Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Other Seventy Percent

It is an inherent danger of being deeply involved in a topic to fall into the habit of assuming that everyone must have some sort of opinion on it. Thus, those of us who are very much into politics tend to assume that everyone must in fact have a political position, whether conservative, liberal, or difficult-to-define. Similarly, those of us who are active in Catholic circles tend to assume that everyone must be either orthodox or dissenting, must prefer formal liturgy or a more personal touch, must have on opinion on whether the liturgy should be in Latin or the vernacular, etc.

Then, assuming that everyone must somehow fit on these spectrums of conviction, we place people based on what we know of them. So when I talk to another Catholic and it comes out that he thinks birth control is no big deal, it would be 'nice' to have women priests, or divorce and remarriage should be easier, I tend to assume that he is 'progressive' or at least vaguely 'dissenting' in his theology. And when someone I know says she is in favor of universal health care, I tend to assume that she is politically liberal, buys into certain ideas about the ability to achieve material and social progress through government action, and so on.

However, because I am myself so interested in these particular fields, I tend to forget the equally likely explanation that the speaker has, for whatever reason, taken a fancy to the professed belief, but in general has no very well structured system of thought about the subject at all.

Taking politics as our example for a moment, in any recent American election the largest single block of voters is the block that case so little that it doesn't vote at all. In 2004, 45% of the voting age population didn't vote (15% wasn't even registered, and 30% was registered but didn't vote), and that was an unusually high turnout year. Bush got 52% of the 55% that actually voted: 26% of the voting age population. Yet apathy and ignorance go much farther than just the 45% of the population not voting. Realistically, somewhere between thirty and sixty percent of the people who did vote (if one can believe some of the silly things that polls tell us swing voters) voted for reasons varying from uninformed party loyalty to ignorance and fear. Out of the electorate as a whole, I think it's realistic to imagine that only around 10-30% have some sort of informed and coherent political philosophy, liberal, conservative or otherwise.

Similarly, on Catholic issues, there's the huge portion of self-professed Catholics who either never go to church, or only go on Easter and Christmas. According to most polls, that's 65-75% of 'Catholics' right there. And yet, I'd bet that most of those aren't so much staying away because they've considered and rejected the Church's theology and moral norms. A significant portion of them probably simply do not know what they are.

It gets a little better when we narrow the scope to those who go to mass at least once a week, but even so, I'd bet over half of those Catholics do not have strong opinions on whether Humanae Vitae is definitive, whether Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is final, whether liturgical dance is bad or Latin is good. Most of them simply haven't thought about it.

The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the majority of people have not examined the majority of the elements of their lives. (Perhaps an odd blending of Scott Adams assertion that everyone is an idiot about something and Theodore Sturgeon's law that 90% of everything is crud is in order.)

On the one hand, people should remember that not as many people may agree with them as might appear to be the case. For example, simply because 52% of those voting in the '04 election voted for Bush most certainly does not mean that 52% of voters are conservatives. Probably something like 20-25% of voters are what one could call conservatives in some serious sense. The rest may be open to conservative ideas to one extent or another and may have voted for Bush in whole or in part because of the conservative nature of some of his ideas (or, more discouragingly, perhaps because of his ideas that aren't conservative at all) but on the other hand a number of those who voted for Bush voted for reasons that are not conservative in any ideological sense.

On the other hand, one also has fewer opponents than one might, in the darker hours, imagine. While it may be true that more than 50% of weekly mass-going Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence (I'm heard this statistic several times, but I'd want to see the question asked before putting too much stake in it) that's probably not because 50% of mass goers has examined the belief and found it to be false. There may be a few who have rejected the Real Presence outright, but there are far more who simply don't understand it or have never been taught anything about it.


Amber said...

Thank you for the reminder on this - I find myself always forgetting just how unaware/uninterested/unthinking the public at large can be. This leads me to read more into people's actions and think I know what people might believe far more than really can be justified.

I do wish people would be more involved and engaged though. I feel that I have to respect people's decision not be be engaged, but the people who just don't think about anything because it never occurred to them that they should really drive me nuts.

Todd said...

Good thoughts.

I'd be cautious about the 65-75% figure on Mass attendance. Some of those folks go to Mass once or twice a month, or when their children are involved, or when they're not on vacation.

That said, there is a certain passivity in belief among Catholics. They might not be able to articulate real presence according to Gallup or EWTN, but if you presented church teaching and asked them if they agree, the percentage would probably be in the 80's or 90's.

The problem with putting too much credence in the St Blog's experience is that the majority of us are decidedly not passive.

Fidei Defensor said...

Hit the nail on the head Darwin.

When a friend of mine will say someting like "I don't like kneeling at church" etc, I am prone to thinking immediatly LIBERAL CAFEATERIA CATHOLIC! But in reality people just aren't taht informed, educated, or care all that much.

Likewise when I tell a friend that he shouldn't take communion in a state of mortal sin its just shrugged off. There is a major failure in educating young Catholics on behalf of both parents and churches. Most catechism classes for the younger grades are entrusted to 16 year olds getting voulenteer work hours for their college application and don't know much themselves.

I was very lucky to have a Polish great-grandmother who read Bible stories to me while babysitting and then later give me her late son's formidible collection of Catholic books (he was a priest.)

Being in St. Blogs has kept me further up to date on all things Catholicsm. I had never read an encylical or knew who was in the hierarchy till I started blogging.

Dorian Speed said...

I agree with Todd re: St. Blog's is a pretty unrepresentative sample.

The thing I don't understand is how a person can *not* be curious about...everything. Particularly his faith. I don't understand not wanting to know, "why do we do that?"