Learned Ignorance

For the past forty years, Catholics have endured Barney theology.  Catechesis that ignores the rich Tradition of the Fathers, of the centuries.  Catechesis that fails to go any further than “Jesus loves you”.  We condescend to our young people and deny them a real education in the faith, and then we wonder why more people are not on fire for the faith.

Several years ago  Dr. John Cavadini, Professor of Theology at Notre Dame, lamented the fact that most students, even those who attended Catholic High schools, arrive at Notre Dame ignorant of their faith. They don’t even know the basics.

Perhaps the religious illiteracy of so many
otherwise well-educated young Catholics is too
familiar to bear mentioning again. One has
come to expect that even at elite Catholic colleges
and universities, entering students will not
know what is meant by the “Immaculate Conception”
– hardly anyone knows that anymore.
No surprise, either, when students do not know
the proper number of natures and person in
Christ, Mary, and the Trinity – what’s an extra
nature or two here or there? Besides, who’s
counting? It’s not a chemical formula and it
doesn’t take rocket science to believe God
loves me anyway. As for ignorance of more
technical terms, for example, confusing homoousios
with a Near Eastern dish made of chickpeas
(a good guess), or conflating the temperature
at which paper burns with the date of a
church council, who can worry? Still, when
more than a third of the students have to guess
how many Gospels are in the Bible, or think
that the phrase “original sin” refers to sex; when
more than half have no idea what is meant by
“Incarnation” unless it has the prefix re-; when
only ten out of a class of fifty know what
“Exodus” refers to, or what is meant by the
phrase “Real Presence,” and only a slightly
higher percentage can give a credible definition
of “sacrament”; when one student can convince
a large group of classmates that “Catholic Social
Teaching” refers to restrictions on same sex
marriage – we can perhaps bear to mention
the problem of religious ignorance yet again.

Read the whole article here.

I had hoped that  things had improved since that article was written. But Fr. Barron doesn’t seem to think so.

It is important to continually study our faith, so that we can grow in understanding of the great mysteries.  This book is a good place to start:

But please stay away from the “Catholicism for Idiots” it will leave you ignorant.

About Susan Kehoe

I am the wife of a Catholic deacon living in Des Moines Iowa. My husband Larry was ordained in 2006. We have two children and five grandchildren.. Our daughter and her family live in Ireland, and our son and his family live in Franklin Massachusetts.
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2 Responses to Learned Ignorance

  1. quinersdiner says:

    I was a classic “dumbed down” Catholic for too long. That has begun to change thanks to many influences. Everyone loves a mystery. The mystery of our faith is the most exciting one I’ve ever encountered. No one unravels the mystery like the Catholic Church. In this age, more and more people are looking for the real deal and are finding it in the church with timeless doctrines, the Catholic Church. This is a wonderful blog to light a fire under seekers of truth. Thank-you, Susan.


  2. Kathy Thompson says:

    Unfortunately, Susan, this is still very much the case in young generations. My friends from college are, respectively, a high school religion teacher and a college campus minister at Notre Dame. These are regular challenges that they face.

    Saint Mary’s College (in South Bend and across the street from ND) offers a wonderful course called, “Why Catholic?” Due to open enrollment between the colleges, several Notre Dame students took this course with me. This was 10 years ago. My friend and I were theology majors and took the course as a spiritual boost, of sorts, after having taken a Christology course that attempted to take the Christ right out of Christianity. That side, we were amazed at the lengthy discussions we would have in the class about things like why Mary was important or why we needed to attend weekly Mass. I wish more people had access to a class like the one I had to help them on their faith journey.

    The text we used was “The Essential Catholic Handbook”published by the Redemptorists. It’s a great little book. (FYI- I keep a copy in my office for any CTKers who want to borrow it.)


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