It has been famously said that there are "lies, damn lies, and statistics." But it has also been said that "numbers don't lie." Whichever way you cut it, it's no lie that the Catholic Church in the U.S. is suffering a long, protracted decline.
Inside the swelling aggregate of fallen-away Catholics in the U.S. resides a vast array of personal stories of the loss of faith. Katherine Maxfield, a writer in the San Francisco Bay Area, gives a glimpse into hers in a column in the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine titled "The Prayer Dilemma" (Jan. 20). Her story of disillusionment with the Catholic faith is really not new; as usual, it involves a heavy dose of guilt about forbidden sexual lust. "The summer before eighth grade," she writes, "I was miserable throughout a family vacation in Florida for fear I would die before going to Confession." Why the sense of doom? "After watching a teenage couple grind away under a beach blanket the first day," she writes, "I masturbated." It would become a habitual sin, one that she would engage in "only the night before Confession, gambling I would survive till morning." Her attitude, at the least, violates the spirit of the Sacrament of Confession, and throws into question her state of contrition. At any rate, such a public "confession" of sin does not absolve her.
Later, in college, she says she "thought only twice" before taking the birth control pill, because "a pregnancy would threaten my education." She rationalized her decision by claiming that the Church's unwavering restriction against artificial birth control "stifled the economic well-being of millions of Catholic families globally." So, she says, she "lumped the church's foolishness and meanness into a heap and walked away." Another triumph for the false god of sexual libertinism, and another soul lost. "Walking away from Catholicism," she says, "was the easy part."
Where does Katherine stand now? She dabbles in syncretism. "In Tibet, I spun prayer wheels, along with devout Buddhists.... In Egypt, I relished the sunrise prayer of the muezzin. In Saigon, I lit an incense coil...and hung it from the ceiling of a temple dedicated to the goddess of travel...." She describes her "religious philosophy" thus: "There is no personal or intergalactic God, and life, at least mine, is best lived by the Golden Rule, period." She credits anti-theist Richard Dawkins's book The God Delusion (reviewed deftly by Anne Barbeau Gardiner in our May 2007 issue) for gathering her "disjointed thoughts into that tidy statement."
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