Andrew M(oran) Greeley Thomas P. Faase - Essay

Thomas P. Faase

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

With [Crisis in the Church: A Study of Religion in America], Greeley fulfilled his commission from the American Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Evangelization, to study the phenomenon of the unchurched in America. He concludes that evangelization "would represent a misplaced emphasis." The unchurched are so by their own design, he says; religious affiliation is more complex than evangelization can itself address; and it is better to strengthen family life for the sake of greater religiosity. The greatest stumbling block to Catholic evangelization is the Church's ban on birth control.

As sociology, this work is a spotty potpourri of secondary analysis of survey data…. After expressing due caution about his data, Greeley goes on to provide a sometimes fascinating, sometimes strikingly insightful, sometimes trite, and sometimes petulant discussion of an array of variables and phenomena related to church affiliation in the United States. (p. 992)

The greatest contribution of this book is its emphasis on the importance of the marital relationship. "It is the family of procreation that really matters. In most cases that family accounts for more of the variance in religious behavior than all the other variables put together." But he stretches beyond that to say: "The principal cause of Catholic religious decline in the United States is sex—and the highly specific kind of sexual issue represented by the birth control prohibition encyclical." Therefore, he concludes: "Until the Church begins to develop a new agenda for intimacy, evangelization will be nothing more than occupational rehabilitation for troubled bishops, priests, and religious."

Like so much of Greeley's writing, this book is often maddening. Greeley adopts a cavalier tone that attempts to persuade by correlations stretched into thoroughgoing insistence. The paucity of citations to work other than his own and that of his friends amounts nearly to sociological solipsism. From beginning to end, he mars his professional work by pursuing personal vendettas….

Yet, as usual, Greeley's instinctive understanding and common sense leads him to some very fine assessments. His analysis of important secondary data indicates a direction that he rightly invites the sociology of religion to follow. (p. 993)

Thomas P. Faase, in a review of "Crisis in the Church: A Study of Religion in America," in Social Forces (copyright © 1980, Social Forces), Vol. 58, No. 3, March, 1980, pp. 992-93.