Despite the closing of hundreds of parishes and catholic grammar schools in the United States, Catholicism stands on the verge of a promising new age globally. In his lecture last Monday entitled “Megatrends in Catholicism: Ten Things Turning the Catholic Church Upside Down,” Dr. John Allen, Jr., characterized several trends that have and will continue to mold the Catholic Church throughout the 21st century. Though trying to remain relatively positive, Dr. Allen, the senior Vatican analyst for CNN, NPR and the National Catholic Reporter, made it clear that the changes the Catholic Church will undergo in the upcoming years will either make or break the great success and growth that the Church has experienced in the past one hundred year.
Though the title of the lecture led many to believe that Dr. Allen would cover all ten of the topics covered in his book (which he was not afraid to shamelessly plug just in time for the holiday season…), he chose to cover what he felt were the four biggest trends the Church is facing. His first trend, the emergence of a world Church, described a necessity for Catholicism to evolve into a “self-consciously global religion.” Though the Church may appear to be on the decline in the States, in the past century the number of Catholics worldwide has gone from 266 million (in 1900) to 1.1 billion (2000) with a large amount of this growth occurring in the global south. It is this increase that has lead Dr. Allen to believe that the future tone of Catholicism is to be set by the global south. This tonal shift will be from a speculative systematic theology to a more literal understanding of the narrative of the Bible with emphasis on the miracles of the New Testament. It is also in the south where the Church has directly involved itself in politics (the polar opposite idea of the US’ concept of separation of church and state). Dr. Allen believes that the church will play a much larger role in politics in the future due to this globalization of the church.
The second trend was the emergence of evangelical Catholicism in Europe, which basically pertains to the understanding of faith as a personal choice rather than something simply passed down from generations to generations among families. What Allen finds somewhat alarming is that although the Vatican, located in Europe, in the cultural center of the Catholic world much of Europe around it decline that faith is important in their lives. Though there is an emphasis on the traditional Catholic identity, the importance of this emphasis seems to be thrown into the wind in such countries as Poland where the percentage of people who regard their Catholic roots as important is in the teens.
The third, and what I found to be most interesting trend dealt with the biotech revolution and what the power of genetics holds for the future. We must ask ourselves whether or not it is right to wield the power and play the role of God. We are entering an age of Transhumanism. We now have the power to direct the next step in human development; we must ask ourselves if we should use it.
The fourth and final trend dealt with economic globalization. Though great efforts have been made to help impoverished countries it simply has not been enough. We live in a world where a combined three people make more money than the combined revenue of 42 impoverished countries and the rich have a tendency to only become richer.
In his final statement, Dr. Allen left the crowd with only a few words regarding one’s personal shift into this new age school of thought: think as a global Catholic. Each of the issues he talked about are rich with the potential to create new catholic energy but can also deepen the holes that already exist in Catholicism and therefore the future of Catholicism relies not only on the institution but on the individual as well.
Though this lecture may not have pertained to any of Dickinson’s poems, the theme of change in Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” was the major concern of Allen. Like the American and the girl in Hemingway’s story, the Church is facing a huge change in the near future. This change has the potential to alter everything we as Catholics understand about religion’s role in our everyday lives. Ultimately what it comes down to is that change is a part of life and there is no way to avoid it. It is something we all must face.