Brandon Vogt

What Young People REALLY Think About God and the Church

For the past month, our Word on Fire production team was in Rome with Bishop Barron for the big Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. (I joined them there this past week.)

It was an amazing experience. We produced nearly 40 videos during that span, a testament to our phenomenal production team (shoutout to Manny Marquez, our tireless videographer!). You can watch all the videos at WordFromRome.com.

Throughout the month, we tried to provide three things. First, daily video updates and commentaries from Bishop Barron, giving followers a behind-the-scenes peek at the Synod proceedings. It was something no other bishop was doing, so it was unique and fun.

Second, Fr. Steve Grunow (CEO of Word on Fire) and Joseph Gloor (our Producer) visited nearly a dozen churches and holy sites around Rome, taking viewers on a virtual pilgrimage throughout the Synod. At each church, they sat down for a conversation about that church’s spiritual significance and the lessons it offers in regards to young people and the faith. The whole series is beautiful and profound, and we’ll be doing more with it in the coming months at Word on Fire, so stay tuned.

But the third series was probably my favorite: we hit the streets around Rome to interview random young people about God, religion, and the Church. We talked to people from all over the world, from at least 20 different countries, encouraging them to speak candidly so we could listen to them and better understand their beliefs.

Their responses were both discouraging and illuminating.

They were discouraging because they affirmed how profoundly we’ve failed at spreading the basic truths of Christianity. Most young people had, at best, a third-grade understanding of God and faith. Most of their answers were muddled and incoherent, and I say that with little judgement against them; the fault lies almost certainly with their parents, pastors, and teachers, who totally failed to pass on the faith.

Yet the conversations were also illuminating, because they revealed where we should focus our evangelistic energies: on the very basics. It was clear few of these people had ever been evangelized, much less catechized. They had never heard the kerygma, the basic Good News of Christianity. They couldn’t articulate what we mean by God, or anything the Church has done besides facilitate the abuse of young children.

They weren’t ardent anti-Catholics; they were mostly just apatheists, people who just don’t care about God or Catholicism.

Going into these interviews, we at Word on Fire had studied all the major surveys about young people and faith. So we knew the number one reason why they don’t practice any religion: they “no longer believe.” They doubt God exists, or they reject the Church, or they disagree with her moral or religious teachings. Whatever the case, they just no longer believe—they’re not buying what Christianity has to offer.

But these interviews taught us that when they say they don’t believe in God or the Church, they’re often rejecting a caricature. When they’re ambivalent about Jesus, it’s often because they were led to see him as just another nice, wise man who helped poor people, an interesting figure but not someone who upends your life or compels you to follow him.

In fact, as I sat next to Bishop Barron, watching one of these street interview videos, he said to me, “You know, for many of these young people, following Jesus makes as much sense as giving your life to Gandalf. It’s just non-sensical. For them, Jesus and Gandalf are basically the same: mythical figures who may be interesting, but have absolutely no relevance to the real world.”

I was especially struck by one respondent, whom we asked, “What’s the best and worst thing about the Catholic Church?” Shockingly, he couldn’t think of a single answer to either part of that question (he didn’t even mention the sex abuse crisis as an example of a bad thing.) Catholicism just wasn’t even on his radar. It’s not that he was anti-Catholic or had any resistance to the Church. He was just completely ignorant and ambivalent.

It would be like someone from the Church of Scientology approaching you on the street, and asking you to identify the best and worst thing about Scientology. You’d probably struggle to think of anything, and that’s because you basically never think of Scientology. For many young people, the Catholic Church is in the same category—it’s totally irrelevant.

Whether you’re a parent, pastor, youth minister, teacher, catechist, or anyone who cares about the faith of young people, take a little time and digest these five street interviews. Get a sense of what young people are actually thinking today. Share these videos with your priest; discuss them with your small group or friends. Ponder them. And then decide how you’re going to help reverse this terrible slide.

The answers here may be sobering, but as with any troubling diagnosis, they can also galvanize us, redoubling our commitment to this desperate work of evangelization.
  

  

  

  

  

  • david

    Perhaps if the church got back to basics and away from Universalism it would have more impact. The Church should not try to align with the world but should convince the world that it should be aligned with the Church.

  • BillXR3

    I hope WOF takes all this to heart. People need straight solid answers as to why to believe. Principally they need a concise explanation for the historicity of the Gospels, and did the Resurrection really happen or was it all group think and wishful thinking with embellishment thrown in. They know how historical accounts can be warped and morphed with time. Long wordy tomes won’t do it. People need straight snd concise answer that are convincing.

  • Andy James

    All the more reason to go with the Benedict Option here in the West. It is an insurmountable task for the church in its’ current situation to evangelize the culture all over again. Even as good bishops try, they are undermined by other bishops, cardinals and even the Pope. The Catholic media is not much better. Lino “The Catholic Guy” Rulli practically worships secular idols such as Howard Stern and Dave Grohl, and admits that he is not sure Heaven is real. Catholic bloggers fight about politics, or write books about how women can “have everything” but fail to mention they are married to a lawyer and have a nanny. How was the early church so effective?…easy, they lived in dedicated communities and suffered tremendously. Our times are very similar, and the only growth in the church is happening where Tradition is being lived and the Sacramental life is at the center of family life. The novelties such as Steubenville conferences, LifeTeen and the multitudes of slick, high production catechesis programs are not effective for long-term planting of the faith. Trust me, I have been to many, many of these types of events and bought into them wholeheartedly, and I can count on maybe one hand the young people I know who have stuck with their faith. The Catholic faith is just seen as another activity among many others. Is it hopeless? Of course not…Jesus Christ reigns and our hope is in Him.

  • I’m not sure these interviews really capture anything of importance. Many of the interviewees are not even Catholic or Christian. Why would you expect them to have been educated on the subject? These man on the street interviews are more stunts than providing insight. I’ve seen a bunch around election time over the issues and you get similar vagueness and vacuity. That doesn’t mean there are not real issues out there. Of course there are.

  • Romulus

    Young people don’t believe because they grew up in a climate of unbelief. This includes their parents and pastors as well. I am convinced that unbelief of varying degrees is very common among clergy and religious — far more common than the Catholic faith.

    • St. Kolbe

      yes. And we are not addressing the problem when we Confirm those who show up to one meeting over 3 years of (almost) weekly catechism classes. Then when an instructor mentions this to the priest, he is largely unconcerned about it and says to confirm them anyways. So…yes. The opportunities we have to catechize, we do not adequately use.

  • alloycowboy

    Wow, were really in a different world now. When the Catholic Evidence Guild use to give their stump speaches on Catholics topics in Hyde park in London at least the audience knew something of Christianity and they would even get the occasional heckler. Now exactly 100 years forward the average man on the street can barely identify a Catholic Saint while standing in front of St. Peter’s in Rome. What happen?

  • Oh my goodness, so much face palming happening. Joe Gloor should chat with me lol
    Let me give it a shot!

    1 – God is the act of being itself, our creator, Father, transcendent, the source of all that exists, the first member of the Holy Trinity. He became man in the incarnation as Jesus and sends the Holy Spirit among us to guide us through life.

    2 – BEST thing about the Catholic Church? The fullness of all Truth and the Sacraments.
    WORST thing? The sex scandals, the cover up, the lack of clarity (all that though is the fault of us sinful humans who make up the Church. The Church itself is the Bride of Christ and doesn’t have any “worst” parts)

    3 – The most important thing Jesus ever did was suffer the crucifixion for our sins and then rise from the dead to set us FREE from death and open the gates of Heaven.

    4 – A saint is someone who is completely united to Christ, someone who was a sinner during life, but fully relied on and trusted in God’s mercy and strove for holiness. A canonized Saint is someone who the Church recognizes as someone who lived a profoundly holy life and has provided miraculous intercession.
    Examples of Saints – JPII, St. Gianna, St. Padre Pio, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Therese, St. Lucy, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Alphonsus, St. Augustine.

    5 – Catholics impacting culture? Hmm…hmm….someone named Brandon Vogt comes to mind 😉 Bishop Barron, Mother Angelica (future Saint), Patrick Coffin, Trent Horn, Raymond Arroyo, Abby Johnson, Leila Miller, Steve Ray, Chris Stefanick, Jason Evert, Matt Fradd, Leah Darrow, Uju, Jen Fulwiler, Michael Knowles, Fr. Mike Schmitz, everyone at EWTN, Catholic Answers, Word on Fire….I could go on forever.

    • You get an A+, Margo!

      • samton909

        ,,…

    • alloycowboy

      Wait, wait , hold on a second, those are all Latin Saints in number 4, you missed half the Church Margo. 😉

    • johnnysc

      I would add Church Militant, The Wanderer, Lifesite News, Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Vigano (there are others also)….they seem to be the only ones that are heeding.the message of Our Lady that the final battle will be the attack on the family.

    • Brendan McGrath

      Wait, what you said for #1 needs to be adjusted — you wrote, “God is the act of being itself, our creator, Father, transcendent, the source of all that exists, the first member of the Holy Trinity.” — The problem is, all three Persons/Hypostases of the Trinity, not just God the Father, are God: i.e., all three are the act of being itself; all three are the Creator, transcendent, the source of all that exists, etc.

      Also, you wrote: “He became man in the incarnation as Jesus…” — Since by “He” you’re referring to God the Father, since that’s the context carried over from the first sentence, this isn’t correct: it’s not God the Father who became man/human in the Incarnation; it’s God the Son who became human. Only God the Son became human — to say otherwise would be Sabellianism, aka modalistic monarchianism, and therefore Patripassianism.

      Sorry; I’m a theology geek; I had to correct that! ^_^

© 2018 Brandon Vogt

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