In the 1976 classic satirical film “Network”, television anchorman Howard Beale (brilliantly played by Peter Finch in an Oscar winning performance) exhorts his viewing audience to lose their apathy and to get angry about the state of affairs in the country:
“I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!…You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”
In the film itself Howard Beale’s over-the-top rant against an apathetic response to an unacceptable status quo is simply the culmination of his slow descent into madness, a nervous breakdown in full view of his television audience. It was following a recent observation by my wife that this classic scene from American cinema came to mind.
First the backstory.
While I converted to Catholicism nearly a decade ago, my wife is a cradle Catholic. In the early 1980’s she attended Saint Joseph Catholic School in California (a parish school which taught grades K-8). In recent years my wife, like others of our generation, has become reacquainted with many of her old classmates through Facebook. While this has generally been a good thing, these rediscovered friendships have further highlighted the widespread apostasy which nearly every Catholic of her generation has personally witnessed.
Of the 22 classmates she has friended on Facebook, only 2 are still recognizably Catholic. There are 3X that many who are now evangelical Protestants. The remaining dozen demonstrate no religiosity or sacramental life, not even meeting the low threshold of the proverbial Christmas-Easter Catholic.
This anecdotal data simply reinforces what the Pew Research Center has already told us:
Those who have left Catholicism outnumber those who have joined the Catholic Church by nearly a four-to-one margin. Overall, one-in-ten American adults (10.1%) have left the Catholic Church after having been raised Catholic, while only 2.6% of adults have become Catholic after having been raised something other than Catholic.
In addition to the Pew data, we know from Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) that weekly Mass attendance has declined from 55% in 1965 to 24% in 2014. In other words, while many still profess to being Catholic they ignore the first precept of the Church which obliges them to assist at Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.
This is where Howard Beale’s epic rant in “Network” needs to inspire us. We have all heard the damning data for so long that we are often numb to it. We have become apathetic to apostasy. We no longer viscerally react to the widespread abandonment of the one, true, faith by millions.
It often appears that those who should care most about this say the least. This contemporary crisis, ranging from indifference to indifferentism to apostasy, is now accepted as the new norm by far too many Catholics, laity and clergy alike. Our collective loss of outrage over such ecclesial devastation is scandalous (and telling) in and of itself.
Before we can honestly address the root causes of this apostasy (anthropocentric liturgies, insufficient catechesis, indifferentism, moral relativism, etc.), we must first reject apathy and reject an unacceptable status quo.
The time has come for every Catholic of good will to go to their window, or at least to Facebook and Twitter, and shout to the world: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Brian Williams is a convert who entered the Catholic Church in 2006. He is a graduate of Long Beach State University with a BA in History. Brian blogs on life, liturgy and the pursuit of holiness at liturgyguy.com. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and five children.