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Ben Conolly: No faith for wimps

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Young men aren’t going to be attracted to a faith that’s basically … wimpish. PHOTO: 123RF.COM

If you call them, they will come

People are attracted to a Church confident in its convictions and its identity. Niceness just doesn’t cut it

Unless you’re a total nerd like my dad, chances are you weren’t on the edge of your seat last year eagerly awaiting the 2021 census data to finally come. To be fair to them, an 11 month turnaround was not bad for a government (or church) department.

We’ve had the results for a while now, but in case you haven’t read it and you’ve been living under a rock for the last few decades, the data confirmed a drop in the number of Christians in Australia. Not just as a percentage, we’re talking whole numbers.

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I’d love to tell you there’s a bright side, but that’s not really what I do, so let’s just crack on.

What’s the reason for the fall in numbers?

Well, while church “leaders” scurry about screaming we’re not modern enough, we need more women in leadership, we need to relax teachings around sin and “try not to put people off”, we need to worry more about climate change, pride masses, “truth-telling” or any other modern cause, I think the answer is far more simple.

Now full disclosure, I’m not the guy you’d come to with your theology questions. I don’t know which saint said this or that, I don’t know the Pope’s thoughts on left-handed feminist poetry, and I still occasionally get the words to the creeds mixed up without my missal (oh! I do know that a missal would be next to useless in battle, so that’s something).

On a good day, after a coffee, if the temperature is right and if mercury is in retrograde, I should be able to tell you how many of each animal were on the ark. I tell you this to say that I’m no expert (on anything), I’m just a recently re-converted 29-year-old lad back after a decade on the outside. Which gives me insight only into how we might be able to get young people, particularly young men, back through church doors.

Spoilers: it’s not what we’re doing now.

Now look, I know talking about getting men involved in the church isn’t exactly in vogue right now, but it needs to be.

In 2016 an NCLS survey found that for every male attending a Catholic church, there were 1.6 women. The number of Catholics has dropped significantly since then. I doubt that number has gotten better.

For all the chat about women leaving the church because they can’t be ordained or hold leadership positions (a demonstrable falsehood when you look outside the clergy) or any other reason, the census data – and your own eyes – should show you it’s a lack of men that threatens the future of the church in Australia.

… people will leave the faith when the Church is focused on trying to offer watered-down versions of materialism, political activism, and shallow “social justice” available to them elsewhere.” – Ben Conolly

Don’t believe me? Ask your vocations office how many new seminarians they expect over the next decade, ask a priest how many teenage boys come to his parish, or go to a young Catholics event and tell me if you see any problems with the ratio.

We know that families are more likely to go to church if dad comes. We know young people, men in particular, are more likely to keep the faith if they have strong male role models to look up to. We know that, whether you like it or not, little boys like to do what the older boys are doing. In every case, they need male examples.

The church of course needs to be concerned with evangelising to all, but we can’t afford to ignore the involvement and conversion of young men. That conversion won’t happen while so many are preoccupied with changing the church to adapt to modern society.

We know the issues and we know how to remedy them, but it’s not through a hyper-fixation on the role of women to the exclusion of men and boys.

We simply need to – Trigger Warning, Latin ahead – reversio ad basics. Or, if my google translation is right (and it definitely isn’t); go back to basics.

We have a Catechism – and this may be a radical idea – but why don’t we defer to the two millennia of tradition and doctrine it contains?

Young men are looking for something else, something more. If we can focus on giving people that, if we simply offer them the truth, tradition, beauty and wisdom, if we offer them the involvement, purpose and community they need, they will come.

It was that truth, tradition, beauty, and wisdom of the Church that brought me back, not the desperate attempts to stay “relevant” in the futile hope that our willingness to buy into the latest political trend will get people in the pews.

I’m not arguing that every parish should begin saying Mass in the Extraordinary Form (though the Latin Mass parishes are certainly having some undeniable success), rather the point I’m trying to make is that people will leave the faith when the Church is focused on trying to offer watered-down versions of the materialism, political activism and shallow “social justice” available to them elsewhere.

The truth we must display is that nearly everything found in modern society is in fact a watered down version of what they can find in God and His church.

Benjamin Conolly is a communications consultant and political and cultural commentator

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