We continue to see stories in the news about surveys that say people of faith hold the same values as people who don’t go to church. For example, the divorce rate among Catholics is nearly the same as among the general population. I will note that some of the surveys are finally beginning to distinguish between people who say they are Christian versus those who actually go to church. Among those who go to church regular, the divorce rates are lower. The same is true for people’s values on abortion and same sex marriage.
This leads me to the question, “Is our faith guiding our culture or is culture dictating our faith?”
Unfortunately, I believe that our culture is dictating our faith far more than our faith guides our culture. It’s not that we want it this way. We sort of fall into it without even realizing it. It starts with seeing people who do not live in accord with our faith. At first, they might be few in numbers and we voice our objection to their actions but then their numbers begin to increase so it becomes “common”. Common simply means we see it regularly. Common does not reflect whether something is good or bad. To say something is “common” just means we see it repeatedly. From common, as we see more and more people do it, so it becomes normal. Perhaps the distinction I can make between common and normal is that with common we are not surprised to see it. With normal we expect to see it.
As something becomes normal we begin to think it is OK. This is especially true in the culture of relativism where one is free to believe whatever they want as long as they keep it to themselves. This includes matters of faith. So we end up not standing up for our beliefs because we don’t want to offend anyone. This might seem innocent enough. After all, isn’t it worth it to keep the peace?
Jesus calls us to be peacemakers (cf. The Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12a) but He also tells us in Luke 12:51, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Jesus does not want to start wars but He does want us to stand up for what we believe in.
The problem with keeping silent about our beliefs is that we end up forgetting what we believe ourselves (or at best know what our faith teaches but not why) and we don’t share it with our children. So our beliefs end up no different from those who don’t practice our faith.
I write this on October 17th, the Memorial of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr in the second century. As he was travelling to Rome to be executed for being Christian, he wrote letters to communities along the way. He had heard that some of them were plotting to rescue him and take him to a safe hiding place. He told them not to (even though he knew he faced certain death). He knew he needed to face the trial to stand up for the faith. If he renounced Christian, he knew it would lead others to give up their faith. He stood up for what he believed in. Do we? It is only when we stand up and declare what we believe that our faith guides our culture.