Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The dumbing of American Catholicism

This speech by Fr. Robert Barron of Word On Fire.org makes a very telling criticism about Catholic catechesis of the last 40 years:


Now, it's not only Catholicism that's been "dumbed down"; primary and secondary education in general was made simpler to reach the poverty-stricken minorities. However, if you expect less, students will achieve less. Also, I think the secondary educators started to exchange depth for breadth, creating high school curricula that were "a mile wide and an inch deep", and thus teaching many things sloppily and surfacially instead of teaching a few things well and comprehensively.
But with Catholicism this change of emphasis really hurts because, as Fr. Barron points out, "Catholicism is a smart religion." As much as older, faithful Catholics praise The Baltimore Catechism (and as much as we could stand an updated version in our schools and CCD classes today), it's no more than a primer; a full and mature appreciation of Catholicism darn near requires an education worthy of a BA in theology (with a minor in literature and fine-arts credits). If I went around to the most prominent apologists in the Catholic blogosphere and gathered ideas for a list of required reading, the shelf would include a lot of the most influential works of the last 2,000 years: any number of works from the Church Fathers, especially St. Augustine's City of God and Confessions; St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa contra gentiles; Dante's Divine Comedy; St. Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life; St. Thomas More's Utopia; Blaise Pascal's Pensées; G. K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man; Frank Sheed's Theology and Sanity; not to mention the conciliar documents from Nicea to Vatican II ... the list would be longer than any issued at the beginning of a college term.
Fine Catholic ladies and gentlemen, ours is a faith rich in intellect, spirituality, history and culture. It deserves better than to be presented in comic books and hand-out tracts.