At age 20 we worry about what others think of us. At 40 we don't care what they think
of us. At 60 we discover they haven't been thinking of us at all.
Ann Landers, via Context, quoted in Signs of the
1993, p. 6.
In this Age of Self, the language is filled with phrases that glorify personal choice
above all other values: self-determination, self-knowledge, self-esteem, self-help even
do-it-yourself. In this climate, no doctrine is safe, no dictate accepted without
scrutiny....The touchstone of belief today is the individual, not the institution.
Priests., like precinct captains, have lost authority. The same voters who talk back to
their political leaders on call-in shows and town meetings are talking back to their
religious leaders at parish council meetings and Communion breakfasts. While 85 percent of
American Catholics look up to the pope as a moral leader, 4 out of 5 say they follow their
own conscience, rather than papal authority, on moral questions...The phrase
"cafeteria Catholics" describes those who pick and choose among church
teachings. But in religion, as in politics, the more appropriate analogy for modern mores
is to fast food rather than to cafeterias; as the slogan for one hamburger chain puts it:
"Have it your way."...How do leaders lead when followers don't want to be led?
Steven V. Roberts, "Leading the Faithful in an Age of
Dissent," U.S. News and World Report, August 23, 1993, p. 6.
Statistics and Research
Another poll sheds light on this paradox of increased religiosity and decreased
morality. According to sociologist Robert Bellah, 81 percent of the American people also
say they agree that "an individual should arrive at his or her own religious belief
independent of any church or synagogue." Thus the key to the paradox is the fact that
those who claim to be Christians are arriving at faith on their own terms -- terms that
make no demands on behavior. A woman named Sheila, interviewed for Bellah's Habits of the
Heart, embodies this attitude. "I believe in God," she said. "I can't
remember the last time I went to church. But my faith has carried me a long way. It's
'Sheila-ism.' Just my own little voice."
Charles Colson, Against the Night, p. 98.