Buoyed by American Catholics

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life recently released its study of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. And it is fascinating. Catholics continue to rally Evangelical Protestants for the highest number of members. A solid 33% of Catholics report attending Mass once a week and another 19% once or twice a month. And 79% of us pray at least weekly.

But it gets more interesting than this general portrait. Seventy-seven percent of Catholics agree that “there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion” and 79% agree that “many religions can lead to eternal life.” In rather stark contrast, 16-19% of Catholics disagree with these statements, responding that there is only one way to interpret teachings and only Catholicism leads to eternal life.

I am buoyed by these numbers, along with several others in the report. Are American Catholics learning to savor the pluralism of this country? Are we able to have honest, interfaith conversations? Is it really true that we have become a rather open-minded bunch of folk?

For years, I have been told that my understanding of Catholicism—one that includes much flexibility and a generous window of what defines truth—is too extreme. Turns out, according to this study, I’m not that far off!

Jen recently pointed out a part of Krista Tippett’s Speaking of Faith, where, after years of asking people to talk about their religious perspectives, she writes, of the “profound difference between hearing someone say this is the truth, and hearing someone say this is my truth” (128). When I read this, a few days before I stumbled upon the Pew Forum’s study, I wondered how the broad majority of Catholics would respond to the difference between the truth and my truth. My pessimism at the time has been turned into optimism.

There are some days when I am unsure if I should affiliate myself with Catholics—I worry about our Church’s stance on women’s ordination, the lack of warm embrace of homosexuals, a tendency to overlook the importance of the laity. That I might be tacitly assenting to these things haunts me.

But not today! Today I feel proud to stand among the Catholics.


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