Education in the faith
In the course of conversations after one of my recent talks on Vatican II, the question came up about how knowledgeable about their faith U.S. Catholics are. At one point, it dawned on me that the overwhelming majority (over 90%) of them have never had an adult course in their faith. This estimate is based on these considerations:
- the great majority of Catholics do not attend Catholic elementary or high schools;
- of this number the great majority do not have any religious education after Confirmation;
- as of the 1990′s only 50% of white Catholics were attending college (are there later data?);
- 90% of Catholic college students are at non-Catholic institutions;
- many Catholic colleges do not require more than two courses in theology; at some of them, courses in religious studies can satisfy the requirement.
Given all this, it seems fair to say that it is the rare U.S. Catholic who has taken an adult course in his faith. It is possible, of course, that deficiencies in formal religious education or theology is made up for by diligent work on the part of individuals or even groups of adult Catholics; and I would love to have some data on this, too.
All this makes me interested in whether sociological surveys include questions about levels of religious education or of religious literacy, these two not being identical, of course. I should think that the authors of surveys would want to take these levels of education and literacy into account in assessing the data they collect; but I don’t recall seeing much made of the matter, certainly not as much as of religious practice.
Another way of getting at pertinent data would be to ask about the reading-habits of Catholics. What percentage have read any books, or even articles, on their faith, on the history of the Church, the Bible, biographies, etc.? What percentage subscribe to Catholic periodicals? (A rough estimate would be that only one of every 4,000 U.S. Catholics subscribe to Commonweal [0.00025%].) What percentage have read any of the great classics of Catholic thought or literature? Where do Catholics get their information on the Church?
The claim is often made that contemporary Catholic laity are the best educated in history, and this may be true when it comes to their general education; but this does not necessarily mean that they are well educated in their faith. The image comes to mind of Catholics limping: one leg is well developed, the other stunted in its growth.