Episode 18: Lines in the sand

<- Religion // Science ->

I’m not entirely sure how to make sense of all this.

I get that the good Bishops are knee-jerking to the SWS survey and tripping over themselves to “prove” the surveys wrong. I understand that there’s a bit of confirmation bias going on when they claim their Churchgoers aren’t “dwindling” by their personal observations.

What I don’t get is, how does the author jump from “dwindling Sunday Mass attendance” to “fading into irrelevance?” Stated differently, is the sheer number of believers or adherents a valid benchmark for the relevance of any particular religious or even philosophical belief vis-a-vis society at large?

Assuming for the moment that the question is correct, an affirmative answer lends some logic to the analyses. However, it poses problems when applied to groups far smaller than the Catholic Church. If we peg relevance to membership, and if large membership implies greater relevance, then would a smaller membership imply a lesser degree of relevance, if not complete irrelevance? Going out on a limb, what would such a standard say about the size of the Freethinkers group vis-a-vis the number of Catholics who still attend Sunday Mass?

Going back to the surveys, it doesn’t even seem to say what the author thinks it says. The survey indicated that the number of *regular* weekly Mass attendees has declined. Nothing in the survey data indicates that the rest of the respondents do not attend Mass at all (as they could, as counter-example, simply be attending every other week), nor does it provide any range of reasons for the trend.

A quick aside: As much as I admire Carlos Celdran for his tenacity, I have to call him out on this one. A group of 9.2% of Catholics saying they’ve considered leaving the Church is not “a sign that Filipinos are becoming a critical people and now slowly choosing reason over religion” as he is quoted as saying in the Inquirer article. It simply means 9.2% are entertaining doubts as to their Catholic beliefs. It is unfortunate that the SWS survey did not contain conversion information, either in between religions or towards non-belief, as this would have been the proverbial “smoking gun” Celdran is looking for. As it is, though, sorry Carlos, but you’re a bit off on this one.

Back to the author. So far, we have the flimsy assumption that a larger membership = relevance, and we also have a misapprehension of the survey data. Yet the conclusion is that the Catholic Church is “fading into irrelevance?” Despite 81% of those surveyed identifying themselves as Catholic, a far cry from the 1% who said they do not have a religious belief? Quite a strain in logical thinking.

Ironic that this is the kind of “logical” writing that passes for freethinking these days.

Needless to say, I feel that the question I posed earlier isn’t even proper. Ideas are weighed not by the number of people who hold them to be true, but by its relevance to the person who holds it to be true, and who lives and participates in the world in which he lives. In simpler words, ideas are only worth something if they effect change in a person for the better, and in turn change society for the better.

Now, we could get into the “change for the better/worse” debate when it comes to religious ideas, and maybe ten years ago I would have gamely taken on such debate. Today, I will turn that discussion down, simply because at the end of the day, religion is personal. Regardless of what it is, if it helps you be a better person, then by all means hold it to be true, and make good on your commitments to your beliefs. This isn’t me being purely relativist, but simply being practical. Catholicism has its beliefs, and we know that when it comes to matters of the world, we have something to say. But for *ahem* some of us Catholics, we understand that others beliefs, whether religious or atheistic, also have something to say. And more often than not, we have something in common to say.

So I choose to start from there. Similarities, not differences. Common ground, not lines in the sand.


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