Reviewed by Rev. J. James Offutt, Holy Spirit Church, Centralia, MO 65240
Leaving Religion and Religious Life is composed of ten articles. Directly these articles provide the reader with a good view of the issues around leaving religious life. Conversely, they provide perspective for entering religious life. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, they, in an oblique way, suggest issues involved in remaining for a substantial length of time in religious life.
As I reviewed these articles I had constantly in mind some Amish friends of mine who are currently distressed by the departure of their second oldest son from the Amish tradition. It seems he wants more money. Their family had been Mennonite, and when they changed from the Mennonite tradition to the Amish their son left the tradition and went out on his own. Their daughters, young adult and adult, and their youngest son continue in the Amish tradition. Before the family became Mennonite they were Roman Catholics and very much involved in their Catholic parish, both church and school. I informally "tested" many of the proposals and observations from this volume of articles and found them helpful in understanding the processes of entering and exiting religious ways of life and especially of remaining with a degree of satisfaction within religious life.
I make some observations from my reading of these articles and my experience of folks entering and exiting. First of all, for some, their religious life history takes on the image of folks on pilgrimage... searching and seeking in religion for the satisfaction of a significant felt need... perhaps help with the meaning of life. At different times of one's life one will look to religion to fulfill those somewhat time specific needs... of teenagers, of youths, of young families, of young and aging singles, of empty nest folks, of middle age, of retirees, of older and oldest adulthood. With quantitative data we are fairly comfortable with our knowing our subjects at one specific time and time of life but from what needs did they come and to what needs have they advanced. Now? Are folks life-long religious? Life-long non-religious? How do they change? How ought religion change to best serve their current needs? If religion wants to keep folks from leaving for many religion will want to provide for the life-stage differences commonly experienced throughout a substantial number of years.
Secondly, religion will want to provide as broad a basis for creed, code, cult and community as it can and still be faithful to its charter and belief system. In the Catholic experience, especially in this Jubilee Year celebrating the Millennium with a strong insistence on seeking reconciliation of the sins of the past and inviting those who have departed to "come back home again," the Catholic Church will have to be honest in living out the Vatican Council's call for "variety in non-essentials, not uniformity." I would propose that if someone is invited back conditions had best be different and perhaps better than they were when the person chose to leave. The question for the re-evangelizers is: To what is the 'departed' person invited back? These studies suggest that flexibility, broad based options for life styles, openness to different views, comfort in discussing beliefs and behaviors, acceptance of a varying degree of importance among the articles of faith, expressions of behavior and styles of worship. Perhaps this mindset could be facilitated by an awareness of and use of the insights provided by the Catholic Common Ground Initiative (refer to the Archdiocese of Chicago web site).
In sum, to what extent can the Catholic Church provide for variance in creed, code, cult and community? Historically, one could ask why was the Franciscan revolution acceptable and the Lutheran revolution not? Especially in this Millennium Jubilee, what kind of revolution is acceptable? Franciscan or Lutheran? Or neither? Or some other? Or same old same old....?