Religious Faith or Cultural Identity?
Addressing the scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in recent decades, writer Kevin D. Williamson (who is himself Catholic) remarked that those scandals may well “hasten an exodus of Americans from the Catholic Church entirely.” He continued:
If this is likely, it is in part because a considerable share of American Catholics are not Catholic in the sense of believing what the church teaches…
Rather, for many Americans…Catholicism is not a religious faith but a cultural identity…[I]t is an identity marker that is less about who they are and more about who their grandparents were. (The New York Post, 08/25/2018)
“Not a religious faith, but a cultural identity.” I believe Williamson’s description is just as true of many Americans in other churches: their affiliation with those groups has less to do with heartfelt religious conviction than with social, cultural, or family heritage.
Interestingly, surveys show a growing number of Americans who identify as “none” religiously. Much of that increase involves people who for years (perhaps their whole lives) identified as Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc., but in name only — and who now have finally decided to stop pretending it meant anything to them. To many, church is little more than a social club; when membership in that club becomes no longer desirable, then they will make for the exits.
“Not a religious faith, but a cultural identity.” Could it be true in my case?
Why am I at this assembly today? Why am I part of this congregation? Why do I call myself a Christian? If my (honest) answers to those questions are rooted in family heritage or social expectations or cultural influences, then I have missed the point, and I am not what I claim to be. What matters is “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). What matters is living faith in him.