Your Gormogons are, to a man,* all Roman Catholic and pretty astonishingly versed in our faith. If you’re not a Roman Catholic, or a Gormogon, you might not find this post particularly appealing, but the Czar happens to know that a few of us are getting pretty annoyed with some of our fellow practitioners. The Czar understands there’s even a podcast brewing in which some of us will be barking loudly at the moon about the way Roman Catholics have been treating themselves for some time now.
The Czar won’t mess with that podcast, but he will grip quite a bit on another related issue. His 12-year-old is taking on his formal religious education right now, and part of that program required him to take part in a…well, the Czar isn’t sure what you’d call it, since he was merely asked to drop off the boy and pick him up when done. Maybe they called it a retreat? Who knows? But what it was…was a disaster of Protestant proportions.
As many of you know, Catholics tend to be pretty particular about their faith, and right now there’s a growing irritation with more come-as-you-are Catholics and encroaching liberalism from folks who would rather change their faith’s time-honored beliefs than admit that what they believe is incompatible with the catechism. We will leave that for the podcast.
Let’s get right to the point. We dropped the boy off at a nearby church (not our own, but one in a neighboring town), and rather than leave him to fend for himself in a strange building with people he doesn’t know, the Czar escorted him in to ensure—more practically—if the Czar even got him to the right church, let alone the right entrance. We were at the correct place.
Inside the vestibule of the church was a crowd of people, engulfed in remarkably insipid Christian rock tunes. No, these aren’t the folk-song ukulele poems that Ghettoputer abhors, written by hippie Catholics back in the 1960s; these are modern nursery-rhyme New Testamenty singalongs set to a rock beat. You know the kind that play on late-night commercials in the cable wasteland channels, usually by groups named something like FellowShip? So this live, five-piece rock band is thumping out one of these songs at a deafening volume, while another half-dozen 50-something-year-old guys are wandering amid the crowd of adolescents eagerly clapping their hands and trying to get the kids to sing with them.
Not surprisingly, the crowd of approximately one-thousand kids (that’s no exaggeration: this place was packed) stood around, in total embarrassment, pretending that whatever was scrolling on their phones was the most urgent thing imaginable. “Uh, can’t sing along with you right,” you could imagine one kid shouting, “My mom just texted to say London has been eaten by a gigantic serpent. Millions dead, my dad is missing.”
So picture this mayhem: happy, utterly gushing Jesus-is-my-BFF song pounding over the amplifiers, six cheerleaders old enough to be any of their dads clapping (ON ONE AND THREE!**) to the song, and about one-thousand kids all desperately pretending to be doing something else to avoid making eye contact with these clowns.
For non-Catholics, this is probably not surprising; this sounds every bit like a typical Christian youth group meeting: well-meaning but utterly incompetent adults pretending that church is way funner than Xbox or the skate park or whatever you kids do these days, dorky-ass songs that would be pathetic even if they were about sex and dope, and a bunch of adolescents in dire need of escape.
“What the hell is this,” asked the Czar out loud. This was one hula hoop challenge on the volleyball court away from being a Baptist youth group. What the hell was happening here? Eventually, someone recognized the Czar’s boy and whisked him away, slapped a name tag on his shirt, and pushed him into the church itself, and told him to sit and join the concert.
Two-and-a-half hours later, the Czar picked him back up, and the boy looked shell-shocked. “Don’t say anything,” we advised him. “Just sit in the car and relax. Forget it even happened.” We drove home in relatively silence, until about one mile from home, he vented.
“That was stupid. I’m tired of how these things screw up everybody’s day, even yours, because you had to drive me! We got nothing out of this. It was a waste of time and money. We didn’t even talk about faith. They just wanted us to think this was some big party.” And so on.
Here’s the deal. Like all faiths, Catholics have a big influx of new members in the form of babies. They get baptized, accompany the parents to church every Sunday, and start to drop away as they become adults. Then they fall in love, decide to get married, and come back to church every week to more-or-less prove they’re loyal and just don’t need a place to hold the wedding. They have kids, and pretty soon they start coming every week for the rest of their lives.
The Church, like most faiths, has a real problem keeping the adolescents coming regularly, so they try to compete with the joys of increasingly emancipated childhood. These occur in the form of youth ministries: basically, the sappiest people in the world—you know you are—trying to convince a bunch of weary, over-programmed kids that God can be just as whack and dope as Instagram filters and pizza pockets.
The problem, which perpetually escapes the adults who run these programs, is that kids are way smarter than that. Adolescents, particularly those in the 12-to-15-year-old range, are almost perfect bullshit detectors. The average kid of this age knows the adult doesn’t really believe the material they’re peddling: the average adult also would prefer to sleep in on Sunday, hates the cantor, thinks the sermon was way off point, and will probably sneak out right after Communion.
The goofball music is unlistenable. The happy-clap-hands dads walking around trying drum up enthusiasm clearly hate this stuff as much as the kids, probably more so. The adults know the kids hate this pretend joy, and the kids know the adults are aware of it, too. It’s a big charade.
And right now, there are a couple of youth ministers firing up Gmail to send us an angry letter, rebuking this cynicism. “Czar, I have been a youth minister for 15 years, and I cannot tell you the number of kids who have thanked me for the fun times and wonderful experiences, often coming back years later with their own kids just to thank me.” Sure, they think you were the best. Guess what, chief? They were bored out of their minds and are being polite to you.
Catholics, you see, have started to embrace this aspect of happy-Jesus Protestantism, and the Czar, for one, doesn’t care for it a bit. He’s not alone, and yes, he is grumpy about it.
The source of this pathetic display of pretty evident. Confirmation—that most serious of sacraments, when you tell a kid “Look, you’re old enough to make up your own mind. Are you in…or are you out?” And most will say “In.” Hooray! Another confirmed Catholic on the mailing list!
Except, once confirmed, the Catholic child no longer attends religious education. Why should he? Why should she? She’s confirmed, and now the onus is on the child to show up on time for Mass every Sunday, participate in the sacraments are appropriate, and live good, full Catholic lives. There’s no need to attend classes on weekends or evenings during the school year: they’re confirmed. They’re done with that. They’re members in good standing, now.
Which means the funds to the local religious ed program dry up. So to milk the program for a couple more years, the local churches have been pushing back age of confirmation from 12 to 13. Then from 13 to 14. Now it’s 15. That’s three more years, meaning hundreds of bucks per year per kid for three more years.
The problem is, as you can quickly imagine, is that it’s back-firing. Kids are less inclined to even show up for mass once they’re confirmed. They’re spent: they’ve been taught, for three or more years, that Catholic church is one, big hoke-fest of bad songs, creepy-weird adults clapping their hands, and interdenominational get-togethers which sort of weakens the whole system.
Something’s gotta give, and soon, the Czar figured. And two weeks ago—not in time to prevent the catastrophe witnessed yesterday—the Czar received a letter from his local church quite frankly addressing this point. With surprise, the Czar read that the local church is thinking of pulling Confirmation back to the age of 12, which it was for centuries. The letter explained that there’s no benefit in prolonging it, that the programs are becoming watered down to make them last longer, and that the kids, frankly, think the religious ed experience, well, it sucks. A more efficient program, focusing on teaching the foundations of the faith rather than personal experience, might well be in order…and starting in 2019, the local church will be re-vamping the program.
About time. Before, you know, the Jesus-is-my-entertainer experience scares them away for good.
The Czar leaves the rest of you to listen to an upcoming podcast from his fellow world-controllers, who will demonstrate that this intrafaith thrashing isn’t limited to Muscovy.
*Well, a despot, a Sith lord, a wizard, a mad scientist, a robot, and whatever that leaves ‘Puter.
** Few greater musical sins.