This column is about religion, so please alert the American Civil Liberties Union. There may be some very offensive stuff coming up, and God knows the public should be protected.
When I was a kid, my parents usually took me to Midnight Mass on Christmas. I think they did that so I would not get up at five in the morning looking for what Santa had left. If my dad was going to stay up past ten, there had to be a reason other than praising the Lord.
Anyway, my church was always packed back in the early 1960s, when only about 3% of the American population was not affiliated with a specific religion. Today, 13% say they are non-affiliated religiously but, still, an overwhelming 78% of Americans profess to be Christians.
So you would think that on Christmas Day the churches would be packed with folks celebrating the birth of Jesus. Well, some of them will be, but many will be half full, because on any given Sunday church attendance throughout the USA is bleak.
Let’s take my religion, Roman Catholicism. There are about 66 million American Catholics. But, according to a study done at Georgetown University, just 22% of them attend weekly mass. And that’s an obligation. The Church says you must go to mass on Sunday, or it’s a sin. Long ago, when the nuns held me captive in St. Brigid’s School, missing mass was a huge deal. Apparently, not any more.
So what’s going on? There is no question that secularism is on the rise in America, and the media is happy about it. Openly religious people like Tim Tebow are often mocked. You are quickly branded a zealot if you talk up your faith in public. But if you act like one of Caligula’s running buddies, you are often glorified as cool and “with it.” South Beach is in, Lourdes is out, assuming you actually know what Lourdes is.
But the churches themselves have to share some of the blame. Too often, the person preaching in the pulpit does not have much to say, especially to younger people who are looking for life guidance. I mean, St. Paul had the Corinthians mesmerized, but back then there was no internet, no Blackberrys, no cable. Paul had the stage to himself. Not much competition in ancient Syria.
Today, the challenge is to get the attention of the faithful, and that takes some doing. Christmas seems to be a good place to start. Jesus changed the entire world in less than 35 years. How did the guy do it? Talk about a great narrative. What did a baby born into poverty possess that persuaded billions all over the world to believe in his philosophy? There are about 1.2 billion Christians on earth today, 17% of the world’s population.
Something to think about on the birthday of the most influential man who ever lived.