Tuesday, 26 May 2009

What keeps people in the pews?

Ooooh! I've hit the big time, a link from Acatholica to my piece on Brisbane revisited.

This will no doubt to do wonders for my stats, and I suppose I should regard it as my great privilege to be labelled part of the 'neanderthal element' by Brian Coyne, who expostulates in response about how getting tough on the Fr Kennedy's of this world will just drive more people out of the pews.

What keeps people coming to Church?

So I thought I might just mention (in case they are reading) some important sociological work that Brian and friends may not be aware of. Because in fact the work of people like Rodney Stark, Dean Kelley and Lawrence Iannaconne suggests that the opposite to Mr Coyne's thesis is true. Stark basically points out that it is 'strict' churches - churches that demand something of their members in terms of belief and practice - that survive and thrive and maintain cohesion.

Go too far down the strictness path of course, and it becomes a cult, demanding too much for many to go along with.

But demand too little, and the membership assimilates to the general population and the church dies (it is called cafeteria, nominal or liberal catholicism...).

The growth and contraction of Catholicism

Stark's thesis is that Christianity grew so rapidly in its early years precisely because it was strict (have a read of Acts and you will see what I mean!). It maintained itself effectively through the centuries with its strict fasts and demanding penitential regime, nicely balanced with feasts, and insistence on the maintenance of doctrinal orthodoxy.

It is why Islam, with its strict regime of prayer and practices, clearly defined set of beliefs (albeit with splits akin to Christian 'denominations'), and insistence on the use of Arabic, is winning converts.

And it is a thesis that explains why practice has collapsed in the last few decades among catholics following the abolition of cultural identifiers like fish on Friday, and fasting through Lent. Not to mention the growth and open tolerance of dissent.

The future...

Now Stark and friends are not catholics or theologians but sociologists and economists. They don't, in the main, recognise the existence of a few vital factors like grace, the promises of Our Lord, the working of the Holy Ghost, or the attraction of the good true and beautiful in relation to the endurance of the Church. Yet as Robert Royal pointed out in his book 'The God that Did not Fail', truth does eventually prevail - else where are the Hittites now!?!

Still, their work has some important lessons for those concerned with pastoral care.

Above all, it provides some scientific support for our claim based on the virtue of hope that insistence on a more traditional view of the faith will prove more effective in the long term.

5 comments:

Cardinal Pole said...

"I suppose I should regard it as my great privilege to be labelled part of the 'neanderthal element' by Brian Coyne"

Congratulations, Terra! (I had a look at the website, though, and I couldn't find the page in question. Could you please provide the link (privately, if you prefer--I can understand why people wouldn't want to link to that den of heretics)?

Terra said...

Cardinal, the thread is labelled Australian Story.

Joshua said...

Isn't it typical that the liberal pseudo-intelligentsia are not intelligent nor well-read at all - and thus haven't grasped what is both supported by rigorous research and is (or ought be, to untrammelled minds) but commonsense at base.

After all, what that false Coyne et al. want finds its reductio ad absurdum (et infernum) in 'Bishop' Spong - and why anyone would ever think his non-creed could sustain a continuing religious group has clearly not marked the decline and fall of his poor diocese in particular and of Episcopalians and mainstream Protestants in general.

Why do Catholics fall over themselves to ape Anglicans and other liberal Protestants, when it is obvious that their end is destruction?

Cardinal Pole said...

Thank you Terra, I'll check it out.

Louise said...

'neanderthal element'Gliberals. All they do is insult people.

Hopeless.

The fact is, most people are not going to get out of bed on a Sunday morning for Fr Oprah's latest set of "questions" and explaining away of scriptures and doubts about the Resurrection and Ascension etc.

Feed the people Meat! That's what we want. That'll get us coming to Mass.