Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Catholicism and the New Religions

The loss of Christians to new religions is a common occurrence when there is a sudden change in the way of life of the citizens. This is especially true in Korea, says a professor emeritus, interviewed by the Catholic Times for its four page coverage of this issue.

Drawing on his life-long study of new religions, the professor believes that Korea provides a fertile breeding place for new religions because of the country's unique religious culture and the structure of its society. The rapid transformation of the culture has brought unexpected changes affecting the lives of many, says the professor, leaving them feeling uprooted, insecure, weary, and searching for a more meaningful life.

Another reason cited by the professor: The established religions have not been able to answer the desire for a deeper spirituality, being more concerned with gathering new converts and failing to respond to the needs of their own members when they feel hurt, alienated and oppressed.

The new religions found their reason-for-being, the professor says, in Protestant fundamentalism, with its emphasis on doctrinal exclusivity, its interest in growth and opposition to the mainline Protestant churches. The professor sees these new religions as providing a quick and easy way of escaping what many consider the heartless pursuit of materialistic goals, and returning us to a world we once knew: open to mysticism, transcendence, and spirituality.

The charismatic leaders of the new religions, with passion and enthusiasm, are giving their members what they desire. Their teachings, according to the professor, emphasize the emotional content of belief rather than its intellectual content, which many find easier to accept. He believes this feeling approach to ones faith should prod the Catholic hierarchy to work at developing more fellowship as a first step in answering the desire for more spirituality among its members.

The professor mentions the well-known fact that these new religions find it easier to approach Catholics more than they do Protestants. The encounter with Catholics is not only easier but more productive, he says. Leaders of these new religions are quick to say that many of their members were once Catholics. The reason for this, according to the professor, is the failure on the part of many Catholics to make the connection between their personal concerns and their Catholicism. Protestants are also better grounded in Scripture than are Catholics, who often don't have an adequate understanding of Catholic teaching, he says. Furthermore, Protestants are instructed about heretical ideas, which makes it more difficult for the new religions to find a willing listener.

Although there are more than 5 million Catholics in Korea, the professor feels that until Catholics understand their faith in more depth, making it their own, the  real number of Catholics would be much less. He recommends that the Church study the new religions, with an eye toward cutting down the number of Catholics who leave the faith, and also provide programs to debrief those who leave these religions and want to return 'home'--all the while endeavoring to make that home more welcoming for them than it had been in the past.