them out.
It seems clear that not only orthodoxy (right doctrine) is destiny, but also orthopraxy (right practice). In other words, what you believe and how strongly you believe it, and how your practices embody those beliefs individually and within community — on those principles do the survival of your religious community and its values rest.