THE NEW FAITHFUL: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy
by Colleen Carroll
(Loyola Press, Chicago, 2002, 320pp, $39.95. Available from AD Books)
Regular readers of AD2000 will be aware from a number of articles and reports over recent years that solidly orthodox seminaries, dioceses and religious orders have been attracting larger numbers of vocations than their more liberal counterparts.
This encouraging trend has been confirmed over a more diverse canvas - affecting Catholics and Protestants alike and numerous aspects of Church life - in a just-published book titled The New Faithful. While the book's examples are derived from the United States - a more religiously practising nation than Australia - similar patterns are evident here also.
The book's author, 27-year-old Colleen Carroll, is a news and editorial writer for the St Louis Post-Despatch whose articles have appeared in a wide range of US journals. Her thoroughly-researched book chronicles the wide variety and large number of groups of young Catholics and Protestants who today are attracted by orthodox rather than liberal Christianity. This has found expression in such things as pro-life activism, eucharistic devotion, evangelisation or support for Church teachings on sex, marriage and family.
At a time when secularism, permissiveness, political correctness and relativism dominate the US (and Australian) public square, the baby-boomers' watered-down, accommodating brand of Christianity, so "with-it" in the 1970s and 1980s, no longer appeals to the religiously-inclined among the younger generation. While this group constitutes only a small percentage of the total of nominal Catholics and Protestants in their age group, those with any attachment at all to Christianity are likely to be orthodox rather than liberal. Meanwhile, as in Australia, the large majority continues to vote with its feet, turning its back on effete, trendy versions of the Faith.
As George Weigal observes in his latest book, The Courage to be Catholic, "Catholic Lite" - with its spurious interpretations of the Second Vatican Council - has had its day, even though its disciples continue to operate some of the Church's bureaucratic "switch-points".
Colleen Carroll defines her subjects as follows:
"These young adults are not perpetual seekers. They are committed to a religious worldview that grounds their lives and shapes their morality. They are not lukewarm believers or passionate dissenters. When they are embracing a faith tradition or deepening their commitment to it, they want to do so wholeheartedly or not at all. When they are attracted to tradition in worship or in spirituality, they want to understand the underlying reality of that tradition and use it to transform their lives. That sense of commitment and total acceptance of orthodoxy sets them apart from many of their peers and fellow believers who share their affection for the trappings of religious tradition but reject its theological and moral roots."
She later notes: "They have been exposed to 'watered-down' religion, moral relativism, or atheism, and they crave its opposite."
This tendency, she writes, "has mystified many baby boomers ... raised before Vatican II" who "marvel that their children are embracing devotions like eucharistic adoration and the rosary, the very traditions that they happily shed in the 1960s and 1970s." Likewise, "baby boomers in liberal mainline Protestant denominations watch their children defect in droves, opting instead for evangelical churches that preach the inerrancy of Scripture and the immorality of premarital and homosexual sex."
Carroll continues: "Repulsed by the sexual licence, moral confusion. and social chaos they see around them, these young adults are embracing conventional morality and an orthodox faith that gives meaning to their countercultural choices."
Many of them, having tasted material and professional success, still find their lives empty, their spiritual hunger unsatisfied. Having been left ignorant of the faith as students in Catholic schools, they are "hungry for solid answers."
Colleen Carroll chronicles the various "hard-core, demanding" religious orders and seminaries that have attracted recruits from today's younger generation, noting that "enrolment trends in diocesan seminaries also reflect the attraction to orthodoxy among the young." She cites statistics showing that "dioceses where bishops are considered orthodox ordain nearly five times as many priests as those run by liberal bishops."
The author is optimistic about the religious future on the basis of her research: "The tide could turn either way, but interviewers of the young believers in this book seem to indicate that this generation craves mystery and a connection to the traditions that the modern world has stripped away. These yearnings bode well for the historical churches in general, and the accompanying desire for moral guidance from a trusted authority figure portends a positive future for the Catholic Church in particular."
The successful World Youth Days, inspired by John Paul II, certainly confirm this conclusion.
Anyone feeling depressed at the present state of the Church should investigate this book. It will come as a breath of fresh air.