These days I have a couple of standard lines readied for such occasions, appropriate to the religion in question (viz Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, I don't think I've ever been doorknocked by anyone else!) so that I get to catechize them, rather than letting them set the ground for debate!
Ready for the knock on the door?
This time I tried out my line on the Bible (how do you know which books make up the Bible - answer: because the Catholic Church decided it was so!).
It certainly got a rise out of them, in as much as one of the two lads admitted that he was a catholic who had apostasized. When pressed, he claimed it was because he couldn't see how certain doctrines, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, fit with the Bible.
I gave them a bit of quick catechesis highlighting a few key references (the Spirit hovering over creation in Genesis; those Gospel texts like John 10:30, 'I and the Father are one', etc); a bit on the understanding of the faith handed down through the liturgy; a bit on understanding what Scripture means in the light of the Fathers and reflections of the saints.
Judging on body language, I think I scored some points with this friend. But the ex-Catholic, I suspect, had some other baggage that was going on; I'm going to hope my prayers prove more effective in opening his mind than my words appeared to!
The problem of poor catechesis and worse theology
Still, it did bring focus for me the terrible legacy in terms of lost souls of poor catechesis in this and other Western countries.
We tend to focus in on those ex-Catholics who slide into cultural/cafeteria catholicism, maintaining their nominal identification with the faith while in practice rejecting it. Issues of their own salvation aside, they certainly have a high annoyance factor create endless problems for actual Catholics, through their control of schools, hospitals and other 'catholic' institutions. Indeed, in the US and elsewhere, they even control the Catholic theological societies.
We also, in Australia at least, look at the huge increase in the proportion of the population who claim no religion whatsoever.
But in fact many ex-Catholics go the other way, choosing a much 'stricter' religion, whether Islam (still a minority, but a rapidly growing one) or Protestant (typically of the fundamentalist variety).
Sandro Magister in Chiesa this week points to what happens when Catholics are and aren't taught their faith:
"The nation that has the largest number of Catholics today is Brazil, with 134 million, more than Italy, France, and Spain put together. Catholicism there has successfully confronted fierce competition, which in recent decades inflicted serious damage on it. Because when liberation theology was in fashion among the neo-Marxist Catholic élite, the faithful did not convert en masse to their message. They went over by the millions to the new Pentecostalist Churches, with their festive celebrations, music, singing, healings, speaking in tongues. But now this exodus has stopped. In the Catholic Church as well, the faithful are finding the warmth of participation and firmness of doctrine that three and four centuries ago brought success to the Reductions, the Jesuit missions among the Indians..."
Magister argues that in the US the Church has stood up to the challenge of secularism better than many Protestant churches there. It hasn't withstood the challenge posed by fundamentalism very well though - 1 in 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic. And of those, around half become unaffiliated with any religion, the other half become Protestant.
Are the figures similar in Australia? Pentecostalist numbers are much smaller here, but are rising rapidly, and they have to be coming from somewhere!
Are the right tools available?
How can we change this?
Well a good start would be to know the faith thoroughly ourselves, and make sure our children are being taught it.
Unfortunately, if the right tools are out there, I haven't found them, at least in any readily accessible, easy to use form like subject matter guides.
Don't get me wrong, there are certainly some excellent catechetical resources around - for young children, things like The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for example.
Many, however, will find the Catechism of the Catholic Church rather too discursive, and find its lack of clear, hard edged doctrinal summations annoying. The Compendium of the Catechism is more focused, but where do you go if you are looking for further reading? Where are the traditionally oriented theological resources targeted at adults that take you beyond the Catechism?
There are of course a plethora of resources around.
But all too many of the online resources and books you come across are infected by modernist errors, subtle or otherwise, advocating, for example, the views of suspect theologians such as Karl Rahner, who, inter alia, advocated the now condemned heresy of transfinalization in relation to the Eucharist.
A similar point can, unfortunately, be made about courses taught in our Catholic Universities and seminaries!
Sticking to the tried and true?
Many traditionalists address this problem by sticking with those good old Baltimore Catechisms, the Catechism of Trent, and if they are feeling adventurous, some of those old 'Manuals' advocated by Fr Z amongst others. These are certainly good starting points, great as far as they go.
But they don't go to the heresies common today that you are most likely to encounter over at Cath News or V2 Catholic for example. You won't find the response to the historico-critical subversion of Scripture in them. Nor do they incorporate more recent Magisterial teaching - and to my mind, that's just a recipe for encouraging schismatic thinking or even or sedevacentism.
So, suggestions anyone?