The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

March 13, 2013

Cardinals would be wise to ignore journalists’ advice

The College of Cardinals met in conclave on Tuesday to begin the process of electing a new pope. The cardinals have been getting plenty of advice from American journalists.

The Catholic Church, they say, should open up the priesthood to women and allow priests to marry.

It should abandon its ban on contraception and endorse same-sex marriage. It should stop being so dogmatic about its dogmas.

As a non-Catholic, I don’t presume to offer any advice. The church has managed to exist for nearly 2,000 without my counsel. But I do have some observations.

The journalists’ advice is based on the premise that the church will lose members if it continues to adhere to what these journalists think are outmoded rules. And it risks antagonizing moderates who may admire its ritual and share some of its beliefs but want it to be more in line with contemporary thinking.

This resembles the advice journalists give to conservative (but not usually to liberal) politicians. You have to modify your beliefs to attract voters in the middle of the ideological spectrum.

Sometimes that advice is good; sometimes not. The assumptions behind it were validated by the defeat of Barry Goldwater but refuted by the victories of Ronald Reagan.

In the religious sphere, however, history soundly refutes the idea that watering down your beliefs strengthens your appeal and attracts new converts.

Sociologists Roger Finke and Rodney Stark tell the story in their book “The Churching of America 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy.”

As they note, Americans inherited a free market in religion from our colonial beginnings.

The religious settlement following Britain’s Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 maintained an established church, funded by taxpayers, but allowed for free religious practice by other Protestants and by Catholics and Jews, as well.

The religious marketplace was especially free in the North American colonies, whose founders included Anglicans, Calvinist Puritans, Roman Catholics and Dutch Reformers.

The Founding Fathers took note of this diversity. In the Constitution, they specified that there be no religious test for public office. In the Bill of Rights, they barred Congress from passing any law regarding an establishment of religion.

Note that they didn’t bar states from having taxpayer-funded established churches. Massachusetts had one until 1833.

But churches and clergymen (and clergywomen) were free to compete for Americans’ allegiance. And they did so vigorously, with interesting results.

One is that church membership rose enormously, from surprisingly low levels in the colonial period.

Another is the rapid rise of new denominations. In the 19th century Methodists and Baptists – Finke and Stark call them “the upstart Protestants” – outnumbered previously more numerous Anglicans, Congregationalists and Presbyterians.

The Catholic Church grew not only among previously Catholic immigrants but also by making converts. Black Americans formed their own churches, which have thrived to this day.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Assemblies of God, both American creations, have attracted millions of followers here and around the world.

The 20th century saw the rise of evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Recent decades have seen huge rises in membership among such churches and continuing decline in the rolls of mainline Protestant denominations.

Surveying this history, Finke and Stark conclude that “religious organizations can thrive only to the extent that they have a theology that can comfort souls and motivate sacrifice.”

Churches that make strong demands, in doctrine and in service, tend to grow. Churches that water down doctrine tend to decline.

“Theological refinement,” Finke and Stark write, speaking of watered-down faiths, “results in organizational bankruptcy.”

It should not be hard to understand why this is so. Many people seek structure and community. A church that makes strong demands and requires strong commitment can provide them.

Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam notes that churchgoers have more social connectedness in their communities. American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks shows that religious people contribute far more, in time as well as money, to charity.

The journalists advising the Catholic cardinals, some of them former Catholics, think a church that is closer to secularism will attract people like them.

But in a country that doesn’t penalize nonbelievers and imposes little stigma on them, the easier alternative is to stay home on Sunday or go out for brunch.

I’ll watch with interest as the cardinals choose a new pope – who, I suspect, will not be looking for my advice.

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

©2013 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER

1
Text Only
Viewpoints
  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Education a priority? Don’t believe it

    They did it – more or less.

    They got a budget, they got a road plan and they got out of town on time.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Don McNay.jpg Did you miss small business health-care tax credit?

    A Kentucky professional who owns his own business found that he missed getting the health-care tax credit.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Compromise is not that simple

    It’s tempting for a casual onlooker to wonder why the Democratic House and Republican Senate can’t make what on the surface looks like the obvious compromise on pension reform.
    The Senate passed a measure based on recommendations of a task force to move new employees into a hybrid, cash-balance plan but maintain existing defined benefits for current employees and retirees.

    March 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG Frankfort plays ping-pong with public pension transparency

    Legislation that would make the Kentucky Retirement Systems transparent for those paying its bills has danced into the spotlight during the 2014 session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
    Passage of transparency bills filed by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Latonia, and Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, would make the “names, status, projected or actual benefit payments” subject to our commonwealth’s superlative Open Records Act.

    March 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jack Strauss-BW.jpg The case of the ghostly neighbor

    Wilbur lived in a world of fears. Everything frightened him. The full extent of his courage was to admit that he had none.
    Noises in the middle of the night, his own shadow creeping up on him and, most of all, black cats scared the wits out of him.
    So, picture his chagrin, one day, when he came home from vacation only to discover that a mausoleum had been erected on property adjacent to his home.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • Provisional concealed-carry law passes Senate unanimously

    Things are staying busy in Frankfort. Many bills are making their way onto the Senate floor from various committees. This past week several important pieces of legislation were debated and passed.
    I am particularly proud of the success we had in advocating for Kentuckians’ Second Amendment rights.
    I introduced Senate Bill 106 to allow anyone who has been granted an emergency protective or domestic violence order to receive a provisional CCDW permit from the Kentucky State Police in one business day. In some of these cases, victims need this type of protection as quickly as possible.

    March 8, 2014

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg 50 years makes a world of difference

    I wasn’t in Frankfort on March 5, 1964, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and Jackie Robinson led 10,000 on a march to the state Capitol in support of a public accommodations law.
    But a few months later, I stood in front of the “Music Hall,” site of the Glasgow Junior High School located on a street named Liberty, and watched black kids “walk up the hill” of College Street on the first day of integrated schools in Glasgow.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • 02.23 Mike Duncan mug.jpg Coal has kept Kentuckians warm this winter

    This winter, temperatures across the country dipped to historic lows. Here in our home state of Kentucky, the near-arctic climate caused increased power demand which resulted in an incredible strain on the electric grid and rising energy costs.

    March 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG Protecting citizens’ data is a no-brainer

    Target Corp. is learning the hard way: The price is steep for retailers who don’t protect customers’ sensitive financial information.
    Target’s profits fell a whopping 50 percent during its fourth quarter of 2013 as the result of a massive security breach involving as many as 110 million of its customers’ credit- and debit-card accounts, which began the day before Thanksgiving and extended throughout much of the holiday shopping season.

    March 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Making plans for spring planting

    My brother Keith (Keeter) probably planted peas on one of those warm days last week, and I would not be at all surprised to find out that brother Steve did likewise to try to be the first two fellows in Letcher County to actually be digging the soil in their 2014 gardens.
    Keeter’s father-in-law, the late Dock Mitchell, used to get my brother to drive him a 50-mile round trip to get pea seeds and potting soil for early February planting. Dock raised mammoth melting sugar snow peas and sugar snaps around every fence on the place. 

    February 27, 2014 1 Photo

AP Video
U.S. Paratroopers in Poland, Amid Ukraine Crisis US Reviews Clemency for Certain Inmates Raw: Violence Erupts in Rio Near Olympic Venue Raw: Deadly Bombing in Egypt Raw: What's Inside a Commercial Jet Wheel Well Raw: Obama Arrives in Japan for State Visit Raw: Anti-Obama Activists Fight Manila Police Motels Near Disney Fighting Homeless Problem Michigan Man Sees Thanks to 'bionic Eye' Obama to Oso: We'll Be Here As Long As It Takes Bon Jovi Helps Open Low-income Housing in Philly S.C. Man Apologizes for Naked Walk in Wal-Mart New Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees Named 'Piles' of Bodies in South Sudan Slaughter SCOTUS Hears Tv-over-Internet Case Chief Mate: Crew Told to Escape After Passengers
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

Should Richmond rezone the southwest corner of Main Street and Tates Creek Avenue to B-1 (Neighborhood Business) with restrictions to allow construction of a financial services office?

Yes
No
     View Results