A case of every child left behind: Teaching 'stupid' faith

Catholic children as young as 10 years old are renouncing God and quitting Church, claims a new study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown.

According to lead researcher Mark Gray, children are finding that faith is “incompatible” with what they are learning in school, and the older the child becomes, the more this is the case. According to Gray, “this is a generation that is struggling with faith in ways that we haven’t seen in previous generations.”

This is disturbing news. Our children are besieged with the message that atheism is “smart” and faith is “dumb.” But there is a more provocative challenge presented by this dilemma. Namely; how long will we keep teaching our kids to have a “stupid” faith?

‘Stupid’ faith?

By “stupid” faith I mean one that doesn’t make experiential sense. Faith is only “stupid” — and, therefore, susceptible to allegedly “smart” atheism — when a person has not experienced Jesus Christ in a real and personal way. An experience of Christ is even more essential than good catechesis. If I’ve experienced Christ personally, I know he exists. If Stephen Hawking wrote a book denying the existence of my mother, I wouldn’t have to be an expert in quantum physics to know he was writing nonsense.

The second component of a “stupid” faith is the inability to explain why we believe what we do. Many Catholic kids are afflicted with this malady, but this is actually of secondary importance to experiential encounter with the person of Christ. If I have a Ph.D. in theology, but haven’t experienced God’s love personally, my faith is a house built on sand. The reason atheism seems so “smart” to today’s youth is that while most Catholic kids are sacramentalized, and some are even adequately catechized, very few are actually evangelized. That job falls squarely on mom and dad.

Every child left behind

The Church tells us families are the first “schools of faith.” Unfortunately, the majority of these “schools” are getting a failing grade.

A separate study, also conducted by CARA, found that only 17 percent of Catholic families pray together and only 13 percent say grace at meals together. This research shows that most Catholic families are not living their faith in any demonstrable way at home.

If 83 percent of kids came out of school unable to read, we would be up in arms. Well, 83 percent of Catholic kids are “graduating” as spiritual illiterates from their family schools of faith.

What happened?

Our post-Christian culture has not caused this problem. It simply shined a light on it. It used to be that Catholic parents who did a poor job evangelizing their children could at least count on the culture to nudge their kids back to church.

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This approach — which never worked well — is now hopelessly doomed. The prevailing culture now sneers at churchgoing. More and more, you will have to choose to go to Church — not because anyone will be disappointed if you don’t — but because you care deeply about the person you’re going to encounter when you get there (i.e., Jesus Christ in the Eucharist) or you won’t go at all.

Today, it falls more and more to parents to give their children a personal and meaningful experience of the love of God — not by simply dragging them to Mass and enrolling them in religious education — but by giving kids tangible evidence of God’s love in family life through meaningful family prayer, strong family rituals (e.g., specific times to work, play, talk and pray together), casual but meaningful discussions about how God is impacting the family’s life, and each family member trying to love each other as God loves them.

A call to action

This latest CARA study is not a chance to impotently cluck about the godless culture. It is a reminder that if we want to raise faithful kids, we need to help our kids encounter Christ as the most important member of our families and the source of the warmth in our homes.

Dr. Greg Popcak, host of More2Life Radio, is the author of books including, “Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.” Learn more about his work at: www.CatholicCounselors.com