Bishop weighs in on young people’s engagement with, exploration of faith
Natalie Weber | Tuesday, March 6, 2018
While often raised in religious traditions, many young people, known as the “Nones” do not identify with any single faith. Bishop Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire ministries, is seeking to evangelize this population, he said in a lecture at Leighton Concert Hall on Monday.
“ … The situation of young former Catholics is at the same time, something of an indictment of our educational, catechetical strategies, and I believe this, at the same time, a real Kairos,” he said. “It’s a privileged moment to connect with young people. It’s a call to action. It’s all of that at the same time.”
Citing the research of Notre Dame professor Christian Smith, Barron explored the trends amongst formerly Catholic young adults. One finding, he said, was that most people in this demographic believe in a god of some sort.
However, he said, many do not have a clear sense of who God is, revealing a “rather deep confusion.”
“I’ve found in my own work with young people that the Augustian anthropology ‘Lord, you have made us for yourself, therefore the heart is restless until it rests in you,’ still provides a good deal of traction,” he said. “People instinctively know that none of the goods of this world finally satisfy the longing for joy that’s hard-wired into them. Tapping into this delicious dissatisfaction, if I can riff on a theme of C.S. Lewis, ought to be central to any program of our evangelizing of the young.”
Barron said young, former Catholics often have religiously diverse family and friends, referencing Smith’s research. For fear of conflict, they avoid religious discussions, Barron said, and consequently, believe religion results in one of two extremes: violence or “bland toleration.”
An alternative to these polar opposites, Barron said, is religious argument.
“One can marshal evidence, form hypotheses, cite authorities, make illuminating analogies, draw conclusions — in a word, one can make arguments religiously,” he said. “And contra Kant, it matters very much what we believe in regard to doctrine. Why? Ethical imperatives are grounded finally in certain metaphysical and anthropological convictions. Just as flowers will eventually wither once they’re removed from the plant that sustains them, so ethical principles will as they are disassociated from a doctrinal framework.”
Many of the “Nones” subscribe to relativism, hindering them from committing to any single religion, Barron said.
“In the measure I cannot or will not decide, I can remain permanently uncommitted,” he said. “But see, when we see this precisely in the religious context, we see how debilitating it is, for it means irresponsibility in regard to the highest and most important things. Not to take a judgment, not to take a stand.”
Former Catholics often object to the religion on the grounds that faith is incompatible with reason, Barron said. In part, he said, this trend can be traced to a “dumbing down” of Catholicism and a failure to cultivate the intellectual aspects of Catholicism.
“Now mind you, I’m a Catholic,” Barron said. “We’ve got a broad sense of what this is all about. Does emotion belong to the faith? Yes. Does the experiential? Yes. Please don’t misconstrue me here. But I think we have underplayed at least at the catechetical level, the intellectual.”
Barron cited the biblical story of Samuel and Eli, wherein a young man, Samuel, hears the voice of God, but must rely on the guidance of Eli, his elder, to discern this voice. As in the this story, Barron said, young people need the guidance of older generations to truly live the Catholic faith.
“We need, it seems to me, an army of Elis to rise up who know how to hear and interpret the word of God and help our young people to discern that voice … so they can move out of that space of the ego drama and learn to live in this wonderful expansive space of God’s great drama for them,” he said. “I think that’s the challenge today. And that’s the great opportunity.”