Rausch, in Being Catholic in a Culture of Choice, points out that many modern day Catholics are unfamiliar with their own religious tradition (the scriptures, church doctrine, stories of saints -- pg. xi).
The first chapter explores Catholicism among young adults. It utilizes results from a number of studies, and concludes that most of these subjects have a "thin sense" of their Catholic identity, while a small percentage land on the other end of the continuum —considered by many to be arch-conservatives and over-zealous. The bulk of them (aged 20-39) seem disengaged on virtually every level. They disagree with the church stance on sexuality (from contraception to married priests, to women's ordination, to homosexuality) and they voice this by voting with their feet. Many choose never to attend Mass. Most essential for this group is having a personal relationship with God. Good works seem to be glaringly absent from this category's religiosity (though this is not mentioned by the author one way or the other). In sum, it is predicted that the church is losing on two fronts with youth: influence and membership (pg. 18).
Next, the Catholic religious imagination is equated with a strong Marian dimension. Other church and spiritual traditions, Western and Eastern, are explored in comparison. The strongest divergences between Catholic and Protestant imaginations are pitted against one another graphically at the end of this chapter. Perhaps the most striking distinction is posed in the form of distance—God is present in the Catholic world, where human nature is created in God's image, and God is distant in the typical Protestant world of human nature being "totally corrupt" as a result of original sin (pg. 34).
The following chapter abruptly establishes the assortment of errors associated with the Da Vinci Code. While it borders on defensive at times (and reads more like a presentation), it does not need to be. As further analysis illustrates, Catholic tradition itself refutes this work and places it properly on the shelves as fiction. The chapter goes on at more length than is really merited to document this assertion as well.
Another "stand-alone" chapter is offered on what is referenced as the "domestic Church" (pg. 51). It is no surprise to hear that parents make the strongest contribution to their children's faith lives.
Catholic colleges and universities are examined next. Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the mandatum, and other tenets of Catholic teaching are given treatment, as is the fragile relationship between faculty and the church on these points. In this light, the "genuine" university is discussed, "committed to the search for truth in the context of a full exchange of ideas" (pg. 76). This is where the conservative wave of the faith and academic freedom clash. To preserve Catholic identity, a dialogue follows on hiring for mission, curriculum, Catholic Studies programs, and residence life. Each of these sections grapples with the idea of where to draw the line, and how to keep Catholic universities distinctive (nonsecular). No easy answers are discovered. What is not addressed here is perhaps most telling, however. Those Catholic institutions that have become more conservative in recent times via Campus/University Ministry, and in other outlets as well, have often had the reverse effect on students and faculty to the one for which they had hoped. In this environment, Chapel attendance has dropped, searches and retreats draw less, and some leave the institutions altogether, in search of more open thinking akin to the intellectual pursuit promised by places of advanced learning. What is key here is the delicate balance that must be struck between faith-based learning and true intellectual inquiry. Without that balance, Catholic institutions lose credibility and overall appeal.
In speaking of the newest generation of Catholics, a new conservatism amongst them is broached. Contemporary traditonalists are explained as embracing an "interim theology" (pg.88). Heavy on some restraints (such as abortion), they are light on others (contraception, for instance). They are presented as possibly the new face of the Catholic priesthood and religious life. Evangelical Catholics and current seminarians are also explored. More conservative, they are not the majority of Catholic youth. Both categories represent small subsets of a diverse population. Interestingly, the evangelicals are depicted as the most intellectually gifted. Today's seminarians are presented as, for the most part, on the low end of the intellectual spectrum.
The main concern of the book is Catholic identity, which, in retrospect, might have been better as a part of the title for the work. In the final section, religiosity (mainstream attendance at church, a "mediated" life) versus spirituality (sometimes churchless, even Godless, and certainly autonomous) is raised. It is asserted, by way of Dean Hoge, that the Catholic Church is being transformed "from a perceived church of obligation and obedience to a church of choice" (pg. 105). The point is made, with the help of Andrew Greeley, that "authority, important as it is, must listen as well as teach" (pg. 116).
Overall, the book is informative. It reads more like an edited work, however, without much transition between chapters and some redundancy here and there. The greatest contribution comes in the form of its literature review of recent works and studies combining the idea of choice and identity. For that angle alone, it is worth the read.