Millions of people across North America are losing faith in faith. For the first time, fewer than half of all US residents identify as being a member of an organised religion – just 49 per cent. The sloping decline has been constant in the 21st century. For Catholics in America, the drop has been staggering.
Much can be made about the number; a shocking 20 per cent fewer Catholics in the US since 2000. What is it about the message of Catholicism being preached and actions (past and present) by the Church that is failing to resonate with people? When such a large number of members leaves any organisation in such a short amount of time, it is driven by dramatic shifts in peoples thinking. Understanding what fuels it is the key to reversing the trend. However, the path to understanding has to include looking within.
While the majority have drifted away from having the Church, and religion, as part of their regular lives, a few have also sought alternate, more overt paths to spiritual enlightenment. What they all share in-common is that they are still looking for something to fill a personal need they have. They have simply decided Catholicism is not the mechanism with which to do it.
Whether a person chooses a path to personal enlightenment through meditation, yoga or religious practice – it all connects to the same centre of our brains. Humans are naturally spiritual beings. Beginning, first and foremost, with maintaining a balance with our living planet.
The First Nations peoples of North America have a profound and deep connection to the land around us. While Christianity is the most prevalent western religion practised by Indigenous groups, many also maintain the spiritual duality of their traditional practices. An ancient history rooted in a profound spiritual connection to the environment they share with life all around us. One that can work in harmony, not opposition, to Catholicism.
Organised religion helps guide, teach and show what it means to be counted among its various flocks. But the logistical structure it provides religious doctrine merely fits into a natural space, already available in the minds of us all. That is the natural, ever-present need we all share for spiritual harmony within ourselves and our place in this world.
Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, it is balance, harmony, guidance and love we all seek. Catholicism has been able to provide a means for achieving these fulfilments through Christian faith for more than two millennia to all those who wish it. But like any message passed forward through time, a recalibration of both the frequency used – and the turner used to receive it – is central to forging an even stronger connection between them.
The loss of faith in Catholicism is not about a person losing their ability to have ‘faith’ or spirituality. Merely the inability for a person to feel connected to their own spiritual centre in a deeply, meaningful way through the church. The need is still there, but fulfilment is not. So people go looking for it elsewhere.
People are instinctually seeking guidance, support and connections to something they can believe in. Regardless of what ‘it’ is. But faith in religion also requires faith in yourself and, most importantly, acceptance of yourself. In order to believe we can be loved by any higher power or influential figure, we have feel capable of love for ourselves.
In a world of more than seven billion people, there has to be greater room for acceptance of the variations of our human species. We have to teach acceptance of ourselves, our flaws, our differences and what it means to feel and be loved. There are hundreds of millions of people in this world who feel a sense of exclusion and feelings of being unwelcome for their differences.
No matter who we are, what faith we belong, where we find our spiritual centres – we cannot and must not keep the doors shut to the differences between us. Understanding and acceptance is what people seek. It is always best to offer unconditional love and give it unconditionally.
People want to feel like their spiritual needs are being met. Part of the struggle can be that some may not know what that ‘need’ is, let alone how to meet it. The Catholic Church has been able to fill that gap in people’s lives. But in today’s world, it needs to look at how it is promoting that ability to meet that spiritual fulfilment people are seeking.
North American live in a world immersed in digital technology and communication on a life-altering scale. While the Church remains the spiritual centre of millions of lives, there are many other significant and relevant influences impacting how people think, what they believe and why. Information and opinions is being delivered in packaging that more easily consumed and readily accessible to people at large.
Understanding how the interconnectivity of the global village is shaping people’s thoughts, beliefs and opinions is essential. If the Vatican wishes to be a voice of influence in the dialogue and debate that shapes our world, it needs to look at how it is making that connection, rather than trying to preach to a growing audience that is having trouble hearing you from all the surrounding noise.
Sean Ellard is a professional feature writer for CBR.com and a former senior national news producer. He has also served as director/producer for a number of TV series, including series like Border Security: Canada’s/ America’s Front Line, Yukon Gold, Love It or List It, The Bachelor Canada and 60 Minutes International.
You can find out more about him at Twitter: [email protected]
Picture: A couple walks toward St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in this file photo, dated 18th February 2020. Until the Vatican issued new rules, visitors to the basilica in the early morning could find several priests celebrating private Masses at side altars. (CNS photo/Cindy Wooden).