In the Wall Street Journal this morning:
The Catholic Bishops of Great Britain and Wales will instruct their congregations to return to the tradition of abstaining from eating meat on Friday. What’s interesting, though, apart from the fasting is this paragraph:
Sociologists such as Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, who study the behavior of "religious economies," have observed that churches tend to lose vigor when they relax demands on adherents, especially those tenets and practices that cut against the grain of wider society. In economic terms, lowering the "costs" of membership in this way ends up diminishing its benefits, among other ways by loosening the bonds of community.
Of course, this reminds me of Richard John Neuhaus’s observation that “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” Fasting, apart from its other manifestations, is a mark of distinction.
What do we learn from this? We learn, I think, that religious communities who establish right standards of orthopraxy (fasting, church attendance, the wearing of religious symbols – yarmulkes, crosses, liturgies, etc., ) are not only healthier, in terms of retention, but may be more attractive. In other words, a faith that, like Jesus, makes demands of its followers – even if only symbolic – is a faith that when so exercised is a faith that builds our faith communities.
Read the whole article here.