Catholic, Sort of


In fact, if you really wanted to supercharge the nation, you’d fill it with college students who constantly attend church, but who are skeptical of everything they hear there. For there are at least two things we know about flourishing in a modern society.

First, college students who attend religious services regularly do better than those that don’t. As Margarita Mooney, a Princeton sociologist, has demonstrated in her research, they work harder and are more engaged with campus life. Second, students who come from denominations that encourage dissent are more successful, on average, than students from denominations that don’t.

This embodies the social gospel annex to the quasi-religious creed: Always try to be the least believing member of one of the more observant sects. Participate in organized religion, but be a friendly dissident inside. Ensconce yourself in traditional moral practice, but champion piecemeal modernization. Submit to the wisdom of the ages, but with one eye open.


I suspect that the interpreation of these findings is as follows:

Students with an active social life also tend to be the more successful ones academically.
Denominations which encourage dissent, by which is probably meant liberal denominations, tend to find it hard to hang on to less intelligent members.


Perhaps. I think the term ‘denominations which encourage dissent’ could also include ‘denominations’ like Catholicism and Orthodoxy, where ‘dissent’ is certainly not something that is rare. There is a strong tradition of ‘following one’s informed conscience’ in Catholicism that can encourage young people to think for themselves, while also being informed by Church T/tradition…


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