chapter  4
Will the real Catholic please stand up?
Pages 17

There are various ways of approaching religious identity, a point I have spelt out in Chapter 2. In the sociology of religion, a typical approach is based on adherence to beliefs and practices. In this view, Catholics in various settings in the West have been described as “parish,” “à la carte,” “smorgasbord,” or “cultural” (see, for example, Demerath, 2000; Hoge et al., 2001; Inglis, 2007).1 Each of these categories refers fundamentally to how committed an individual is to the institutional life of the Church, with parish Catholics as most accepting, for example. Cultural Catholics are completely non-practising, yet see the religion’s importance in informing ethnic or national identity. To these can be added Hammond’s (1988) distinction between collective-expressive and individual-expressive forms of religious identity. I have mentioned, too, in the same chapter that the main limitation of these

categories is that as they are largely concerned with the attitudes or disposition towards institutional Catholicism in terms of its traditions, beliefs and practices; they brush aside the distinctive nuances available in the content or subjectivity of being a particular type of Catholic. This is because the baseline information used to gauge attitudes and disposition is typically in terms of religious participation, say, in performing weekly religious duties. It is no wonder, then, that “smorgasbord Catholics,” for example, are easily described as very experimental in drawing from other religious traditions outside the Church. It is not clear what principles or values they are following in doing so (see Inglis, 2007). Throughout my research, I increasingly realised that these existing typologies

are inappropriate to the state of my informants. Some, for example, do not see the need to fulfil their sacramental obligations like going to Mass, yet still believe they are strong Catholics. Also, there are others who are consistent with their Mass attendance but argue that it is not the most important aspect of their faith. Some among the latter have suggested that having a strong “faith,” a concept which needs a lot of unpacking, and “sincerely helping the poor,” take precedence in their religious identity. Clearly, focusing on religious practice as the basis of one’s religious identity is

limited. While it may indicate one’s commitment, it fails to reveal its meaningfulness (or the lack of it) to young people. Some of my respondents, for example, admit going to church every Sunday but only because they feel the

obligation in the family. Others, on the other hand, do not see its importance at all, but not going to church does not in any way affect their conviction as committed Catholics. The implication is clear: the vast majority of my informants, for rejecting cer-

tain practices or beliefs in favour of others, may be easily dismissed as à la carte, smorgasbord, or even cafeteria Catholics if existing categories are imposed on them. My argument, which is introduced here and will be elaborated in the succeeding chapters, is that by looking at the content of religious identity or how these young people make sense of their being Catholic, we can see that they are upholding certain fundamental principles or ideas betrayed by these broad categories (Cornelio, 2014a). These young people are not arbitrary about how they see themselves as reli-

gious individuals. Drawing from their accounts, I argue that they are best characterised as creative Catholics, whose creativity lies in reinterpreting religion. Following Inglis (2007), creative Catholics reflect a religious identity that is more self-defined in orientation but also underpinned by a critical posture towards institutional Catholicism. Some of them have abandoned going to church but many others have remained consistent. In this chapter, I provide biographical accounts of selected informants in order to give a human face to what may be easily dismissed as dry concepts. Although it is untenable to contend that they are typical representations of their peers, I have selected their biographical accounts nevertheless to present the wide experiences of religiously involved students who come from various social locations in terms of class, gender, type of university, and nature of religious organisation (see Chapter 3). The accounts illustrate how these young people are reinterpreting religion. Some statistical data will also be offered to estimate prevalence in the greater

Filipino Catholic youth population. These depictions are, of course, hypothetical since my typology is novel. What they nevertheless suggest is that even if I have drawn from a small sample of informants, the typology may be found useful to understand Catholic youth in general in future research.