Catholic Herald, 17 June 1988
I know a girl, brought up with no religion, who has tumbled into one of those fringe sects. I shall call her Pat. I expect you too know a Pat, for there are many like her about. Quite accidentally it is neither the Scientologists nor the Moonies that Pat has joined, though it could easily have been either.
She has become involved in what sounds like a respectable, low-brow, evangelical type of Christianity imported, I suspect, from the United States. This church, Pat told me, was founded in the late seventies. There are only a handful of members in this country and Pat travels many miles every weekend to worship. The devotees meet, read the Bible and sing hymns together.
It seems there is no sinister undercurrent of extortion, or secret vows. There are no priests or ministers, only a leader and members.
Pat was a sitting-duck for the first persuasive “missionary” who came along. I’m sorry it wasn’t me with a convincing Catholic rasp – but there you are. One is politely wary of barging in. Teenagers are notoriously tender and one feels perhaps, that coming the heavy Catholic is bound to be counter-productive. But how can we reach these young people?
Pat’s family are very nice. You would be glad to know them. They are the sort of family beloved by market researchers, professional, working parents, two children, a house, a garden, a car, a holiday abroad. Pat is intelligent, attractive, outward looking and well-adjusted by any standards. She went to the sort of school that teaches comparative religion (maybe they all do these days?) and from the age of eleven acquired a superficial acquaintance with various world religions.
Such a method denies real depth in any faith. Her parents, as I said at the beginning, have no religion but they are thoroughly decent, upright citizens. They are truly thankful Pat hasn’t become embroiled with some peculiar guru demanding Rolls Royce motors, purple garb, or blood sacrifice. As far as religion was concerned, (which wasn’t far at all) their attitude, like that of many other parents, was that “Pat should choose when she was old enough.”
This is all very well, but the pitfalls are obvious. With no background of spiritual habits or even discussion at home, a young person is very susceptible to any approach.
There are as many Pats up and down the land as there are empty churches. Literally thousands of young people receive no spiritual direction of any sort. Does this matter?
The Prime Minister seems to think it does. You many not vote for her but you have to admire her. She may exploit the absence of a spiritual dimension in modern life for political ends; she may equally well be perfectly sincere. I doubt if her hectoring style will fill the churches overnight what would it take to do that I wonder? But her insistence on the need for personal responsibility may prod a few consciences into recognising that man has not only a body to look after.
Pat, I am glad to say, is blissfully happy. She reads her Bible, sings her hymns and she prays. Which is more than can be said for the vast majority of us.