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The USCCB Meeting, Jordan Peterson, and the “Nones”

It appears that the mere mention of the name Jordan Peterson is enough to send some on the far-left end of the spectrum into irrational conniptions.

Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron responds to a reporter's question during a news conference at the spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore June 12, 2019. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Last week, I gave a presentation at the USCCB Spring Meeting in Baltimore. My topic was what I identified as the second greatest crisis facing the Church today—namely, the massive attrition of our own people, especially the young. I trust that the first—around which most of our discussions that week revolved—is obvious to everyone. Judging from the extremely positive reaction of my brother bishops and the lively conversation that followed my presentation, the talk was well received. I was also delighted it apparently prompted a spirited conversation on social media.

After laying out the rather dismal statistics regarding the “nones” or the religiously unaffiliated—50% of millennial Catholics now claim no religious identity, for every one person who joins our Church, six are leaving, etc.—I commenced to offer some reasons why so many are exiting. I told my brother bishops that these were not the fruit of idle speculation but rather of the many statistical and sociological studies that have been conducted regarding the phenomenon.

The number one reason—reiterated in survey after survey—is that young people are quitting the Church because they don’t believe in the teachings of classical Christianity. Moreover, the studies consistently maintain that this lack of belief is often because religion is seen as conflicting with science. Other factors, I continued, include the general secularism and moral relativism of the culture, the difficulty many young people have with the Church’s sexual teachings, and the supposed correlation between religion and violence.

Having presented these findings, I then shared what I take to be signs of hope. The first is that, among the unaffiliated, there are relatively few fierce atheists or determined opponents of religion. Most are indifferent to faith and have drifted rather than stormed away from the Church. A second indicator of hope is the massive presence of young people on social media platforms that trade in religious topics. I mentioned my own participation in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), which yielded almost 12,000 comments and questions, making it the third most discussed exchange of its kind last year. Even though many, if not most, of those who joined in that conversation proposed challenging questions, or made skeptical observations, the undoubted interest in matters religious is something to build on.

Finally, I referenced what I called “the Jordan Peterson phenomenon.” I was drawing my brothers’ attention to the rather extraordinary fact that a mild-mannered, soft-spoken psychology professor, speaking of serious matters in a sober way, could attract tens of thousands to arenas and millions to his social media sites. I told my fellow bishops that most recently Peterson has been lecturing on the Bible, causing armies of people, especially young men, to take a fresh look at the Scriptures. I explicitly said that my reference to Peterson in no way signaled a one-sided or uncritical endorsement of his teaching. Nevertheless, his emergence and his success are, I argued, indicators that we could get a serious message across to a wide audience.

The reaction to my talk outside the walls of the bishops’ conference ballroom was, as I say, interesting. Most reacted very positively to my observations and suggestions, but some, on both the extreme left and the extreme right, took exception to what I said. On the starboard side of the spectrum, there were comments to the effect that I had underplayed the importance of the clerical sex abuse scandals. Well, no one has been more vehement in his denunciation of these outrages than I (see my recent Letter to a Suffering Church for the details), but judging from the available data, it’s simply not the case that the scandals are a major driver of disaffiliation. They indeed appear as a factor, but not a significant one, certainly in comparison with the causes I named above. I get the passion around this issue, but it shouldn’t prompt us to draw conclusions not supported by objective evidence.

But I was especially surprised, and more than a little amused, by the overheated response from some on the far-left end of the spectrum. It appears that the mere mention of the name Jordan Peterson is enough to send some into irrational conniptions. Though I had unambiguously stated that my reference to the Canadian was in no way meant as an endorsement of the entirety of his thought, some commentators and combox denizens characterized me as a Peterson disciple, an apologist for his program, a lackey.

One particularly hysterical observer had me “basing my apologetics” on Jordan Peterson! Oy vey. As I have made clear in my own articles and videos, Peterson reads the Bible through a Jungian, psychodynamic lens, and hence, by definition, does not read it adequately. It is not even evident that the Canadian believes in God in the accepted sense of the term. “Basing my apologetics” on him?! Give me a break.

What is particularly sad to me is that the commentariat, especially in regard to religion, has become so polarized and ideologically driven that the most elementary distinctions aren’t made and the most broad-brush analyses are commonplace. What makes it sadder still is that these distortions and projections stand in the way of addressing the vitally important issue under consideration. As left and right defend their respective ideological bailiwicks, the Church continues to hemorrhage young people. If we want to get serious about a problem that ought to concern everyone in the Church, it would be wise to attend to objectivities.


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About Bishop Robert Barron 156 Articles
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, "Catholicism" and "Catholicism:The New Evangelization." Learn more at www.WordonFire.org.

48 Comments

  1. “young people are quitting the Church because they don’t believe in the teachings of classical Christianity.”

    This is exactly the truth, and the point. Young people have been spoon fed a distaste and revulstion towards religion by every single type of media they come in contact with, all their lives.

    TV and movies have always portrayed religious people as the bad guys. Every single TV show in the last twenty years has portrayed religious people as jerks. Every movie does the same. Kids have never learned what faith is, why it is important, or what it means. Parents no longer make sure their kids learn religion. So, what we have is a massive group of young people who have been taught – in school, too, that religion is bad, religion is unscientific and superstition, etc.

    However, we also know that young people are HURTING more than every before, precisely because they have no religion, and therefore have nothing to fall back on when times get tough

    We have the greatest evangelical opportunity in the last three hundred years before us. But we MUST seize the day on TV, Movies, podcasts, youtube and the internet. START USING THE MEANS OF EVANGELIZATION. GO WHERE THE KIDS ARE. THEY ARE MASSIVELY LONELY, HUNGRY FOR TRUTH, AND NEED WHAT THE CHURCH CAN GIVE THEM. Up to now, the instiutinonal church has not entered the TV, Movies, and internet space. We need to do so

    • As a young person I want the true classical teaching and church. The true Catholic Church teaching and Latin mass, church that does not change in theology with the times(same sex marriage and acceptance of all sin without repentance) because God and his teachings don’t change but remain the same. We need our Catholic Church to not conform to the changing times, we need to conform to the true teaching of the Church. If the Church continues to changes it won’t be Catholic will be just like all the random “Christian” churches out there that preach whatever they please or benefits them.

  2. The leavers do not take catholic religion seriously because the shepherds do not take it seriously otherwise the sex abuse wolves would have been throttled long back. Peterson would not be so respected had he the essential contradictions that usccb has and yes that includes you, bishop barron if you fail to speak out and censure your brother bishops. In a recent interview, You said you did not want to “press” the reversal of obergefell, despite societys obvious need for priceless catholic teaching on this point. Peterson envy is not needed if you can look to your own need to be consistent. Who knows, you might even get a convert in the professor if you showed him the beauty of catholic teaching, instead of running away from it.

    • I agree with Susan Bishop Barron I watched your video at the Rubin report and you know where represented what a Catholic bishop should be doing trying to convert Ruben and telling him that he was a sinner he wasn’t afraid to say to you I’m gay marriage and I have no problem with the church as long as it stays out of politics and legislative issues but if the church gets involved then I have a problem with that and I’m going to take action you said you don’t want to get involved with politics or legislative action during that report how do you justify that and you’re wondering why we’re losing people who would aspire to become a priest or a bishop looking individuals like that

    • I agree the reason Jordan Peterson is being followed is because of his articulation and its persistence and standing up for free speech and rights we need to be careful because his beliefs are not Catholic and he acknowledges a person as a homosexual and also they have rights according to him but he has and attraction his attraction is new because we have no real Catholics out there in the Forefront fighting and articulating themselves of standing up for justice Bishop Aaron stated several times that he doesn’t want to change certain legislation he’d rather just leave it as B and use the Aquinas Theory that’s a lukewarm Catholic especially when it comes to homosexuality and and pornography he does not want to fight legislatively he has said that on the Rubin report so what young people would want to be attracted to a fuzzy look one religion it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere

  3. I repeat a comment I made in response to another piece on CWR a few days ago. We cannot gainsay how many of the “nones” are that, precisely because their generation was the first in US Catholic history to have been abandoned by the Church in terms of Catholic schooling — fewer than 25%, by most estimates. Until the hierarchy wises up on that issue, the bleeding will continue. Andrew Greeley knew and said this forty years ago — and was roundly ignored by the bishops. Now they are eating the bitter fruit of their failure to make Catholic schooling the vanguard of their much-vaunted “new evangelization.”

    • I must agree with you Fr. It has been well documented that the quality of Catholic education post Vatican II has been lacking to say the least and as you say ‘we are paying the price now’. The key is better education of the “Nones” and to serious evangelize those that are on the fence, so to speak. Bishop Barron, has he consistently does, gets to the heart of the problem and LEADS us to where we need to go. We must only take heed of his words Thank you, Fr, for your many publications. Your Our Sunday Visitor Catholic Encyclopedia has been a MAJOR factor in my own spiritual journal began back in 2002 and I still use and learn from it on a daily basis. Please continue your wonderful ministry.

    • Catholic schooling “ain’t what it used to be”. I grew up in a working-class parish with a parochial school run by brilliant Dominican sisters, who essentially worked for room and board. I was well grounded in my faith, both through catechism and (age appropriate) scripture. Today, having been a teacher myself, I see a trend of Catholic schools closing because of a shortage of teaching sisters (we haven’t encouraged vocations in parish or family) and the lack of funds to pay lay-teachers a living wage. Additionally, it is often difficult to find qualified lay teachers who are good Catholics. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard of a teacher let go because they are divorced, living in sin, or publicly state that they disagree with one or more Church dogmas. Add to that the many universities which are Catholic in name only; why should we waste money on such failed institutions? Wake up: The best Catholic education now is accomplished through the Catholic homeschooling movement.

    • Agree Father, the demise of Catholic schools is not small matter-even more so, give the propaganda base camps
      our public schools have become. Not to mention the cesspool many of our Catholic universities have become-
      and last but not least, the shameful lack of real catechesis among the faithful, adults and children alike. Where are Pope Francis and the bishops on any of this??

    • The assertion that young people are departing the Catholic Church in part is due to not being taught about Catholicism seems to be very valid to me.
      Those of us fortunate enough to have attended Catholic grade schools were steeped in our religion and grew to love and appreciate her teachings….though, even many of my generation have since departed as well. Some say too many changes after Vatican Council were the reason. So sad.

  4. The USCCB (not individual Bishops) is the McCarrick Establishment.

    The McCarrick Establishment doesn’t believe in revelation or the traditions of the Catholic Church, si it has nothing to offer my children…as they bring teens and young adults see for themselves.

    The USCCB reveres McCarrick and Mahony and Cupich and Joe Tobin, all frauds of the McCarrick Mediocrity.

    The USCCB is the ugly veneer of the fraudulent McCarrick Church of St. Galen, which lives to suffocate the truth, and venerates money, political influence, and public esteem, the idols of The McCarrick Establishment.

  5. I find the Jordan Peterson phenomenon to be highly relevant. I’m not familiar with the gentleman, but from what Bishop Barron said, it seems that he’s probably an independent thinker. Jean Twenge in her book “IGen,” states that the younger generation is turned off by mindless establishment people talking blather. Rather, they’re interested in independent people – probably because they think they’re more likely to hear truth.

    • Steve, If those people really “listen” they WILL hear truth in the Church! After 67 years of living, I wish I would have listened when I was the age of these “Nones” but I did not, and my current life is the consequence of that. “Seek and you will find”. Notice it says “seek” meaning YOU must do something! Read, study, think, contemplate. When you get my age, you will be glad you did! And the really amazing thing is when you get what I call a personal revelation, i.e. the moment you really understand what is being taught! Those moments are priceless! The Church is the answer. Read what Bishop Barron has taught and study his DVDs and YouTube videos. They will help you greatly! God bless you in your journey and believe me, it is a journey!

      • Jeff,
        Agreed! The truth is the truth regardless of the messenger. I used the words “mindless establishment people talking blather” to give some insight into how iGen may view establishment views. In other words, establishment views may need to be communicated with greater thought, preparation, and intelligence.

  6. Wonder if Bishop Barron could point me in the direction of a parish, Catholic school or CCD program where “classical Christianity” (timeless is not classical) and Catholic sexuality morality is being taught. Perhaps the problem is what they honk is classical Christianity is vapid, protestantized Catholicism. I am quite certain these kids aren’t leaving because of orthodox sermons, family Rosary and rigid sexual morality.

    • Mr Walsh, I would invite you to come with me on my many school visitations around the country, and I will show you strong, faithful and edifying catechesis. The Catholic Education Foundation I serve as executive director offers a Catholic identity assessment, which has been used by dozens of dioceses, to good effect. We all must remember we are no longer in the 1960s and 1970s; most of the weak-tea Catholic schools either have gone under (thankfully) or have reformed (lest they go under).

      • Thanks for taking time to respond, Father. Do you what experience these schools have had, if they track it, with their graduates practicing the faith 1, 5, 10 years from graduation?

      • Why is it that so many young people are attracted to the Traditional Latin Mass? I have seen this time after
        time, whenever I attend the TLM. It never fails to amaze me- young people, young families with children (usually a good number of them)- my own son began to attend the TLM in high school and never went back to the Novus Ordo-
        If the liturgy were given the proper reverence and attention, it would be interesting to see attendance just might change. No more guitars, no more speed reading through prayers, no more inane homilies, no more goofy greetings, no more coffee house signs of peace……

        • Paula,the Tridenntine Mass definitely has great depth compared to the novus ordo, however today we don’t have Bishops like Archbishop Lefebve and Bishop Sheen, although Bishop Burk is not too bad, if Bishop Barron is the best we are we are in sad shape.

    • If you look where all the faithful and orthodox young people are, look no further than traditional and orthodox parishes. The young are jamming the pews. It is mainly these faithful parishes and priests that are providing all the vocations to the priesthood.

  7. On going forth to where the “nones” are, he good Bishop Barron writes that “A second indicator of hope is the massive presence of young people on social media platforms that trade in religious topics.” Hope? Platform? Trade? Topics?

    With all due respect for the bishop and for the with-it users of social media– optimistically with great evangelizing benefit, the question still remains: where, exactly, are the “nones” when the tap into this, or that, or something else, really? The modernday attention span of a goldfish, research says. Eight seconds.

    Elijah did not find (the interiority, etc.) of God in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, and probably not in his opposable thumbs either.

    Rather, in the silence. Blaise Pascal had this to say about that: “the whole calamity of man comes from one single thing, that he cannot keep quiet in a room.”

    • Well said, Peter D. Beaulieu.

      In my conversations with fellow “millennial” men and women; I find a massive ignorance about all of the Church’s teachings, science, philosophy, politics, etc… All of this along with a massive inability to sit still, or to focus on the conversation that is being had. For one, I find that a bit too much credence is given to the “millennial” intellectual faculty; it’s just not there.

      It seems to me that if the Church wants to reach future generations, she ought to teach the perennial teachings of the Church, without fear or apology. In the end, we might have to contend with the fact that

  8. When I first heard Jordan Peterson on YouTube (and I am a 50+ woman) I was not surprised he was getting young people’s attention. He spoke about suffering and finding meaning in life in an often malevolent world. His message was something I had not heard from the pulpit hardly ever. My local Pastor is a very sweet man, but constant “happy” sermons on how much God loves one (and yes, that is true) fall flat when one is suffering – and many are suffering, especially the youth – the number of young people on medication, illegal drugs and killing themselves is higher than ever despite the material wealth of our society. Peterson himself is on a search for God – and recently he said that Catholicism was as sane as it gets.
    Jordan Peterson on suffering: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLvd_ZbX1w0

    • I agree with you. I, too, a 60+ person, first heard Jordan Peterson being interviewed on an Australian program and was so moved by his concern and compassion for young prople,I forwarded the YouTube JP interview to several people. I have not read Twelve Rules yet, but I learned of the first rule and thought it was exactly what young people need. Thanks for posting your thoughts. Kudos to Bishop Barron for speaking up about this.

    • You are right on Susan regarding Peterson is dynamic but he’s not Catholic so as the conversation goes to the next level he will lose. We need Catholics who act and speak like Jordan Peterson that’s what we need and we’ll win however we need priests and Bishops to do that our Lord gave priests and Bishops the power this laity has just come about after Vatican 2. Our Lord told priests and Bishops too get out there and start confronting the legislators people on the street and have first-hand contact that’s when the change will happen hopefully this will get printed

  9. I recommend reading Christian Smith’s “Young Catholic America” to understand why youth are leaving the Church. This is a follow on study to the National Study of Youth and Religion. Spoiler alert: The #1 correlation for a young person to stay or abandon their faith is parental influence, i.e., if parents take their faith seriously their children are less likely to abandon their faith. I hate to say it, but youth groups and Catholic school education don’t have a great influence.

  10. Notice Bishop Barron waste no time in responding to his critics. Unlike another Catholic “leader” we all know! Bishop Barron is a true teacher of the faith. Read, study, think, contemplate, watch what he has done in DVDs, YouTube videos and books. You will learn! “Seek and you will find! Notice this says “seek” implying the YOU must do something. It is not going to come to you! The tools are out there! One need only make themselves available to them.

    • I have watched his videos he thinks Luther’s outstanding and he doesn’t want to go after gay marriage legislatively will take the Aquinas approach and back off that was on the Rubin report what what is so great about Bishop Barron and I don’t mean that with any disrespect I know he speaks well as a nice personality has a lot of knowledge but a Catholic bishop he’s definitely not Bishop Sheen

  11. Even though he has some helpful things to say, JBP is still controlled opposition, permitted to speak in order to draw people away from becoming real threats to the status quo.

  12. But, but… McCarrick brings in a lot of money. This is why he was never called out. As always with corruption, follow the money!

  13. “young people are quitting the Church because they don’t believe in the teachings of classical Christianity.” Wrong. They are leaving because Church leaders obviously do not believe the Gospel of Christ, and do not live it or teach it. They are leaving because Church leaders do not believe that the central action of the Christian Faith, the Mass, is something sacred, having turned it into ugly and trivial theater. They are leaving because under the leadership of the USCCB, the Catholic Church has become an NGO, and no one needs to follow a challenging Creed to be a soft socialist.

    • Hmmmm. I entered the Church 22 years ago, and it had nothing to do with bishops. I simply don’t understand this take on things, as any halfway rational person should be not be a Catholic because “Bishop A” or “Bishop B” is this, that, or the other thing. Very lacking analysis.

      • 22 years ago the church was making comeback John Paul II his right hand man Benedict and all the other exciting things going on the new catechism the tridentine Mass being back and allowed once again, whole different time they were acting like leaders.popes and Bishops and even priests need to be out there acting our lord gave them the power to go out and preach and be martyred not the laity for 2,000 years priests and Bishops were the ones being killed and martyred for the faith. Today priests and Bishops are looking for the next vacation their retirement home and all the other retirement benefits that’s insane.

  14. No doubt, those children whose parents take the faith seriously have the best odds of remaining committed to the Church and tapped into her sacramental life. But earlier generations of parents trusted their children’s religious education to the Catholic schools, apparently unaware that the majority of those teachers had left behind the traditions of the Church, belittled what preceded them, and fed that generation (1970’s and 1980’s ) with nothing of substance. Unsurprisingly, their children drifted away. The generation could not be said to have rejected Catholicism. They never knew it. They never learned its doctrine, never learned of its heroes and heroines, and never heard nor felt its beauty having only been exposed to the most banal of liturgies. How was that generation equipped to pass on the faith to the next? Now better catechesis is available to young people in many more parishes but because their parents were uncatechized, the majority of the children do not drink of it. Who should be surprised if the millenials are leaving. Actions speak even louder than words. When two generations of Catholics rejected being open to life and rejected Humanae Vitae, an encyclical most had never heard defended at any time by any priest or nun or lay catechist, their children followed their example. The parents may have insisted that their children go to Mass but the children knew their parents had rejected the Catholic Church’s teaching authority. And they saw and were given no reason to submit to it themselves.
    What will bring young people back is only one thing: the example of committed Catholics who joyfully serve the Lord and each other, who are fruitful and multiply in every sense of that primary injunction, who give to the Lord and each other what is most beautiful in song and verse and images, who nurse on the wisdom that the Fathers of the Church taught, who are brothers to the poor, the forsaken,the persecuted, and the unwanted (whether born or unborn), and who fully embrace the Cross and He who died upon it for us. The USCCB won’t get us there. Saints will, whether they be bishops, priests, religious or lay.

  15. Bishop Barron,

    Thank you.

    If anyone think that by addressing symptoms, and you listed a few, without first identifying the cause or causes, will succeed in bringing the “nones” back to the Church, is dreaming. How could anyone try to resolve a problem by not identifying its cause?

  16. To good Bishop Barron –

    I share your dismay about the “coloring book” level teaching at Catholic high schools and colleges.

    I would point out the painful betrayal of Catholic education by the sinister Theodore McCarrick, who played this two-fold part:

    A – creator and co-signer of the 1967 Land of Lakes Statement, where he joined UND and several Jesuit Universities like Fordham and Georgetown in breaking away from the Catholic teaching, when he was president of the University of Puerto Rico; and

    B – the USCCB’s collaboration with the sinister McCarrick in crafting an “implementation plan” that McCarrick et al designed to prevent John Paul II’s implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, whereby the USCCB can take credit with McCarrick for the destruction of Catholic teaching to our young people.

    It is a difficult position to be in voicing concerns about “Catholic education” to the USCCB.

  17. Having read this article and most especially the comments, I feel compelled to recommend that people find a copy of Delia Maguire’s novel The Rural Gentleman. i came across it after reading a review in the UK edition of The Catholic Herald. It is a simple tale of an English Catholic priest coming to minister in rural Ireland. It is not preachy, it cannot be labelled either liberal or traditionalist. It simply tells the story of a good and faithful priest living in trying times. The more I read and experience the trials and tribulations of the modern church, the more convinced I am that there will be no recovery without priests who truly commit to their vocation, going way before the call of duty in terms of faith, charity and love.

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