Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Truth and Tolerance, Again

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Truth and Tolerance, Again

Article excerpt

The notion that in matters of religion, but not only in matters of religion, one must make a choice between tolerance and truth is as persistent as it is false. It comes up again in connection with a study designed by sociologists James D. Davidson and Dean R. Hoge that explores how the sexual scandals have influenced Catholic attitudes toward the faith and the Church. The study included a nationwide survey of more than a thousand self-identified Catholics, 60 percent of whom are registered in a parish and therefore, presumably, more active than the 40 percent who are not or are not sure whether they are registered.

"The overall picture," the researchers report, "is one of stability, not decline, although there is more decline in some places, such as Boston. To our surprise, generational differences on the effects of the scandal turn out to be small, as were differences between registered parishioners and others." "Catholics like being Catholic and are not very likely to leave the Church for other religious groups. Eighty-one percent of Catholics said that 'being Catholic is a very important part of who I am,' and two-thirds said they 'cannot imagine being anything other than Catholic.' Eightytwo percent said the 'Catholic Church is very important to me personally,' and 71 percent said they 'would never leave the Catholic Church.'"

Contrary to a mischievous report of some years ago that only one-third of Catholics believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, the study finds that 83 percent of Catholics agree that in the Mass "the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ." Belief in the Real Presence is possibly considerably larger than 83 percent, since some Catholics, while not doubting the reality, would phrase differently what they believe happens in the Mass. Also of interest, while fewer than 50 percent of Catholics can name their bishop and a substantial minority thinks lay people should have a greater say in how their parishes are run, there is little support for the kind of angry challenging of the Church's structure promoted by groups such as Voice of the Faithful and Call to Action. Not surprisingly, on every score of adherence, belief, and practice, registered parishioners score higher than the nonregistered.

Then we come to the question of truth and tolerance. Davidson and Hoge suggest there is a tension, if not contradiction, between the fact that the great majority of Catholics declare themselves strongly devoted to the Church and, at the same time, sound very "relativistic" in saying that other churches and world religions "are equally good ways of finding ultimate truth. …

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