fragments of an attempted writing.
Ron Paul praises the Byzantine Empire for its gold standard:

The bezant, however, was minted by.. the Byzantine Empire. For ten centuries Byzantine coins were accepted all over the world, and Byzantium dominated trade for thousands of miles in every direction from Constantinople. Even the royal accounts of medieval England, says Dr. Sutton, were kept in bezants. The Byzantine Empire only declined when it debased the bezant, adding more cheap alloys and removing gold.

I know some folks who must have been absolutely orgasmic upon reading this.

"The Byzantine Empire only declined when..."  Oh boy.  That kind of reminds me of when I was listening to the Dobsonista radio station one Thanksgiving and the radio snake oil salesman was talking about how God cursed the pilgrims in their first couple of years because of their communal system of property and commodities sharing.  Once they switched to a "free market" system, so the Dobsonista said, God began to bless them.

Some religious instruction for your Sunday morning.

This image is from "an old Irish Catholic schoolbook."  Seen here, which I linked to because of a comment read here.

poor white religious flight...

The news this week has been aflutter with talk of the study No Money, No Honey, No Church: The Deinstitutionalization of Religious Life Among the White Working Class.  The study was done by Bradley Wilcox, Andrew Cherlin, Jeremy Uecker, and Matthew Messel. The study has not yet been published, but thanks to a reader of the blog for forwarding me a copy.

I found the entire study fascinating, so much so that it is hard for me to select portions to quote here.  Wilcox & Co. focus on white working class folks because the phenomenon they study does not transcend racial lines - poor blacks and poor hispanics continue to attend church when poor whites stop doing so.  Wilcox suggests reasons for this which I will get to below.

First, from the abstract:

Findings: We find that religious attendance among moderately educated whites has declined relative to attendance among college-educated whites. Economic characteristics, current and past family characteristics, and attitudes toward premarital sex each explain part of this differential decline.

Implications: Religion is becoming increasingly deinstitutionalized among whites with moderate levels of education, which suggests further social marginalization of this group. Furthermore, trends in the labor force, American family life, and attitudes appear to have salient ramifications for organized religion. Sociologists of religion need to once again attend to social stratification in religious life.

Wilcox et al. note that the while it is widely recognized that there was class stratification in American religion at the beginning of the 20th century, most theorists argued by the 1970s that class stratification was no longer an issue in American religious life.  They then review the literature which suggests that things have decisively shifted to an environment of heavy class stratification in contemporary white American religious life.

After covering the steady decline of white working class wages, the future economic prospects of white working class whites, and the fact that the "white working class ideal of the disciplined self has become less attainable in today’s postindustrial economy," Wilcox et al. note the implications which follow: 

            Not only have white churches in the United States functioned as bulwarks of bourgeois respectability, they have also promoted a family-centered moral logic that valorizes marriage and parenthood for much of the last century (Christiano, 2000; Edgell, 2006). When moderately educated white men and women can attain strong and stable marriages, they can find reinforcement for the lives they lead from their churches. In other words, white married couples attend church with their children partly as a way of displaying to their fellow congregants, who are often their neighbors and friends, their sense of responsibility and their commitment to familism—and also to gain reinforcement for their moral view of the world.
But since the 1970s, stable marriage has become harder to attain for moderately educated Americans (Cherlin, 2009; Wilcox, 2010). They are now markedly less likely to get and stay married as adults, compared to college-educated adults. This is partly for economic reasons, with increasing spells of unemployment and underemployment, along with declining real wages, making working class men less attractive marriage partners.
But, in all likelihood, the retreat from marriage among moderately educated Americans is also rooted in cultural changes that have gone hand in hand with the economic changes affecting this sector of American life. Since the 1970s, working class Americans have become less likely to hold familistic beliefs, even as college-educated Americans have become more likely to subscribe to these very same beliefs (Martin & Parashar, 2006; Wilcox, 2010). For instance, opposition to divorce and premarital sex has risen since the 1970s among the college-educated, while it has fallen among Americans who do not hold college degrees. The fact that less-educated Americans are now less likely to embrace a marriage-minded mindset, in turn, has been linked to the declines in the percentage of moderately educated Americans who are in their first marriage (Wilcox, 2010).
The demographic and cultural shifts that have taken place among moderately educated Americans are important because a disproportionately high percentage of active adherents in American churches are married with children (Stolzenberg, Blair-Loy, & Waite, 1995). Moreover, churches tend to be cultural bulwarks of familism, with markedly higher levels of adherence to norms against divorce and premarital sex found among regular churchgoers compared to the population at large (Wilcox, 2004). Thus, insofar as working class whites are less likely to abide by a familistic moral logic—both in practice and belief—they may be less attracted to religious congregations that tend to valorize conventional family life.
In sum, then, changes in the institutions of the labor market and the family appear to have undercut many of the socioeconomic and cultural resources that had until recently enabled many working class adults to identify with the moral logics of bourgeois respectability and familism that have long been upheld by mainstream religious institutions in the United States (Edgell, 2006; Herberg, 1955).

I'm not convinced that "cultural changes" can be as divorced from "economic changes" as Wilcox et al. suggest here. It's not as if, for reasons purely "cultural," working class people decided to start having pre-marital sex like there is no tomorrow and divorcing and cohabitating with glee, dropping their former inhibitions on a whim.  Surely the loss of working class incomes which made it possible to sustain with moderate stability a family of 4 or 5 or 6 on one income, along with the changes in women's domestic and social roles (brought about in large part because of technological and economic changes), as well as the social ostracisation brought about by the totalizing triumph of mass media (economically driven, to be sure), contributed to the dismantling of marriage as an institution among working class whites.

Wilcox et al. suggest why working class white culture differs religiously from working class black and hispanic cultures:

Black churches, however, emphasize marriage less than white churches, relative to qualities such as shared struggle and perseverance (Cherlin, 2009; Ellison & Sherkat, 1995; Lincoln & Mamiya, 1990). For instance, when it comes to family life, they speak of parent and child, of broader networks of kin, and of the fictive kinship to be found among one’s brothers and sisters in church. It is possible, then, that African Americans could achieve the caring sense of self, even in an unfavorable economy and without benefit of marriage, and find support at church. This suggests that declines in church attendance among the moderately educated should be less for blacks than for whites.
Assessing trends over the past few decades in attendance among Hispanics is difficult because of changes in the composition of the Hispanic population.  Given that issues related to immigration, discrimination, and incorporation into American society loom large for churches serving Hispanics (Figueroa Deck, 1989), we suspect that Hispanic churches are less focused on family structure and employment, and more focused on providing a sense of solidarity and practical support to their members, than are non-Hispanic white churches. Moreover, there is less class heterogeneity among Hispanics, who tend not to be college-educated or affluent; this probably affords working class Hispanics a sense of comfort in the churches they attend (Schwadel, McCarthy, & Nelsen, 2009). Thus, we would expect that employment difficulties and lower incomes would be less likely to influence the church attendance of Hispanics than non-Hispanic whites.

After this section Wilcox et al. present the data.  I'm not going to get into that here but suggest that anyone with an interest in this area should either read the paper when it is published or email me for a copy so that you can look at the data and methods.

After the data, methods, and results sections of the paper (which is to say, most of the paper), there is a final discussion section.  Here it is:

          This paper finds evidence that religious life among the moderately educated – which may be the closest analogy to the “working class” today – is becoming increasingly deinstitutionalized, much as working class economic and family life have become increasingly deinstitutionalized. Using repeated cross-sectional surveys from two national data collections programs, the GSS and the NSFG, we find that religious attendance among whites has declined most precipitously among whites without college degrees, including moderately educated whites—that is, whites with a high school degree or some college but no bachelor’s degree. By contrast, we do not find a decline among moderately educated blacks; and we do not find a monotonic educational gradient at all among Hispanics.
            Our results suggest that the bourgeois and familistic moral logics that have long been linked to religious institutions are now less powerful in the lives of working class whites than they used to be. Specifically, in the last forty years, white working class income, employment, marital stability, and cultural conservatism have all declined—and markedly more so than they have for college-educated whites (Cherlin, 2009; Wilcox, 2010). Indeed, our results suggest that these bourgeois and familistic factors may account for a substantial share of the relatively large decline of working class church attendance. Within the limits of observational data, we think that our results suggest that the erosion of the labor market and cultural structures associated with the bourgeois and familistic moral logics in American life may have played an important role in accounting for recent declines in religious attendance among working class whites.
            While we recognize that not everyone wishes to worship, and that religious diversity can be valuable, we also think that the existence of a large group in the middle of the American stratification system that is increasingly disconnected from religious institutions is troubling for our society. This development is especially troubling because it only reinforces the social marginalization of working class whites who are also increasingly disconnected from the institutions of marriage and work (Cherlin, 2011).
            Moreover, our results suggest that it is important for the sociology of religion to once again attend to social stratification in religious life.  The broadly shared prosperity of the mid-twentieth century may have diminished class differences in religious experience in the middle of the twentieth century to the point that they were unimportant.  That at least would seem to be the conclusion drawn by leading scholars during the latter half of the twentieth century.  But two great forces of change have widened the differences since the 1970s:  the bifurcation of the labor market due to globalization and automation and the great cultural changes in family life that have made non-marriage-based family patterns acceptable.  Studies of religion in twenty-first century America will need to take these class-based differences into account.

I don't agree with the language that states that "the moderately educated" are the closest "analogy" we have to the "working class" today.   I'm aware of the current debates regarding the question of whether or not there is a "working class" in America today and the debates with regard to the parameters of the working class.  Sure, these categories can be tricky business.  My own opinion is that we don't have to go seeking the closest analogy we can find for a working class today.  The working classes in America are different from those studied by Marx and Marxists from the mid 19th century through WWII, but I believe we can still speak empirically and with reasonable confidence regarding the "working classes."  Is it just me or does it seem that anthropologists dealing with class issues generally have more confidence in the category of an actually existing working class in contemporary America than do sociologists working in these areas?  Perhaps the different methods have led to different confidences here.  Perhaps anthropologists tend to be more radical politically and this effects their interpretation of data.  I don't know.

With regard to the question of education and economics/class, I have a relative who has two masters degrees (humanities) but has seen himself fall out of the middle class in the current recession.  During this time this relative also stopped going to church.  His "feeling out of place" began when he could no longer afford to go out to eat with his church friends after services.  He hadn't really thought of himself as on the economic bottom of his rather demographically typical suburban white parish before but after he fell from financial stability he realized that he had always been in the lower socio-economic segment of the parish and was now pretty much at the bottom.  He felt increasingly uncomfortable with this state of affairs, and found that the same situation at other white Protestant parishes when he began church shopping. So he just stopped going to church. I ran this paper by that relative and he suggested that finances proper may have more to do with religious attendance than education does. I wonder if people with masters degrees making 23k a year are significantly more inclined to attend church than a high school drop out making 23k a year. This study does indicate that people who have been unemployed in the last 10 years are significantly less likely to attend religious services.  I suspect there are a number of other similar variables which transcend education level.

My own working class circles correspond to the results of the studies.  In my shop, which has always been about 50/50 white/black, at any given time about a third to half of the black guys have been churchgoers (including fellows who lived lives which most white churchgoers would find surprising for a churchgoer), whilst church attendance among the whites has been very uncommon. I have a close buddy who used to work at the shop who started going to a suburban Baptist church with his wife once they got married (they had lived together for years prior to marriage - she is the mother of his oldest son, his other son, 7 months younger than the oldest, was borne to another woman, but my buddy's then primary girlfriend forgave him that indiscretion).  They stopped going to church once they got divorced. After the divorce and a year long separation they got back together though they remain unmarried as they are convinced that being married causes them to fight more.  They have not returned to church.  

In my nursing school there are several young women with children who are not getting married because they qualify for more state aid as a student who is a single mom.  Another classmate who is postponing marriage because her fiance's income would lesson the amount of money she gets for school, when telling the story of how she hides living with her paramour from her grandmother, noted that the only time they go to church is when they go with her mother (Christmas, Easter) and she suggested that she feels out of place at church because she lives with her boyfriend, and she suggested they would start going to church once she finishes nursing school and gets married (and thus sees her income significantly increase as well).  It's interesting how this differs from past social shames - with this student once she is married and in a higher income bracket she will be fit for church attendance, there will be no awareness of shame for past deeds or any social stigma associated with it - so long as one is married now, and making decent money now, one can comfortably go to church in her social universe.

I know another young woman who is in her early 20s and still on her father's health insurance.  She is pregnant (due next month - the boy's name is to be Oscar, which I very much approve of).  She works a couple days a month wiring lights at my shop (her father is our lead machinist) and I have known her for a decade now.  When on my boss' computer once (helping him order things related to his recent Italy trip - the blue blood boss is not good at internet purchases), I read an email exchange between bossman and the company HR person complaining that this prego girl was, as is typical with those company employees who work out in the grime of the shop, having a child out of wedlock.  Boss had to explain to HR (of all people) that this girl would lose her health insurance should she marry the father of the child (a guy who lays carpet for a living and has no health insurance).

There is no doubt a great deal of "liberated" sexuality among the younger working class whites I know.  It ranges from serial monogamy to all out perpetual orgy.  It seems to be different in certain respects from petit-bourgeois sexual patterns, but it's not like the moral impulses are all that different.  During their college years, it seems that a fairly high percentage of petit-bourgeois youth exchange plenty of pre-marital sex.  This petit-bourgeois college sex rarely leads to live births, however, which is not nearly the case with the non-college sex of working and underclass persons of the same age.  Further, whilst petit-bourgeois people tend to become more conservative in behavior as they leave college and enter career, and increasingly seem inclined to seek economic and social stability via marriage (and the attempt to avoid divorce), many working class persons find that in their late 20s and their 30s economic stability is (often logically) sought via avoiding marriage, or getting a divorce, as well as by having live-in paramours.   As several recent studies have noted, unemployed males are more often physically abusive, more often themselves abusing drugs and alcohol, tend to be less and not more involved in household chores and the raising of children when unemployed, and so forth.  Divorcing an unemployed male might be a logical attempt at social and financial security.  Likewise avoiding marriage avoids the potential cost of divorce, which can be devastatingly expensive for a working class family.  Live-in paramours provide working class socialization (among their peers), and often assist with rent, bills, etc., without the liability of potential divorce costs.  Unfortunately no one ever thinks that their paramour will sexually abuse their children, but data suggests that this is a rather frequent phenomenon.  

The person who sent me this paper said that he suspected Wilcox's findings were much more "subversive" than Wilcox probably thinks they are.  The study seems to suggest that it may be that economically stable married couples with children gravitate toward religious participation because they have already achieved those social norms held in high regard within "familistic" circles.  In other words, it may not be that white American churches create social impulses resulting in a demographic condition of increased marriage rates, so much as they are simply an apparatus used to signify a given class within the overarching system of social stratification - in other words, they increasingly become communities of people who have, already as it were, "made it" to the higher levels of socio-economic stabilization.  Obviously this soup has a complicated recipe, but I think that generalization will increasingly be revealed true in further studies like this one - "familistic" religious circles are more an after-the-fact element of class entrenchment rather than they are institutions which "create" subcultures with higher marriage rates.  The impulse to marry and remain married, and the turn toward a more conservative approach to family life among the upper middle classes has to do primarily with material, economic, "comfort" factors than it does the plethora of rhetoric concerning marriage in conservative religious circles.  Divorce rates seem to be much more affected by socio-economic status (and downward changes in that status) than religious affiliation in America, and divorce and remarriage do not result in the social stigma or shunning within churches as used to often occur  (even among Roman Catholics divorce-and-remarriage can be secured easily enough via the annulment process, and most RC parishes have no shortage of people who have have been divorced and remarried).  It seems that the pressure for upper middle class people to marry and remain married is primarily an economic pressure, and not a religious one.  Thus the religious language concerning marriage, when one finds it, reinforces the economic reality and class stratification that drives actual behavior among the majority middle class and up congregants one finds in white churches.

On a personal note, I made the decision last year that I would no longer belong to a congregation that was middle class or wealthier.  I learned I could only tolerate being a fish out of water for so long in one lifetime.  Being involved in a boutique religion at the time, this meant for me a change in religious affiliation.  I agree with the authors of this study that religious institutions have, in the past, been of significant social benefit to working class Americans.  The working class American Baptist churches (ABC-USA) I grew up in as a child provided pretty decent opportunities for socialization, civic and community involvement, and a host of opportunities for young people -- all without indoctrinating me in the perpetuation and protection of the mechanisms of social stratification.  Poor old Baptist ladies living on nothing but Social Security gave enough money for me to go around the world on church related missions trips (working in the dump in Guatemala City and talking Tolstoy with street sweepers in Russia are among the reasons I am a communist today).  Unfortunately the vast majority of white American Baptist churches I have encountered in the last decade or so are typical liberal bourgeois parishes that are upper middle class in make-up - the sorts of congregations I grew up in seem to be much more rare today than they were in the 70s and 80s. 

Later in life I became acquainted with what is now the demographically typical form of white Christianity in this country - that dominated by middle class / upper middle class congregants.   I have experienced this in Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox environments and the general social dynamic of a demographically typical white middle class parish follows fairly tight and predictable patterns.  Though one can differentiate different aesthetic and organizational differences, these are negligible in comparison to the driving economic class orientation behind white middle class congregations.  I came to believe that petit-bourgeois religion in America is not just an expression of religious pointlessness, but a corrupting influence in American society insofar as it reinforces social stratification and inculcates a mindset within petit-bourgeois circles that their "virtues" leading toward social stability are divinely and not economically appointed.     

One thing that is nearly ubiquitous - the insistence on the part of many white middle class churchgoers that their congregation escapes the mold because of the minority of working class or even underclass persons who attend there (in every middle class parish I am familiar with, at least some of these working/underclass people were parish "projects" and there was always a distinct sense of tokenism with regard to the presence of class inferiors), or because of their relatively routine contact with underclass and/or working class persons through congregational ministries such as a soup kitchen, etc.   And, of course, how many people who are decidedly middle class think of themselves as working class or closer to the working classes than they are to the wealthy?  Once a man pointed out to me how many school teachers were in his congregation (we had been talking about this issue).  But a couple of those teachers were married to lawyers, another came from old money, and another was actually a high school principle who I knew made 6 figures a year because I followed local school politics at the time.  I can't tell you how many times persons who have insisted to me that their parish "is not like that" reveal via Facebook that they take two or three or more vacations a year to places like the beach or Colorado (or some variant on the long Western trip) or San Francisco or a theme park or Europe - places where it costs real cash money to go.  People used to solidly middle class environs are very often constitutionally incapable of perceiving what economic life is like for people who do not have middle class economic and social safety nets - they cannot fathom the realities of the American working class life of those 42% of Americans over the age of 25 making less than 25k a year, especially when it comes to those working Americans who don't have the middle class parents to bail them out or the rich uncle, etc.  In my experience there simply is no cure for this sort of blindness.

In my mid 20s I read a work I have mentioned a great deal in my blogs over the years - the masterful two volume The Victorian Church by Owen Chadwick.  Reading about such extreme instances of normative Christianity being for the upper classes and having virtually no lower class representation impacted my view of modern Christianity.  There are some things in Chadwick's description of the class orientation of Victorian Anglicanism that could be applied to contemporary white American Christianity.  One of the things that Chadwick notes is that there were those who observed the class division that was embodied in the Anglicanism of that period, persons who were very much disturbed by this phenomenon and attempted to remedy it, but none of their projects in this regard made a substantial difference on the trend.  It's almost as if once the class stratification within religion ball gets rolling, the only thing that can keep it from becoming more and more pronounced is a change in economic factors outside of the religious milieu in question.  It took an increased economic egalitarianism within British society on the whole to counter the increasing strict class stratification (and lower class exclusion) within Anglicanism, but even after the period of rote "Anglican church attendance = class status" the ethos of Anglicanism and social intuition regarding Anglicanism carried the old class assumptions.

In other words, I don't think there is any "hope" for middle class American Christianity.  I think it exists primarily as tool of class hierarchy and I believe it is inevitable that this will be more clearly revealed as class hostilities increase and more scholarship is done analyzing American Christianity.  I increasingly think that what matters more with regard to religious expression is socio-economic state and not religious distinctives in and of themselves.  A poor Catholic parish in the barrio might have more in common (in terms of the human experience of religion) with a snake handling low church Protestant parish in very rural Appalachia (one of those rare examples of a remaining poor white Prot religious tradition) than it does with the big box suburban white middle class Catholic parish 15 miles away.

Within conservative Christian circles (and conservative intellectual circles as well) there has been a rather overt smugness with regard to the problems of the working and underclasses.  Some months ago I noted a number of conservative friends passing around several articles promoting this notion that poor people need to have their "moral poverty" addressed in order to deal successfully with their economic poverty, and that the focus on economic poverty alone would never have substantial and long-lasting effects without dealing with the moral issues first.  I'm not sure if I have ever encountered a more clear picture of the triumph of health&wealth theologicalization in America than the credence this notion has in middle class religious circles (even in many of those that are not conservative in theological or political nature).  The imaginary world these people live in (and yes, I've read Theodore Dalrymple's unconvincing rants, er, analysis) where poverty is largely brought about primarily because of moral failing is an imaginary world that dominates in American cultures, religious and secular.   

This pervasive moral tone with regard to poverty, inferred when not outright stated, helps to keep the riff raff out of white American Christian churches.  Add to that a worship of "familistic" ideology in which God's blessing pours forth most abundantly on the attractive, financially stable, married couple who have the time and money to give their kids lives like you see on TV family shows, and you might as well ask poor people to go to Mars on a Sunday morning.  It is this moral tone which I think I find most perverse in white American Christianity.  The fact is that middle class and wealthier Americans usually have their disproportionate wealth because of gains made through usury and their ability to get a bigger piece of the surplus-value-of-labor pie.  What is theirs is not, on the whole, rightfully theirs, and thus any moralizing tone or attitudes towards those who don't have is simply heinous.  One area where I probably disagree most strongly disagree with Wilcox - I think the poor are best served not rubbing shoulders with the middle class on Sunday mornings.  I hope that as class consciousness increases following the current trajectory in American society, more and more working and underclass people see white American middle class Christianity for what it is, not just an uncomfortable, unwelcoming place, but also a farce which has become a social tragedy, ripe for disposal, like the rest of self-justifying bourgeois decadence. 

My boss is a huge fan of modernist architecture.  When I used to travel with him in years past we would spend whatever time we weren't working or drinking either in contemporary art museums or visiting buildings he wanted to see.  During that time I came to have a greater appreciation for modern design but I could never "get into" modernist architecture, and it seemed the flashier and more popular the architect, the more I scratched my head wondering what all the fuss was about.

This inclination persisted until I finally visited the Milwaukee Art Museum for the first time (the first time in it's new building, the Quadracci Pavilion, anyway) a couple of years ago.   The Quadracci Pavilion was designed by fantastically famous Santiago Calatrava.  Having seen the building from the outside a few times over the years, my ambivalence persisted, but once inside it for a few hours I came to an appreciation of the building and especially the way in which it manages natural light.  From the exterior I had thought the modern take on a nautical theme, right next to Lake Michigan, a bit cheesy, but from the inside this seemed to have a dignity to it that even my many years of architectural cynicism could not deny.  So I started a wee bit of amateur studying of Calatrava's work and now in my imaginary world wherein I someday have money again I fancy myself going all over the world to visit his buildings.  The above photo is of the Turning Torso in Sweden.  The building reeks of gentrification -- it's design is said to evoke the city's blue collar roots (it was intended to evoke something of a large shipbuilding crane), but the building, among other things, houses luxury apartments.   So, though I disdain it in principle, it intrigues me aesthetically.  Oh well.


'No need to apologise,'
says God to his conscience.

'Speak a little louder,' time says
to eternity, 'I am heavy of hearing.'

Are the machine and the tiger
related by more than a purr?

'The answer is at the back
of the mirror,' says Alice, 'where truth lies.'

- R.S. Thomas, Collected Later Poems 1988-2000.

Put simply, Dominionism means that Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions. Originating among some of America’s most radical theocrats, it’s long had an influence on religious-right education and political organizing. But because it seems so outré, getting ordinary people to take it seriously can be difficult. Most writers, myself included, who explore it have been called paranoid. In a contemptuous 2006 First Things review of several books, including Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy, and my own Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, conservative columnist Ross Douthat wrote, “the fear of theocracy has become a defining panic of the Bush era.”

Now, however, we have the most theocratic Republican field in American history, and suddenly, the concept of Dominionism is reaching mainstream audiences. Writing about Bachmann in The New Yorker this month, Ryan Lizza spent several paragraphs explaining how the premise fit into the Minnesota congresswoman’s intellectual and theological development. And a recent Texas Observer cover story on Rick Perry examined his relationship with the New Apostolic Reformation, a Dominionist variant of Pentecostalism that coalesced about a decade ago. “[W]hat makes the New Apostolic Reformation movement so potent is its growing fascination with infiltrating politics and government,” wrote Forrest Wilder. Its members “believe Christians—certain Christians—are destined to not just take ‘dominion’ over government, but stealthily climb to the commanding heights of what they term the ‘Seven Mountains’ of society, including the media and the arts and entertainment world.”

- from here.

Poor First Things.  So many of the horses they've bet on have pulled up.  

Thanks to D.I.D. for sending this my way.

My wife was just complaining the other day that the Cookie Monster isn't featured nearly as much in the new Sesame Street episodes.
So I was reading Franky Schaeffer's new book this last weekend and he mentions a Benjamin Edelman study which suggests that porn is consumed more avidly in "conservative" states.  Then I read about Rick Perry's investment in a company that did a lot of porn business and that little froth at the mouth political piece gave a link to Edelman's paper, Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?.

I find it interesting not because of the hypocrisy we may or may not point to, as I take such hypocrisy for granted.  What I find interesting is how research like this doesn't seem to mesh well with the mantra that goes: the degree of the triumph of "secularism" corresponds to the degree of sexual "perversity" noted in a given culture.  Of course one can make the argument that "Christian" "Bible Belt" red states are in reality just as secular as blue "progressive" states, culturally and politically expressing that secularism in different ways perhaps, but if that is the case it would seem to further indicate that most popular anti-secularists are not really aware of what secularism actually is.  Anti-secularism as an expression of secularism in the manner that anti-modernism is a decidedly modern phenomenon and expression of modernism?  I don't know.

This is one study.  I'd like to see more.


"You can't go home again." Thomas Wolfe
"That's shit." Bill Holm

Who sed that?
Did somebody say that
or was it in one of them darn books you read?

It doesn't matter
if it's a pile of crap
I go home ever day
don't matter where I am
I'm the prodigal son coming back
I don't even need a Greyhound bus
I can go to my town right now
right here talking to you
because this
is everywhere
I've ever been

--David Lee, My Town

Eldest to dentist and then taking a high six year old to get a cheap plastic toy this morning.  After that agony, I needed something Prinal.
WM4 has been doing his research on how JRR Tolkien was appropriated by Italian far-rightists…

- from here.

Interesting.  I'll be on the look out for the results of that research.  
For those of you interested in American labor history, I highly advise picking up the last "affordable" copy of the Garland Reference Library of Social Science's Labor Conflict in the United States: An Encyclopedia at Amazon (as of this writing a $15.25 copy here) or the last "affordable" copy at AbeBooks (as of this writing a $9.95 copy here).  Otherwise you are going to pay $40+.  The book is a requirement for those who read a lot of American labor history because when some monograph mentions an old strike or something you can quickly find an overview here.  Otherwise, the history of strikes and direct actions and the persecution of workers seeking to organize is full of some very interesting and quirky stories so this book can make for excellent bathroom reading if nothing else.

the coming battle of Hastings.

A friend of mine asked me how I would respond to this article by Max Hastings concerning the riots in the UK.  I decided to make a post of my answer to her here:

There are so many problems with this article I hardly know where to begin.  There are plenty of things which one should quibble with – such as Hastings bitching about the high status of single motherhood in our culture without reference to the fact that Western women have only relatively recently been (for the most part) released from social and legal enslavement to husband and that after the liberation which brought about their legal ability to inherit property, purchase property, divorce, have reasonable protections in the workplace, and so forth, it is only natural that the pendulum would swing hard in the other direction, not to mention that it is often conservative policies which lower marriage rates.

Or I could point out that Hastings lauding the Eastern European workers working in the UK lacks mention of the fact that generally speaking these persons were among the better of the working class workers in Eastern Europe and (depending upon which country they came from) those with the means to get to the UK, and that one can find plenty of hopeless unmotivated underclass persons back in those Eastern European countries that send workers to the UK.  

Or I could ridicule Hastings’ point about shared meals being rare among the underclasses as it is well documented that shared meals are now uncommon among the middle classes (an acquaintance of mine who sells light fixtures to the very rich complains that they won’t spend money in their dining rooms anymore because they never use them).  

But for the sake of focus I will try to stick with the subjects of riots and rioters.

Hastings simultaneously holds that the current London rioters are "beasts" who act out of nothing more than base desire and at the same time compares them to the Detroit 1967 rioters and to 19th century underclass uprisings in the UK. 

First on the issue of "it was a great fire, man!"  Yes, in the Detroit 1967 riots many of the rioters were angry, stupid young men who were senselessly violent.  Most of the damage done (like unto many African American riots) was done to African American homes and businesses, though certainly not all.  But this does not mean that what brought about the riot and the primary motivating factor for the riot in the mind of most rioters was apolitical. 

Hastings’ inference that the 19th century working class and underclass uprisings in the UK were dealt with properly is chilling.  Hastings is a reactionary sociopath.  The conditions those workers worked and lived in were beyond brutal. 

The picture Hasting paints of an utterly coarse, unthinking, beastly youth engaged in these riots begs questions - for instance, why now? 

I suppose he could see the police killing of an innocent father of four as the instigating factor in these riots as something akin to caged pack animals reacting violently when another member of the pack is beaten by a zookeeper, but this would be a difficult analogy to pull off here - because police killings like the one that spurred on these riots have happened before in the UK without mass riots resulting. 

We see these riots happening at a time when several things have recently happened: the closing of youth centers across the UK’s urban areas; the reduction of entitlement programs; the reduction of education programs reaching poorer communities; the reduction of NHS services in poorer communities; a lack of jobs for youth in these communities; a lack of jobs for the parents of youth in these communities (in Tottenham unemployment has more than doubled in the last 3 years); a lack of quality jobs when new jobs are created; wage stagnation for those who have had jobs since prior to the recession; a disproportionate number of members from these poorer communities have been wounded and died in the UK's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and recently it has been revealed that cell phone data was illegally stolen from victims’ families by Rupert Murdoch's journalistic corporations; banks and financial industries have been bailed out by the UK gov't even though it is widely known those benefiting most directly from these bailouts are guilty of fraud and other crimes, and because of these bailouts (and war expenses) entitlement programs to the working classes and poor are being cut drastically.  There is your tender.  The killing of an innocent Tottenham man merely provides the spark. 

If these young rioters are nothing but brute beasts, why do they not riot all the time, or why do they not riot whenever an instigation is given, including these many recent social instigations?  Surely they have had those wild animal urges to burn buses and steal their birds new pairs of knickers before.  Why riot in this manner precisely now?  It seems to me that while stupidity and excess and thrill-seeking are most definitely involved here, to negate the political element to the riots is sheer nonsense. 

There is also what we might call an existential element that is not considered by Hastings.  I read several articles on the riots from Leftist perspectives recently which noted, with dismay, that the rioters were attacking and looting both small “mom and pop” independent shops as well as the big chain stores.  The inference here is that if these rioters were really politically motivated they would attack only the large chain stores.  These same Leftist writers also wrote with displeasure at the fact that the rioters seemed chiefly interested in stealing smartphones, tennis shoes, and popular clothing, which seems to point to a satisfaction of coarse desire rather than a political motivation behind their acts. 

To all this I say hogwash. 

Was it the welfare state that gave these youths their desire for smartphones and trendy sneakers?  Was it the welfare state that taught them to view the youth lifestyle as incomplete without these accoutrements?  No.  These underclass youths know damn well that the young people living in suburban middle class English homes have all these toys, and they have them because their parents have been financially buttressed by a political and economic ordo which will keep them in toyland come what may.  These underclass youths know damn well that many of the people who have money have done little or nothing substantial to earn it, or at least to earn as much of it as these rich folk have.  No matter how “beast”like the median intelligence may be in these communities like Tottenham, there is a trickle down of information concerning the financial scandals which results on the average guy on the street having a basic knowledge of his being screwed, thus in light of recent financial scandals, it is perfectly normal for poor youths to look about the world, (especially as mass media presents it to them), and think “these bastards have not worked for their toys, why the hell should I work for mine?”  The impulse is based on an intuition of fairness.  

It is assumed that this violent acquisition of technotoys and popular clothing represents a love of toys on the part of the young residents of Tottenham.  I think one could just as easily argue that the looting acts represent a hatred of toys - a despair corresponding to the fact that this is all there is - I grew up in Tottenham and all I got was this lousy looted $50 name brand t-shirt.  Of course the items stolen are cool, but this does not mean that the persons taking them have an actual affection for them.  They are commodities, and they represent power, status, socialization (especially cell phones), and an identity that is not distinguished by its lack.  And sure, some of them are neat gadgets which can take the mind off things.  But just like a man can inwardly hate the drug that takes his mind off of his life, so I suspect a British teenager can inwardly hate the video game he uses to escape the reality of his life, whether that teenager would ever express it that way or not.

Do I mean to suggest that all of the rioters are more or less benevolent Robin Hoods seeking a fair redistribution of wealth?  Of course not.  I committed enough acts of vandalism in my own teen years to know that the thrill of it is a better high than most drugs circulating impoverished neighborhoods.   It’s a rush, but part of that rush is not just the fact that you are getting to light buses on fire and throw bricks at police – a big part of the rush is that you are engaging in these acts with a whole lot of other people.  For many of these youths, these riots have been the biggest events of their lives, the first time perhaps that they felt a part of something much bigger than themselves – able to transcend the banal world in which the best they can aspire to is to be pawns in the games of the corrupt, brutal exploiters.  

Mr. Hastings would like these young poor folks to become well behaved.  He wants to re-educate them into a state of good behavior.  Which means he wants them to become obedient, cheap workers for those corporations who need obedient, cheap workers.   The fact is that most people from any culture of any size are not going to become doctors or lawyers or bankers.  Most are going to become retail workers or garbage men or work in the back of a restaurant or clean toilets or wipe the asses of the elderly or drive a truck or answer calls in a call center.  When those sorts of jobs offer increasingly stagnant wages, when the people working those jobs are denied means and opportunities of solidarity in their industries, at their workplaces, and among their class as a whole, when they are pawns in the game of rich men and have very little influence on their own workplaces, industries, communities and the like – when they have been taught that the meaning of life is the collection of the latest toys and the most popular and media pimped toys are harder and harder to grasp through their own reasonable efforts – these young people are not going to be inclined to cooperate with Mr. Hastings’ dream world of a compliant, subservient, and helpful (to him and his kind) underclass and working class. 

Mr. Hastings looks at the London riots through the lens of the sort of social psychology conservatives of his sort are addicted to (think Theodore Dalrymple as another example), and of course they are amateurs and hacks when crudely attempting to use the tools of critical theory.  But there is another lens through which we might look at the recent riots – war. 

The riots as acts of class warfare – in traditional warfare, particularly before it got so specialized, technocratically run, and commercialized, it was common that your first wave of attack would be your “cheap” footsoldiers made up of poor farming stock and not particularly the brightest bulbs on the tree.  These troops acted more or less as cannon fodder (or arrow fodder as the case may be) – they were crude and inefficient and lacking training and discipline and on the occasion they did succeed to overtake an enemy the result was haphazard and imprecise and often caused almost as many problems as they solved.  These crude first wave footsoldiers could be used effectively when there was a highly ordered and well-structured army – say the Roman army at its height.  

In the class war that exists today there is no central command or even a confederacy of central commands.  There is no leadership to efficiently direct the fuel of working class and underclass anger, at least not in most places in the world, and certainly not in London. 

But this does not mean that the only rioting phenomenon we have at hand are mindless footsoldiers muddling about.  We hear from men like Hastings about the cell phone and footwear shops that were looted, but what of the police stations, banks, and other overtly political targets being hit, such as the main London offices of Blackberry after their role in assisting police became public?  Who is hitting these targets?  Well, I suspect that the numerous anarchist groups that have been increasingly involved in this sort of activity in recent years and who have been speaking among their members about preparing for this sort of contingency are among those involved.  I’m especially inclined to believe this when anarchist groups post pictures of certain buildings burning on their FB pages and their friends congratulate them. 

This is not to say that every act is “purely political” – I’ve recently read anarchist friends talking about the “organic” means of using these mass riots to facilitate hits on overtly political targets.  Sometimes the “stupid” mass rioters merely act as cover – so much police attention is taken up with them that a coordinated anarchist group with a modicum of preparation can effectively take out a political target.  Other times anarchists acting within the masses can encourage mass attacks on the targets they want to see hit.  If you are on the street with 400 people breaking windows of shops and throwing in Molotov cocktails, and you start breaking the window of a local bank or financial firm or military recruitment center, it’s natural that some of those kids around will help you and toss some fire in there as well.  You might not even be a member of an anarchist group in this instance; perhaps you saw other anarchists engaging in this activity or perhaps you have read a little bit of anarchist literature and the thought “we should burn this police station while here” just occurred to you.  In this manner, some of the “energy” of the mass protests is fairly easily directed at more politically important targets. 

This sort of thing has been happening in London; the anarchists there are talking about what has happened and what they have learned, and with each set of riots anarchists and other radicals will perhaps become more strategically effective at working organically to bring about some “controlled burns” in the midst of the forest fire.   These same anarchist groups have encouraged youths to participate in the riots.  I am not saying that the ragtag collection of anarchist groups in London brought these riots about, of course they didn’t, but they are a social pressure encouraging them, and now seeing what tactical benefit the riots provide, they will likely press all the more when the next opportunity presents itself.  This political factor of agitating agents acting behind the “stupid” masses is not a negation of Hastings’ rant about crazed kids looking for cool gear, sex, drugs, cheap food, and so forth, but it is to suggest that such youths can very easily play a part in overt acts of class warfare without even knowing it or understanding it, though I have no doubt that they intuit as much.

As bad a picture as Mr. Hastings paints of the UK underclass, I’m not sure that many Americans appreciate the differences between the underclasses here and those there.  Yes there is a significant crime problem in Britain, by European standards.  But take the time and go listen to a dozen or two interviews with rioters in the UK.  Then go find a dozen or two “person on the street” interviews done by local News stations in Detroit or Memphis, etc.  The comparison is telling.  In most of the interviews I have heard with the rioters in the UK, the riff-raff there seem to have a better ability to articulate the what they are doing and the why they are doing it than one would expect from the underclasses in the U.S.   For all the lambasting of the welfare state in the UK, a much more comprehensive welfare state than what we have anywhere in the U.S., you take a person in the UK and a person in the U.S. - same race, both unemployed, both doing the same drugs, and both having 4 children by 4 different women, and the UK underclassman will be more articulate and thoughtful in analysis than the U.S. underclassman 19 times out of 20.   Indeed, it takes a certain degree of intelligence to revolt, even if it is a stupidly and selfishly and thrill seekingly carried out revolt.   When watching some of the video clips of rioters taking on police brigades, it is clear that there is a mix of the completely stupid and the not so stupid and the not  stupid at all.  The War Nerd recently noted the various “strategies” of mass riots when the Arab Spring was going on, and it seems that the London rioters have incorporated at least some of these tactics.  These require a degree of intelligence. 

For all of the laziness Hastings suggests, Tottenham’s level of unemployment is under 9%, up a great deal in recent years, but still considerably lower than what one finds in poor neighborhoods in America’s urban cities.  I’d love to have Hastings come visit us here in Memphis, and visit our ghettos which receive considerably less entitlements than Tottenham does, have higher crime rates, higher incarceration rates, considerably higher unemployment rates, higher rates of children growing up in homes without a biological father, lower graduation rates despite less rigorous standards than those in the UK, and so forth.  If it is the welfare state and entitlement programs which lead to unruly communities of “feral humans” unable to live the grown-up life, then why do America’s ghettos with lower levels of entitlement produce significantly higher numbers of persons of whom Hasting would undoubtedly also say “my dogs are better behaved and subscribe to a higher code of values” as he said of the UK’s rioters

I’ve spent most of a life living and working with the working and underclasses.  Hasting’s language concerning them – “feral humans,” “[t]hey respond only to instinctive animal impulses,” "[t]hey are essentially wild beasts" and the like is, in a certain way, refreshing.  These are the most common thoughts of the master classes concerning the underclasses, and it helps facilitate society moving forward when the master classes speak openly concerning their slaves and would-be slaves. 

There are many angles via which one could disagree with the use of such language, but I suppose here I will close by saying that in my experience the Hastings spin is incorrect.  Yes, there are some really stupid people in ghettos and barrios and trailer parks.  Yes, there is senseless violence and neglect and the like.  But there is certainly not usually a “lack of discipline” that is akin to responding only to instinctive animal impulses – it is simply a different kind of discipline than that which Hastings desires to be seen among the wage slaves.  Most urban gangs supply a level of discipline, some of them quite a bit of discipline.  Most of the guys I know who sell dope to make ends meet go about that business with earnestness and care – some of them are exceptional salesmen with good business sense.  In most of the ghettos, barrios, and trailer parks I have known there have been rules and social orders in place, including expected decorum, terms and actions of respect, a community safety net of sorts, and the like.  These didn’t always work well, but few communities have social orders that always work well.  There are socially excepted moral norms in poor communities, which are enforced to varying degrees, just as moral norms everywhere are enforced to varying degrees.  For all that Hastings stresses the base stupidity of the underclasses, in my experience once one learns the language one finds a wide array of wit, complex humor constructs, complex narrative constructs, and a complex linguistic order.  One finds within poor communities a wide variance of individual intelligences and the application of intelligence on the part of different persons.  Poorer communities are not much more given to parochialism in thought and posture than middle class communities – perhaps this is a result of mass media forming most minds whether poor, middle class, or rich.  What Mr. Hastings calls inhuman is not really inhuman at all – the rioters from Tottenham are as decidedly human as the sorts of humans Mr. Hastings likes.  They are simply humans who come from a culture which produces a fair number of people who make choices Mr. Hastings does not like, and, indeed, the rioters make choices which threaten the choices of Mr. Hastings and his friends.  That is really what this is all about.  

Are the poor of Tottenham annoying with all of their social pathologies?  Sure, though I suspect them to be no less annoying than Hastings at a dinner party.  But that’s just it – the issue here is not beastly vs. human behavior, or finding the correct means to re-educate the “feral humans.”  The real issue here is class, and what threatens Mr. Hastings should threaten him.  The underclass, in however inefficient, not-well-planned, fits-and-starts, frustrating a manner, is coming for Mr. Hastings.  As well they should.

spanky franky

I don't know that I have ever read any author more obviously addicted to catharsis than Frank Schaeffer.  And given that number of pixels I devoted to attacking catharsis as the driving force behind cinema in a previous blog life, one might think this would lead me to a distaste for Schaeffer.  But, as it turns out, I can't get enough of his work.

For a person who has any past history with what some folks might call religious crackpotery or religious addiction or religious abuse and so forth, Franky's novels (the Calvin Becker Trilogy) and his subsequent memoirs attacking his famous Evangelical parents are going to strike a chord, though depending on where one "is at" with that former/current religion the chord struck may vary considerably.

I sometimes ask myself- "why on earth, dear self, do you like to read Franky Schaeffer?"  The guy is a colossal whiner.  He has more axes to grind than a machinist working for a logging company.  His level of resentment toward his family and his family's old allies is astounding to behold, especially as he has maintained it with such intensity for well over a decade now.  Schaeffer is colossally juvenile in his self-promotion, even when crudely framed in a cartoonish self-deprecation, like when he starts talking about how he more than anyone else is responsible for the creation of the religious right by way of his pressuring his father to do work his father did not initially want to do, all with this feigned tale between his legs sort of tone.  There is not a page of Schaeffer's non-fiction which does not contain a cringe causing line of bragging.  The guy is obsessed with sex, and in a weird way (this new memoir apparently contains a story from his youth about the time he had sex with an ice sculpture).  The guy's "mother issues" are far and away more explicit and outrageous than anyone else's I have ever read, and who the hell wants to read a 59 year old man go on about his mother issues for many hundreds of pages over several books?

On the other hand, there is something to be said for Schaeffer's ability to find ever new mediums of self-destruction and burning bridges - I can't help but admire and respect that.  He is a damn good writer, especially his trilogy of novels - at least I think he has real talent writing comedy, especially dark comedy.  His writing doesn't provide much in the way of gravitas and is not an example of finely tuned craft or anything like that, but I should hope nobody is reading Schaeffer for that.  Both his fiction and non-fiction have a respectable narrative cadence and decent enough structure and have the perfect mix of the hysterical and the disturbing - the man can do dark comedy, and is especially suited to do religious dark comedy.  

Each of his novels starts out with relatively "light" themes and becomes darker as the novel goes on.  This is especially true of Portofino, which has two halves, the first a light comedy, the second a dark one.  In the next two books the shift from light to dark is progressively quicker but less seamless.  But the manner in which Schaeffer captures the narrative transition from light to darkness, from the merely quirky and amusing to the destructive and sadistic is a theme that many of us have lived through as we have made our way in a niche religious subculture like the one Schaeffer is parsing.

I think just about every spiritual "leader-pastor-teacher-adviser" I have ever known as well as just about every psychologist I have ever known would state that Schaeffer's obsession with pounding his parents, especially his mother, for grudges that are half a century old is, take your pick: unhealthy, sinful, neurotic, cruel, self-defeating, counter-productive, etc.  There certainly is an element to reading Schaeffer that is not unlike watching a car accident take place (an Orthodox priest once said the same thing about reading my blog - ha!, fair enough).  So the story goes "giving people what they deserve" in the sense of revenge usually brings about even more havoc for the giver, but at the same time, sometimes your given asshole really begged for it, and if 1/4th of what Schaeffer says of his parents in his non-fiction is true, especially that concerning his mother, well, the woman had it coming.  I suppose one could get worked up about whether or not it is a good thing to support a man enacting revenge via writing by buying and reading that writing, but hell, how prudish is that?   The Count of Monte Cristo was once listed in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum because it was said to have glorified revenge.   Personally, I think that The Count is a great book, and I really can't muster any moral qualms with regard to the Count's actions as Dumas records them.  Of course, the Count's fictional acts of revenge are quite a different thing from words written in a spirit of revenge seeking.  The result is fairly obvious - The Count of Monte Cristo came to an end but Schaeffer's desire to hit his target seems insatiable and even seems to be growing.  I wonder if the fact that his father died before Schaeffer started his anti-Schaeffer legacy project bothers Schaeffer.

But, at the end of the day, where else is one going to read about all the knob-headed, slap-stick, you've-got-to-be-kidding-me, and sordid history of the religious right?  Where else does one learn that Billy Graham forced his oldest daughter into what was essentially an arranged marriage, as Franky explains in Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of it Back?  Where else does one get the story of all the big name founders of the moral majority sitting around a table expressing their horror that high school students might be exposed to the nudity displayed in Italian Renaissance art as Franky's father Francis Schaeffer watches and listens in disgust, wondering who the hell he just got in bed with?

So I look forward to Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway, not for any positive arguments Schaeffer will make in the book - even when I agree with his current political arguments (not so often; rich liberals are worthless), I find his argumentation as a new convert to pop liberalism as stupid as I found his old arguments for religious rightism.  Rather, I'll appreciate it for the great stories and the marvel that is his sustained vehemence and disgust.  Some reviews state that this memoir is more gentle than the last one, but a friend noted to me that this "take" on the new book is mostly from a secular perspective - the Evangelicals reading this book still see Franky as going after his mother and the whole L'Abri paradigm, though perhaps in a more subtle way this time so as to sustain the broadest possible readership in the mocking at hand.  In any event, I'll appreciate the revenge fest because, at the end of the day, the religious subcultural tradition (and the type of fervently niche religious subculture one might say it represents) is eminently worthy of ridicule and rejection.  Edith Schaeffer was a peddler of lies, pathologies, and one of the most exorbitant of hypocrites as she traveled around the world (for long periods of time) teaching young Christian women that they should be submissive stay-at-home moms, even as she left her ill son in the care of others and had outrageous and frequent quarrels with her husband.  Franky's attacks may not be the best thing for Franky, but Edith made her bed, and I'll enjoy reading her son lay her in it just as I enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo's marvelous achievements in the art of fanciful revenge.