A Glimpse of Parish Life as a “None” Parent via”Losing Our Religion”

9781479883202_fullFor the past week, we’ve been diving into key points and applications from Christel Manning’s “Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children”. In closing, I’m sharing her own personal experience encountering a Catholic parish as a “None” parent. I’m thankful to Manning for incorporating her own personal experiences into her valuable work of sociology.

Manning, like many other parents who identify as “None,” experienced new questions during the “early childhood” stage of her daughter, Sheila. Embodying the diversity of her framework for understanding the beliefs of Nones and range of options to offer worldview formation for their children, Manning took up the recommendation of a Catholic friend, and enrolled her daughter in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at her local parish. Here’s her reflection:

The teacher leading the program was a lovely woman, gentle and non-dogmatic and so good with kids. My husband was initially opposed to any kind of church-based education, but I convinced him to give it a try…I enrolled Sheila for the first year. She loved it…When we went to England for Christmas, my husband’s family was duly impressed with Sheila’s knowledge of religion…At the end of the school year, however, the doctrinal basis of the program became more clear. The first year curriculum, geared to very young children, was centered on the idea that God is a good shepherd who will take care of you–a fairly generic concept that I could accept. By contrast, the second-year curriculum involved teaching children the Catholic creed and preparing them for first communion. I did not feel comfortable with that. Parents were encouraged to attend church with their children, and in talking to other parents I realized that everybody else was actually doing that. I felt like a fraud. So the next Sunday, I went to mass and I took Sheila with me…There were rousing hymns singing glory to God, prayers, a reading from the Bible, a homily on a topic I cannot remember people lined up to receive communion. The hymns struck me as militaristic, the Bible reading felt irrelevant to my life,and the prayers reminded me that I do not believe in God. Sheila was bored and fidgety. I was bored and alienated. It was clear this was not the right path for us. I was disappointed, but also relieved. (192)

Take Aways

  1. What appealed to Manning?
    • the recommendation of her Catholic friend, who did not hesitate to share an experience that was positive for her child with her “None” friend —> personal endorsement/invitation is the most powerful marketing
    • about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd? We see it in her own layperson’s description, “a Montessori-based two-year program for preschoolers and kindergarten age children that allows children to choose from various religion-themed play activities rather than imposing a unified curriculum on them” (192). While this is incomplete in a technical sense (i.e. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is in Catholic language a “systematic” catechesis and stretches to age 12) it reveals what resonated with a “None” parent —> our marketing “key words” for outsiders do not need to be what’s most theologically important to us “church folks”
    • the Level 1 (ages 3-6) emphasis that “God is a good shepherd who will take care of you” was experienced by Manning as pre-evangelistic, it connected to her existing values –> the Church’s teaching on the role of pre-evangelization should not be overlooked 🙂

  2. As described in her research, it was her interest that convinced her husband to allow the “testing the water” in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. After the child’s interests/needs, spouses exert the second most powerful “push” to explore religious worldviews. And it’s usually the woman. –> #MarketToMoms #ConnectWithMoms 
  3. Those familiar with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) will notice that Manning’s perceptive description isn’t quite accurate, i.e. our “insider” understanding of different “Levels” each spanning approximately three years is not clear to her. And this isn’t her fault, she’s not trying to be a catechetical expert (and yes, the parish mentioned runs typical Level 1 and 2 CGS programs). This impacts her expectations and understanding. –> When describing catechetical programs to parents, let’s remember that they don’t have the time to research or prepare to be familiar with our “insider” language. 
  4. Manning takes her daughter to Mass. (!!!) Did you catch that? How blessed are we to receive such seekers in our midst! Remember, Manning is a “None,” her husband initially opposed the idea of having their daughter attend Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Manning herself already feels “uncomfortable,” and yet, she still goes. This is a huge leap on her part. –> Our attitude toward seekers should respect and honor the risks they’ve already taken to encounter us on “our turf,” rather than veil a disdainful or critical, “where have you been all these years?” We rejoice (note Jesus’ 3 parables in Lk 15) that the Holy Spirit has led them this far.

  5. Manning finds the Eucharistic homily at Mass to be forgettable. –> #AlwaysBeEvangelizing. While Mass isn’t “for” seekers, seekers are present. Preaching matters–it’s worth spending the time, bringing in the team, and preparing for the sake of those who might only be giving Mass one try. 
  6. The music and lectors didn’t captivate Manning either –> Movements like Amazing ParishRebuilt, and Divine Renovation all emphasize the importance of the “Sunday Experience.” They’re right. (Other evidence supports this too).
  7. Manning’s daughter was bored and fidgety. –> While liturgically oriented Catholics may love having their young children with them at Mass, it’s unlikely a seeker or “None” will find that experience life-giving. We shouldn’t force them to by failing to care enough to offer a memorable and engaging experience for their children. It was Sheila who indirectly “brought” her mother to Mass this time–imagine if Sheila had spent the car-ride home telling her mom about the kids she met, how much she loved the singing, how fun it was–many parents would come back a second time (or more!) simply because their child had a great experience. That’s how us parents work 🙂

Again, I’m grateful to Christel Manning for sharing so personally in the conclusion of her book. Rarely do we get such a detailed description of how a “None” parent/child can go from non-attending, to catechesis, and even make it to Mass. 

Having concluded this series on Losing Our Religion, what new thoughts are you thinking about “Nones” as parents?


“Losing Our Religion” — Key Point #5, Nobody Likes a Seemingly “Forced” Religious Identity

9781479883202_fullParents who identify as “None” worry about their kids just as much as religious folks.

Key Point #5: “None” Parents Worry. But Nobody Likes a Forced Identity

As Christel Manning observes in,  “Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children”:

“Unchurched Believer* parents often worried when their children showed no interest in religion.” (164)

At the same time:

“Another parent, a Philosophical Secularist whose teenagers had become born-again Christians, worried about their future while trying hard to remain true to his commitment world view choice. The hardest thing as a parent was, as he remarked, ‘not to criticize them when they became Christian.’ Instead, he hoped ‘the children will find their way back [to something closer to the parent’s worldview] when they go off to college.” (164)

Parenting is not for the feign of heart! Regardless of whether or not a parent identifies with a religion, parents worry about what worldviews their children absorb and identify with.

None parents especially value what sociologists call an “achieved identity”–meaning a person’s act of choosing beliefs/worldview–rather than an “ascribed identity” where a worldview is embodied simply because someone was raised that way (58).

*Note: for descriptions of Unchurched Believer Nones, Philosophical Secularist Nones, and more check out my series on “Losing Our Religion”  here.

Ministry Applications

What’s the “so what” for us?

  • We can think of ourselves as partners with None parents, even if we do not share the same beliefs. The None parent who laments their child’s lack of interest in religion is someone we can empathize with, without an attitude of, “well, what did you expect?!? not having faith yourself!” Likewise, the Secularist parent who is shocked that their teen is attending parish LifeTeen with friends can still be invited to be part of the community in a way that doesn’t force belief (i.e. invitations to potlucks, etc.)–this shows love. They’ll appreciate knowing that you care for them and their child, regardless of beliefs.
  • None parents value the idea of choice (“achieved identity” not “ascribed identity”). Offering opportunities to explore the rationality of Christian belief resonate with those seeking to make an “informed” decision.
  • That our contemporary culture places a positive value on “achieved identity” isn’t a bad thing! It’s the cultural context that allows non-Catholics to perceive a freedom to come explore Catholic Christianity. Historically, the normative experience of Christians in the early Church was indeed a “believer’s” baptism and profession of faith. It was a choice during the centuries when the # of “born Christians” was fewer than the number of “convert Christians.” We need not fear elements from our Tradition that emphasize this.
  • Given this cultural context, it’s important that we emphasize opportunities for those who were “raised in the faith” (aka “ascribed identity”) to also experience “achieved identity” without “switching” to a new religion. Talking about Baptism in the Holy Spirit, deliberately preparing for and reflecting on the meaning of renewing one’s baptismal vows at Easter, and more from our Catholic faith are ready-made for this! 🙂
  • We can also explore how to avoid giving children, teens, or parents the perceptive experience having been “forced” into an initiation sacrament–something that would “feel” like “ascribed identity.” Catechesis of the Good Shepherd models this with regards to a child receiving Eucharist, explaining, “at the annual announcement of the celebration of first communion, the children respond according to the desire for the sacrament and their personal maturity, which is discerned with the help of the family, the catechists and the priest.” With regards to Confirmation, check out these reflections from Fr. Gareth Leyshon of St. Philip Evans,  Chris Wesley of St. Joseph Parish & Marathon Youth Ministry, and Fr. Peter Dugandzic of Blessed Sacrament Parish. Interestingly, our Tradition does not mandate a precise age for sacraments of initiation, instead offering guidepost-based ranges and language that include parental insight into discernment, for example:
    • on Confirmation, the Code of Canon Law (CIC) states, “Parents and pastors of souls…are to take care that the faithful are properly instructed to receive the sacrament and come to it at the appropriate time” (can. 890)
    • on Reconciliation and Eucharist, the CIC explains, “It is primarily the duty of parents and those who take the place of parents, as well as the duty of pastors, to take care that children who have reached the use of reason are prepared properly and, after they have made sacramental confession, are refreshed with this divine food as soon as possible” (can. 914)

Feel free to offer your own insights, observations, and applications of Manning’s book in the Comment box. 


“Losing Our Religion” — Key Point #4, None Doesn’t Mean Nothing [When It Comes to Worldview Formation]

9781479883202_fullKnowing that Nones are the fastest growing “religious group” in the United States, it’s natural to wonder–so what exactly do “Nones” teach their children when it comes to religion or other worldview questions?

Christel Manning’s  “Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children” offers new insight into the diversity within this growing population of parents in the U.S. (If interested, check out other key takeaways from her book here).

Key Point #4: How Nones Form Their Children’s Worldviews

When it Comes to Worldview, What Do Nones Do To Raise Their Children? (Table 5.1)

Characteristics (across)

Options for Incorporating Worldview into Upbringing of Child (below)

Intentionally incorporate worldview into home life Enroll child in institution that transmits worldview Change in parent affiliation
conventional Yes (Judaism, Christianity) Yes (CCD, Sunday School, Hebrew School, etc.) From None to Christian or Jewish denomination
alternative Yes (secular philosophy or seeker spirituality) Yes (plural worldview education) Yes (from None to UU or AHA)
self-provider Yes No No
outsourcing No Yes (CCD, Sunday school, Hebrew School) No
non-provider No No No

What we see in the chart is that Manning identified five general “types” of how None parents seek to transmit worldviews to their children–conventional, alternative, self-provider, outsourcing, non-provider.  She concludes:

There is more variety in how Nones raise their children than existing research would imply. It is not just a choice between doing nothing and going back to church (136).

And on top of this, contemporary American religious life has a general “fluidity,” so Nones (like all Americans) are likely to shift between methods (whether deliberately or not). 

Ministry Applications

What to think?

  • Manning suggests, “These five options for incorporating worldviews into the upbringing of a child could, theoretically, be applied to churched parents as well” (p. 186) –> Yes! In Children’s Ministries we can grow in awareness that even our faithful churched parents have different methods for sharing the faith at home. Since in Catholic teachings the parent is the primary catechist, how we in ministry empower and support parents is critical.
  • Many Nones take a “conventional” approach, which means they come to church programs and often even change their affiliation as a result, this is a significant opportunity!
  • “Outsourcing” parents represent a more challenging opportunity–the kids are at church, but nothing at home. Capturing the interest of these parents is likely the special task for our discernment and on-going consideration. It’s not easy in a busy world, but there’s a point of trust with their child to build on.
  • There’s a place for marketing children’s ministry outside of parish communities. None parents are clearly in the marketplace for “institutions” and organizations to offer formation for their children. They might select your program for completely non-religious reasons (i.e. the environment is engaging, the schedule works, etc.) — this is an opportunity for outreach.

As always, feel free to offer your own insights, observations, and applications in the Comment box. 


“Losing Our Religion” — Key Point #3, Your Local Mission Field Matters


How Nones perceive your church and ministry varies tremendously depending on your location. Understanding that perception–what it’s like to be an Unaffiliated person in your community–increases our ability to empathize and connect with Nones.

In  “Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children”, Christel Manning’s interviews with parents who identify as “None” reveal distinct differences between how these parents perceive religious people and communities depending on the local/regional culture.

Key Point #3: Knowing Your Local Mission Field Matters

Here’s what Manning observed, None parents in two cities with high religious affiliation rates, Colorado Springs and Jacksonville:

believe that the majority of people in their communities disapprove of having no religion….[while] I found no evidence of Nones being persecuted or discriminated against…these narratives must stand as expressions of subjective parent experience…Nones in these cities expressed a sense of being embattled (80-81). 

On the flip side, in New England:

The presumed privacy of religion had a clear impact on how parents think about its role in the lives of their children….[Nones] tended to see local churches and synagogues as benign, a kind of useful resource that you can draw on when you need it (i.e. Jewish Community Center day care, the Catholic high school with a great hockey team)…religion or secularity for New England parents was not a source of cultural embattlement and social tension (87).

Ministry Applications

What to make of these differences?

  • Never discount the perceptive reality of others, especially outsiders. While it might not be accurate (Manning noted there was no actual discrimination in the cities of high religious affiliation), the accuracy isn’t the central point. A perceptive/experience is not to be debated. “Perception becomes reality” as the conventional wisdom goes.
  • It’s our job to be more accommodating and loving of those who are wounded, or perceive being isolated or not belonging in a religious community. In a community setting where a None family might feel “embattled,” this unconditional love is greatly needed. We can surprise them with acceptance, non-judgemental friendship, listening, and openess.
  • In a community where religious “privacy” is the norm, churches and ministries can expect None families to show up at programs/events that seem “benign” to them–this is an opportunity to be ready for.
  • There aren’t going to be in-depth studies on every region and sub-region in the U.S., so as churches it’s up to us to do some reconnaissance, do scouting, do focus groups, get out of our “comfortable” circles to listen/learn what the None experience is like and what perceptions they may have of religious organizations.

Stay tuned in the coming days for more key points and applications from this study! And, as always, feel free to offer your own insights, observations, and applications in the Comment box. 


“Losing Our Religion” — Key Point #2, We Don’t Know If Parents Are Coming Back

9781479883202_full“They’ll come back to church…once they marry and have kids…”

How often have you heard that assertion? Is it true? Is it an assumption? Wishful thinking?

Christel Manning’s book  “Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children” offers some evidence-based insight into this perplexing, and important, question for ministry leaders (as well as other useful research, check out my series on book and other sociology and demographic data here).

Key Point #2: We Don’t Really Know if Marriage and Family Brings Nones Back to Church

Some background: 

Prior to the recent statistical increase in Nones, there was indeed “a life cycle pattern in religious affiliation,” where young adults disaffiliated and then re-affiliated once they married and had children. Those who re-affiliated, typically returned to the religion of their childhood or their spouses’–this was especially true for Baby Boomers (p. 34). Also, the female spouse’s religion tends to be more likely for re-affiliation.

It’s probably not a sound conclusion to assume that this will continue with younger generations because “the societal pressures that may have pushed previous generations of None parents back to religion are less powerful today” (57). What we see already is that “though it’s true that Nones are more likely to be single and childless than religious Americans, that difference is largely because they are younger” overall. When controlling for age, it turns out to be a relatively small difference between the religiously affiliated or unaffiliated based on parenthood/marriage (57). Marriage and family life doesn’t seem to cause a significant increase in religious affiliation.

Okay, so what is it about marriage and/or starting a family that might cause Nones to re-affiliate with a religion? Some theories (that likely interact/overlap)(p. 55-56): 

  • the new spouse (especially the female) influences the other
  • a desire to do so “for the sake of their children,” i.e. an interest in life cycle rituals, positive emotional ties to one’s own childhood religion, and/or a marker or preservation of ethnic/cultural identity
  • desire for community

Manning’s research revealed that “there is something about having a family that raises questions about religion identity and commitment for people” (58). However, these questions don’t automatically lead back to religion (seeking answers to the questions raised by marriage and family can also lead someone from an Unchurched Believer to Indifferent, etc.). As a parent of young children (as Manning is as well) this rings true. The questions of children force adults to grapple with their core beliefs. As Manning explains it, children’s questions and/or existence in a family structure often lead to:

  • open articulation of worldview identity as parents interact with others in the family
  • a new articulation of boundaries and/or the importance of their worldviews in their lives

She explains:

The most powerful relationship to shape a parent’s religious or secular identity may be with the child…thinking about and interacting with their young children compelled None parents to consciously confront and continuously reevaluate their worldview ways in ways that are different from those induced by interactions with their partners and extended families…because a None’s worldview can be transmitted to another, [who is “unformed”], it suddenly matters (69)


This makes sense. For me, just thinking deeply about the prospect of raising children in my mid 20s compelled me to discern moving from identifying as “Christian” to the truth of particular traditions–reaching a “room” from in the “great hallway” of Christianity, as C.S. Lewis imagined it.

Ministry Applications

For those in ministry, Manning’s research on this pressing question reminds us:

  • Avoid making decisions as if history is normative or determinative, just because Baby Boomers “came back” doesn’t mean that holds true for others–>awareness of current trends is necessary for informed decision-making and expectations
  • Not to assume or take for granted that GenX and Millennial parents will return to a church of previous affiliation once they marry and/or have children
  • See the opportunity in the “baby” years of 0-3, when many children’s ministries do not yet “offer” anything specific for children, but when parents may be starting to ask those big questions about life, the universe, and religion/spirituality. These can be socially isolating years for new parents, so there’s a significant and meaningful opportunity here to offer a supportive spiritual community for Nones at this time (and, believer-parents as well!)
  • Follow-up to the sacraments of baptism and marriage may be even more important than the preparation for these sacraments (which typically receive more resources in parish life) when it comes to helping parents explore those big questions of life, especially for Nones

Stay tuned in the coming days for more key points and applications from this study! And, as always, feel free to offer your own insights, observations, and applications in the Comment box. 


“Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children” — Key Point #1, Nones Are Diverse

9781479883202_fullI recently read Christel Manning’s book, “Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children.”  I highly recommend it for anyone interested in better understanding the nuance, diversity, and experiences of Nones when it comes to religious beliefs and practices.

The premise of this sociology work (academic, yet readable–especially if you skim through the sociology of religion methods sections) is straightforward:

“The fastest growing religion in America is—none! One fifth of Americans now list their religion as “none,” up from only 7 percent two decades ago. Among adults under 30, those poised to be the parents of the next generation, fully one third are religiously unaffiliated. Yet these “Nones,” especially parents, still face prejudice in a culture where religion is widely seen as good for your kids. What do Nones believe, and how do they negotiate tensions with those convinced that they ought to provide their children with a religious upbringing?”

Key Point #1: Nones are Diverse

As Sherry Weddell often notes, “never accept a label without a story.” This is always good advice, and as relevant for “Nones” as anyone else we interact with personally! Manning makes a key contribution to our understanding of Nones by offering a framework of “sub-labels” to show the diversity within the broad label of “None.” Her study revealed four general sub-currents (Table 2.1 “Parent Worldviews”) among parents who identify as None, namely:

Worldview (across)

Attributes (below)

Unchurched Believer Seeker Spirituality Philosophical Secularist Indifferent
Self-chosen label (if used) Christian, Jew, etc. (generally reject a denomination label) Pluralist label (e.g., Buddhist, Jew) Humanist, freethinker, skeptic, atheist None
Religious or spiritual? Both Spiritual but not religious Neither Neither
Beliefs Personal god who listens and can intervene in human affairs Energy or life force that influences nature and human life (reject personal theism) Our lives are shaped by natural and/or material forces and by human decisions (not God or supernatural power) Don’t know and don’t care
Practices Prayer or attendance at services Prayer, meditation, yoga, reading Meditation, reading, and social justice work as expression of secular philosophy None

How common is each? Manning concludes that roughly half of American Nones fit into the “Unchurched Believer” sub-category. A third are “Spiritual Seekers” and a fifth are “Philosophical Secularists.” If you’re thinking, um, that’s already 100%–what about “Indifferents”? You’re right. As Manning notes, those who are truly Indifferent are more difficult to identify by survey because they are often “forced” to opt into another category or sub-category (p. 34). 

Ministry Applications

For those in ministry, especially those interacting with Nones who are parents, Manning’s research on these sub-categories reminds us:

  • never accept the label “None” as devoid of interest in religion/spirituality
  • a significant proportion of Nones have “trust” feelers with religion, i.e. Unchurched Believers often attend services, think of God of active in human affairs, and are okay with identifying as “religious”–that’s a lot to work with!
  • many Nones are familiar with religion/spirituality–let’s not “talk down” to them (or anyone else, for that matter!) or criticize them for showing interest in a way that’s different than a faithful believer
  • different approaches are relevant for different Nones, i.e. an Indifferent person would need to have interest piqued, whereas a Spiritual Seeker would be drawn to many Christian practices, etc. –> when children’s ministries can offer different ways to potentially connect, this casts a wider net for diverse “None” parents
  • children in our ministries (especially in the teen years) may take on characteristics of these various None sub-categories –> being aware and on the lookout from this can help these students avoid feeling alienated

Stay tuned in the coming days for more key points and applications from this study! And, feel free to offer your own insights, observations, and applications in the Comment box. 


10 Years Later. Still a Gem.

Musings on ordinary Catholic culture, from Sherry Weddell…10 years later, and this tongue-in-cheeck writing from real-life mission work is still a gem:

When it comes to talking about eternal things. Jesus. Holiness. And more…we have:

Widespread discomfort with “conspicuous conversion”…Sometimes referred to as “enthusiasm” or “pietism” or “Protestant”.

A don’t ask, don’t tell [culture] because that’s what you do when we are all saved and we’ve all earned it–but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.

Because, “we’re all saved and we’ve all earned it, but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.”

Here’s the full post (from the Catherine of Sienna Institute’s not-currently-available blog site): 

We Are All Saved and We Have All Earned It But None of Us Are Saints Because That Wouldn’t Be Humble.

10 years of nearly continuous travel from parish to parish and thousands of personal interviews have given us a fairly good sense of typical ordinary-Catholic-in-the-pew’s worldview regarding intentional discipleship and our ultimate salvation — at leastKristin Thiel Embarassed among Anglo laity in the US.

(The worldview of the clergy is naturally very different but many clergy share in the assumptions described here in surprising ways. Priests are remarkably like human beings in this regard.)

The American church is huge and very complicated, so the culture I am about to describe would not include those groups of Catholics heavily influenced by evangelicalism (such as in the deep south), the charismatic renewal, traditionalism, lay movements or third orders, parishes that regularly do evangelism, groups with a strong social justice orientation or Catholics in “hotbed institutions” like Catholic universities or seminaries. Neither would this describe Hispanic Catholics, Vietnamese Catholics, etc.

The worldview I’m describing is common among ordinary-Anglo-cradle-Catholic-laypeople in ordinary parishes in the west coast, midwest, high plains, intermountain west and east coast.

Caveat: I am writing in a hurry and my tongue is rather firmly in my check. But I am also really describing attitudes what we have encountered over and over again in the field. There are remarkable exceptions everywhere but there is also, in our experience, a startling consistency across dioceses and regions.

The major premises could be summarized as follows:

We are all saved and we’ve all earned it but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.

A fascinating, if unlikely, mixture of practical universalism, Pelagianism, and work-a-day Catholic humility seems to have been absorbed by Catholics across the country.This homespun version of universalism runs something like this: *Decent* people are automatically saved because of their decency, and almost everyone is essentially decent or at least means well, which is basically the same thing as being decent. God would never condemn a decent person. Salvation is pretty much yours to lose and you can only do so by intentionally doing something really, really, not decent like mass murder and then not saying you are sorry.

Pelagianism was an early 5th century heresy that held that original sin did not taint our human nature and that human beings are still capable of choosing good or evil without God’s grace. Pelagius taught that human beings could achieve the highest levels of virtue by the exercise of their own will.

The contemporary American version holds that human beings can attain acceptable levels of *decency* by their own efforts. We earn our salvation by not doing the really, really bad things we could do if we chose. In real life, it is pretty close to impossible for most people not to attain the minimum decency requirement. (See caveat above).

Since basic decency suffices for salvation, holiness is completely optional, and is the spiritual equivalent of extreme sports. Authentic, salt-of-the-earth ordinary Catholics are appropriately humble and know their spiritual place. They do not pretend to be something they are not (see point #2 below).

Note: the role of Christ and his Paschal mystery in this view of salvation is extremely obscure.

There are two basic Catholic “tracks”:

a) The “ordinary Catholic track” which includes 99% of us. Your parents put you on this track by having you baptized as a baby. This track can be divided further into 1) “good” or practicing ordinary Catholics; 2) “bad” or non-practicing ordinary Catholics; and 3) pious ordinary Catholics.All ordinary Catholics, good, bad, or pious, are saved through their essential *decency* or meaning well and nor screwing up horribly. (see #1 above). God does give extra credit for visible devotion or piety.

b) The “extraordinary Catholic track”: priests, religious, and saints (.1%).

God plucks a few people out of Track “a” and places them on track “b”. That is what the Church means by having a vocation.

Priests and religious are also saved by being decent but the standard of decency is a bit more rigorous for them because they can’t have sex.

Sanctity is reserved for the uber-elite: When someone becomes a saint, it is the mysterious result of spiritual genius or an act of God and is not expected of or related to salvation for “ordinary” Catholics (see #1), because God decreed they should be on a different track. Authentic, salt-of-the-earth ordinary Catholics are appropriately humble and know their spiritual place.

c) There is no “disciple on the way” track. When many Catholics hear the phrase “intentional disciple”, they immediately think of the only known alternative to the “ordinary Catholic” track in their lexicon, which is that of the saint and is supposed to be reserved for the uber-elite. They naturally presume that the aspirant to discipleship is pretending to have been plucked out of the ordinary track by God and is, therefore, an arrogant elitist (see #1 above).

Corollary A: Widespread discomfort with “conspicuous conversion” because it violates #1 and #2. Sometimes referred to as “enthusiasm” or “pietism” or “Protestant”.

Corollary B: don’t ask, don’t tell because that’s what you do when we are all saved and we’ve all earned it–but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.