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Society moving from a sense of religious duty to sense of religious feeling
Family life, fidelity to religious practice, common concerns for Jews, Catholics
Faith groups need creative means to reach young adults
WASHINGTON—Individualism and porous boundaries mark today’s faith practice and religious identification, members of a Jewish-Catholic Dialogue heard at a recent meeting.
“We are living in an age of spiritual ‘individualization,’ having moved from a sense of religious duty to religious feeling, and into an era of blurring of religious boundaries and of large defections from one religion to another,” sociologist Mark Gray, Ph.D. of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) of Georgetown University, told the group.
Gray spoke at the semi-annual consultation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the National Council of Synagogues (NCS), May 12, in New York. The consultation was co-chaired by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York and NCS Chairman Rabbi Alvin Berkun and spent one session on Catholic and Jewish implications of the “The Landscape Pew Report on Religion in America” (2008).
Catholics continue to make up the largest single religious group in the United States (22 percent-24 percent), a statistic that Gray notes has held steady over 50 years. This finding is compatible with the large number of defections from those who self-identify as Catholic (one in ten Americans, or approximately 30 million) and the augmentation of the Catholic population by recent immigration.
Presenting for the Jewish side of the dialogue was Steven Cohen, Ph.D., Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Institute of Religion. Cohen pointed out how patterns of Jewish religious observance reflect the overall trend in America’s religious landscape of “movement from faith to choice.”
Younger Jews, like younger Catholics, are more likely to adopt a form of spiritual practice that differs from the religious identity given to them at birth. The “choice” of a religious home typically follows a period of “seeking” in one’s early twenties.
Cohen also demonstrated that the center of Jewish religious life in America, which is found in the Reform and Conservative movements, is rapidly declining, whereas the Ultra-Orthodox and secular segments of the Jewish population appear on the rise.
Both Gray and Cohen agreed that the younger generation tends to perceive institutionalized religion as “alien, bland, coercive and divisive.” They stressed a need to engage 25-39-year-olds with worship services and study groups outside of the parish and synagogue settings. Gray held up as a creative form of outreach to Catholic young adults “Theology on Tap,” a lecture/discussion meeting that takes place in a bar or restaurant.
Archbishop Dolan pointed to the shared pastoral dilemma that rabbis and pastors face when reaching out to young adults.
“It’s good to realize that Catholic and Jewish pastors face the same problems today: the integrity of marriage and family life, and the retention of young people in their congregations. The Pew Study has given us a sobering reminder of how American culture challenges both our communities to find new means of outreach to our people,” he said.
Rabbi Gilbert S, Rosenthal, Director of the NCS, underscored the need to reach out to young people by developing creative programs that correspond to their distinctive styles of spiritual learning. “If we fail to attract them to religious life and involvement, we imperil our future as meaningful religious communities,” he said.
The second consultation session considered recent developments in Israel-Palestine. Stephen Colecchi, Director of the USCCB Office of Internal Justice and Peace, reiterated positions of the U.S. bishops, who seek an end to violence from all sides, the creation of a viable Palestinian state, secure borders for the State of Israel, the end of Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories and a fair sharing of vital water sources in the region.
Colecchi also suggested that the completion of the economic portion of the treaty between the Holy See and Israel (the so-called Fundamental Agreement), as well the resolution of the issue of visas for church workers, would help ease tensions for all parties involved in the present conflict.
Jewish and Catholic participants also expressed grave concern about the Iranian government’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, a topic they said should be brought to the attention of congregations in both communities.
Catholic participants at the consultation included Cardinal William Keeler, Archbishop Emeritus of Baltimore; Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Chairman of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Bishop Basil H. Losten, Former Bishop of Stamford for Ukrainians; Auxiliary Bishop Denis Madden of Baltimore; Christian Brother David Carroll, former Associate Director at Catholic Near East Welfare Association; Father Lawrence Frizzell, Seton Hall University; Atonement Father James Loughran, Graymoor Ecumenical Institute; Msgr. Guy Massie, Ecumenical Office of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York; Father Dennis McManus, Special Assistant to Archbishop Dolan; Father James Massa, USCCB staff; and Father Robert Robbins, Ecumenical Office of the Archdiocese of New York.
Jewish participants included Rabbi Jerome Davidson, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth El, Great Neck, New York; Rabbi Lewis Eron, Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Judith Hertz, NCS Advisor; Rabbi Richard Marker, Chairman of the International Committee for Jewish-Christian Consultation; Rabbi Joel Meyers, Executive Vice-President Emeritus of the (Conservative) Rabbinical Assembly; Mark Pelavin of the Reform Action Center, Washington; Rabbi Daniel F. Polish of La Grangeville, New York; Carl Sheingold, Ph.D., Executive Vice-President of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation; Jacob Stein, NCS advisor; Rabbi Jonathan Waxman, Congregation Beth-El in Massapequa, New York; Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg, President of the (Conservative) Rabbinical Assembly.
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