Monday, July 19, 2010

Catholic Books for Teens-Disturbing.....

I converted to Catholicism as a teenager. I came into faith precisely at a time most of my friends were starting to fall away, so I was desperate for role models. I found websites such as Pure Love Club, Life Teen, Revolution of Love, and Catholic Answers. For most teen issues, they provided information mainly on the Church's teachings on sexuality, birth control, and abortion. A review of Catholic Answer's available books for teens will show multiple books covering Theology of the Body or Jason Evert's chastity publications. Looking back at this, I am a bit disturbed.

I'm not against the idea of teaching teens about the proper use of sexuality, according to our faith. I understand how crucial it is, especially as young people are just coming into their own sexuality and desperate to figure things out. However, I find myself disturbed by one aspect: sexuality is the main focus in the Church's attempt to reach young people.

Don't believe me? At Catholic Answers' online store, for example, the options for young people are here. Aside from basic guides to the ABC's of our faith, I spot seven tracts on chastity and three books dealing with Theology of the Body. Other than that, I see one book on Catholic faith in college, others on basic discipleship and the rest being geared toward little kids. In addition, an advertisement for a book on Maria Goretti talks about how she "chose to die rather than be violated by a neighbor" and how it can help young people grow in chastity.

Why is this a problem? As I mentioned, there is the assumption that youth issues are mainly sexual ones. There are no books on the Christian way to handle peer pressure, on teachings of alcohol and drug abuse, none on the Christian way to handle parental disagreements, on expressing individuality within a Christian context (ex. "Are tattoos OK?" "Is coloring your hair purple OK?" People do think Christians have to dress a certain way and many young Catholics can get confused. Answer to both? Yes, you can). Nothing on how to manage your money (including tithing/giving to charity, supporting companies with values of justice, consumerism, and debt). Nothing about going to parties or the pressure to fit in. Nothing even on music, on Christian rock stars, punk artists, etc. For college aged students, you would think you could find books on how to handle those situations in a Christian context. Nope. Nada. You would also think there would be resources for teens on how to discover their talents and use them to serve God's glory (and how to stand against an opposing parent who may have good intentions but isn't going with their best interests....including on how to financially support themselves as soon as they were old enough, if it meant following their desires and integrity). Nope. Zilch. Anything on how to handle bullying? Haha, you must be joking!! How to handle abusive situations? Yeah, right! How to form true friendships with people who respect you? As the wise guys would say, "Fogettaboutit!!!!!!"

There also are few resources for Catholic teens and college-aged students who want to take action in various causes. On the websites I've found, abortion and contraception use were the big issues. Taking action meant praying or protesting abortion clinics (a practice I've found to be morally repugnant, even as I identify as pro-life), volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers, teaching abstinence to high school kids, but very little on other issues such as homelessness, teen prostitution, environmental stewardship, ending the death penalty or hunger (global and local). While our Church teaches that these are important issues, I've seen little to no marketing to young people on how to get involved and organize. Even as we've had a tradition of activism domestically and internationally (with figures such as Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Dorothy Stang, etc), there has been little incentive to get young people involved.

What are my findings? We've reduced teens to "one thing" even as we try to tell them they're worth more than that "one thing". We've told them that their goodness wrests, not with how just they are in other areas, but with how well they can keep it in their pants. We've neglected to address other areas of their lives because we've decided which teachings are most important. I find this problematic. I think it's about time we started addressing other issues.


  1. Katie,

    Our sexually-driven culture does tremendous damage to young people, and those young people age into miserable older people with families (or not, depending on how damaged they've become by that time). There is no other single challenge faced by young people today with so much potential to harm their ability to form healthy relationships and eventually enter into Christ-based marriage to form families centered on Him.

    I’m not familiar with the particulars of teen prostitution but I'm willing to bet that most occurrences take place outside the home.

    Runaways frequently go down that path for lack of any other way to support themselves, especially when underage. But prostitution usually is connected to drug addiction, and often the whole scene skews and even destroys a young woman's ability to recover and enter into healthy relationships with men. However, the numbers are - I believe - small compared to the larger issue of male/female sexuality and the culture's attempt to normalize sex outside of marriage, among underage, and same-sex marriage. Count teen-age prostitution in there if you will, and write a book about it if the problem is so significantly huge.

    The amount of material targeting chastity and TOB are a reflection of the state of the culture and the Church's attempt to stop it. As a veteran of those wars I can tell you that the odds are still overwhelmingly against us. Porn addiction is eating away at people's hearts and minds, and women and children are increasingly targeted.

    If you perceive a lack, as you say, in books on how to organize around the issues you care about even more than these, by all means go write about them. However, the dearth of books on those subjects should tell you that it isn't the organized Church per se that doesn't agree that those issues you list (I guess we could describe them as "social justice" issues) - it is also those Catholics who have taken the time to address them in writing.

    It's not up to the institutional Church to write books on these issues or even those addressing chastity and TOB. Personally I believe the focus on worldly monetary social justice issues shifts the focus from the spiritual challenges we face regarding our salvation - which, not withstanding Pres. Obama's non-theology honorary degree from Notre Dame, is NOT COLLECTIVE - it is individual.

    I have no desire to prevent anyone from working on those issues but I do resist attempts to make them primary.

    So, go research these things and write about them. We'll see how many of such books sell, but I also think the incredible sales of TOB/chastity materials should tell you that millions more feel the yearning in their hearts for the personal liberation from the hyper-sexualized culture than feel the need for deliverance form social justice issues.

    If I'm wrong, how come no writers perceive a demand for them? You aren't even claiming that - you perceive the lack from an idealist's perspective of something needed but not that there's a strong demand by the public - Catholic or not.

    Take a gamble that the need is there but unseen. Do your research and write. Perhaps you’ll strike the mother lode. But beware that there might be not much demand at all or else you’d have others preceding you – maybe.

    Best wishes in that effort. Who knows, maybe latter-day Catholic socialists like those you cited may someday welcome you into their midst.

  2. While I don't disagree, I do feel it's a problem that there is a lack of other resources.

    The thing is, there are things all teens and college students face that don't always involve sex. Including Catholic ones:

    1. Drug addiction/alcohol and the peer pressure surrounding that (which is also related to sexual temptation).

    2. Financial issues: I cannot tell you how many of my friends, Catholic or not are in enough debt to buy a house before they've even purchased ones. In addition, I have friends who'd like to learn to manage their money better so that they can tithe, donate to charity or to the Bishop's appeal. Also, there are those who are concerned about consumerism (which leads to an attitude of objectification, which also spills over into many of the sexual issues our culture faces), so we need to address that as well.

    3. Depression/suicide/self harm: I cannot tell you how many Catholics I know who haven't succumbed to sexual issues, but who have issues with these. The reason we feel the need to fill our lives with things like multiple sexual relationships is because we are starving, starving for something. Addressing sex is part of it, but not all of it.

    4. Individual expression: There are those who don't feel they fit in because they don't feel they dress "right". We need to address standards of modesty, but also that one does not need to be preppy or chic or whatever to be fit for the Kingdom of God. Especially where teens are concerned, they feel the need to fit in, but are struggling with the desire to express who they are.

    5. Talents/Resulting Conflicts: Teens and college students have dreams they'd like to follow but often feel at odds with parents who pressure them. Catholic teens may feel a need to "Honor thy mother and father" at the expense of their talents and desires for their lives. They also hear from older people, Catholic and not, that they should do something "practical". There needs to be something addressing those needs.

    I could go on, but I feel I have long enough.

    I'm not saying that these aren't real needs. However, we focus on sex to the point where we also need to remember that sexual sin is a symptom of other, greater sins. Sins such as rampant objectification of human beings, sins such as the neglect of human relationships in exchange for stuff. Sins such as the neglect of mothers in their time of need, a neglect so great it drives them to do everything we are wired NOT to do!

    Also, while I believe salvation is important, we have to remember that, if we do NOT focus on the monetary social justice issues, people are going to die, yes, die before they can even hear God's name. In fact, one reason many women do have abortions is financial need.....think of that! You could save a lot of babies if you work for monetary social justice causes. In addition, it was commanded in the words of Christ Himself that we were to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, etc. He said THOSE were the ones who go to Heaven, not those who simply call him "Lord, Lord." Salvation is impossible if we don't work for them and our bishops have actually said as much.

    Again, I'm not saying this is not important. And I'm not talking about demand. I'm talking about the need to address ALL issues, as sexuality seems to be related to other grievous issues in our society. In addition, there are those who don't even realize what the Church says about the other things and feel they may be too liberal for the Church because of that.

    Otherwise, it's like we're focusing on science to the point we're neglecting English or math. They need each other. Just like all the Church teachings need each other and there should be more resources for those coming of age into faith. We'll be running more than just our sex lives.