fragments of an attempted writing.

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. 


  1. My apologies regarding the formatting problems. Blogspot and I are having a low point in our relationship.

  2. Interesting. Thanks, Owen.

  3. I think this stratification and trending cuts through race, religion, political affiliation, education. Follow the $$$.

  4. Apo,

    Well, the data is fairly clear that underclass and workingclass whites in America attend church at rates significantly lower than middle and wealthier classes. But I agree, this seems to be a result of economic orders infringing upon and manipulating social and cultural orders.

  5. Fantastic post. Does this study break the data down geographically? I wonder if the decline of working-class religion among whites isn't also tied to the overwhelming economic boom felt by outmigrating Okies and mountain folk and the rise of the sunbelt south in the post-war period. I'm thinking of the US23 route to Columbus, Toledo, and Detroit, of the long haul to Orange County, and of the Atlanta boom, for example - that is, I'm wondering if religious working-class whites didn't quit believing or practicing so much as they quit being working-class. (Darren Dochuk's recent book on this is fantastic in the way he describes Orange County Okies' perception of their migration as an "errand.") The Yankee working classes have for centuries been much more given to nothingarianness than their southern brethren.

    I guess what I'm wondering is if we're dealing with an economic change among religious people as much as among non-practicioners. That is, the American working class was never Episcopalian, but now it's also frequently not Baptist or Methodist or Restorationist. The thing is, the traditionally Baptist/Methodist/Restorationist regions have also been those most affected by outmigration and internal migration, both processes which would also tend to contribute to the rise of familism as opposed to communal solidarity.

    My superficial experience is that the non-Yankee working-class whites I've come into contact with who're from Kentucky, West Virginia, or Appalachian Ohio are significantly more religious, and often in more distinctly working-class ways, than the working class that's native to Columbus. This is most marked in the neighborhoods and suburbs of Columbus which are more historically Appalachian - they're absolutely full of fringe Pentecostal churches. (I've even heard that Columbus is the northern limit of the Signs Following churches).

  6. This reminds me of the religious cycle my parents go through, where they attend a church until get involved enough to get disgusted by the bourgeois, then move on. The working class of the church I grew up in was mostly relegated to my grandparents' generation.

    Growing up, my parents would take us to Disneyland every year or so, on a single working man's salary. These days, we were only able to afford to take the kids because my rich uncle paid our way - making us those people - even though I have a traditionally petit bourgeois occupation. We also avoided a cheap ass two bed apartment by my generous grandmother moving into my rich uncle's grandma house. Sometimes having a rich uncle is badass.

    Not really sure where I am going with this...

    Maybe time to change the blog template?

  7. Adam,

    There are regional control variables in the study. Email me (owenandjoy at bellsouth dot net) and I will email it to you.

    I think your thesis works for the, say, 80s through to about the mid 90s perhaps. But after that, and especially in the 00s, we see continued increase of conservatism among petit-bourgeois with regard to marriage, and we see continued drops in church attendance rates among the working poor.

    Your last paragraph almost brought a tear to my eye. The earthed quality and fragile but wily paradox and gutsy folk humanity of appalachian religion I experienced in my youth, contrasted with my later experience with petit-bourgeois religion, has been one of those sorrows of my life which has most formed me, I think.

  8. My mind has been on the this topic as of late. Okay, I'll self-promote ( )

    I think you hit several nails on the head. Without a doubt, the woman who had an abortion long ago in college is treated better than your typical poor person at your typical American Christian Church. I do think there are more rich assholes in trad circles than in your typical parish, but that just might be my experience.

  9. Right Owen. So here's my hypothesis: money is color blind - given enough time the differences detected among the various groups and subgroups will disappear. One can only hold back our flag totem worship and the attendant consumerism and entertainment for a while. We are all in the pursuit of happiness, no??

  10. AP,

    If social mobility keeps decreasing it is likely that, racism or not, blacks and hispanics will be locked into having a small upper class and be that less likely to have the bourgeois takeover that white churches have experienced.

  11. Lotar, the size and (im)mobility of the various class groups is immaterial. What is common among all the classes is the shared value system, the requisite and attendant patterns of behavior, following the great equalizer Mammon, or as we know him Happiness, as proscribed by our constitution. No one mess with him, he's our golden calf and he wants you!

  12. Shared patterns of behavior are not common to all classes, which is the major point of this study.

  13. Religion is bourgeois, but whatever.

    Some points:

    1. The confusion in regards to class in this country may have to do a lot with the transformation of the means of production in the last thirty years. The Marxist economist Richard Wolff, linked to on this blog, is keen on saying that most Marxists even now fail to respect the distinction in Marx between a productive and non-productive worker. Someone working on an assembly line in China is not going to have the same class consciousness as someone working for $8 an hour at a call center. The main cause of ambiguity in the idea of an “American proletariat” is due perhaps to the decimation of the manufacturing base in this country. Class is not an issue of wealth vs. poverty, but a relationship to the means of production, and the class struggle that comes out of the antagonisms at the point of production. In that sense, when the class struggle is low, as is the case today, people think class does not exist, because consciousness is formed in struggle. Raya Dunayevskaya even shows that the evolution of Marx’s Capital unfolded as a decades-old response to various phases of class struggle: the 1848 revolutions, the American Civil War, the Paris Commune, etc.

    2. Being barely middle class, coming from a working class background, and not being white gives me a unique perspective in these questions. In my experience in the Mexican American community in California, religious observance shrinks in direct proportion to the increased number of years a given family is in this country. The second generation is far less observant than the first, and so on. Latino churches even around here serve as a mutual aide group and have few of the concerns of their white Anglo counterparts. On the other hand, my wife and I are often horrified whenever we are at Mass when the permanent deacon gives the homily. Usually the homily veers off into a comment like, “my wife and I went on a trip to Europe about a month ago…” It is just a stark reminder that the permanent diaconate, at least in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, is a refuge for affluent retired (mostly white) men who have “made it” in their lives and now want to help the little people. Let us just say that someone in the family is in the process of becoming a permanent deacon, and he meets all of the requirements for the above, except for being white.

    3. Religion is not so bourgeois, depending on its form. I am not one of those Marxists who are absolutely opposed to religion, for obvious reasons. I think certain forms of religiosity are “no harm, no foul” when it comes to class struggle. The Venezuelan cult of Maria Lionza and Cuban santería don’t seem to prevent anyone from being commies or at least petit-bourgeois revolutionaries. I just find that anything revolutionary that Christianity could possibly say could be said better elsewhere. I also agree with the sentiment in Hegel that when we speak of God, we are speaking of a process that unfolds as part of us, and not something transcending us. In a low ebb of history, such as our own, I don’t make a big deal about what I or others do on a Sunday morning. There may come a time when this will not be the case. But I don’t think slumming it with the plebs is necessarily going to get us any brownie points in the meantime. Working class people go to church because it provides them with comfort and community. Certain “more educated” (jaded?) people who don’t have their life experiences are not going to be able to rub shoulders with them in any meaningful way, at least in that venue.

  14. I see a lot of analogies between the way some see marriage, the way some see weddings, and the way some see church. There is a certain expectation about the way a marriage and wedding should be, and I too often see these in financial terms. Many people I know delay marriage because they can't afford the trappings of what 'marriage' and a 'wedding' are in their heads. I kept thinking about that when reading this post. I wonder if 'church' has too many connotations for too many people that are socio-economic. I wonder if this is a Protestant thing, or if it is an American thing.

    However, economic diversity is part of the reason I almost irrationally insist on not wearing a suit to church, or of even dressing up all that much (a collared shirt and 'nice' jeans with something nicer than sneakers or sandals). I hate the sense I've gotten in some churches that you are expected to act and dress and drive in a way that costs a certain amount - unless you are a student or the token crazy, probably homeless guy.

  15. Immigrant culture and its loss, especially in 'national religions' (e.g. Catholicism and Orthodoxy, German and Dutch Reformed, German and Scandinavian Lutheran, etc.) dealt a blow to economic diversity, too. When everyone of a given nationality is the same faith, you are going to find more of a bell curve in church. The rich are used to having poor co-religionists who aren't 'projects' and the poor don't feel like they're fish out of water standing next to the rich. There was no self-selection of a faith that best suited you, you went to your people's church.

    My experiences in Orthodoxy have primarily been in parishes with heavy immigrant populations, until recently. My experiences in Protestantism growing up had some old immigrants in a few congregations, and almost no immigrants in another. The no immigrant parish was practically the stereotype of an upper class suburban parish of the kind you would imagine. The more self-selection there is in faith, the more groups tend to form in common and the more this would seem to be based on socio-economic cultural factors (class of differing kinds).

  16. For the record, our rural (Catholic) mission is pretty working-class. And about half Hispanic. But maybe the key here is "rural." Like, as opposed to suburban.

    OTOH, I can think of at least two urban parishes in our area that are also pretty working-class. Actually, one has a mix of ALL income levels. (And a huge Hispanic contingent.) The other is an historically black parish (mother church to our rural mission), which is now trending mostly Hispanic.

  17. ^ I do agree that the poor feel intimidated by the more well-heeled parishes. There is one "Rich People's Parish," in particular, which is home to our vicariate's Hispanic Ministry coordinator -- yet it has no Spanish Masses, and only the most affluent Hispanic-Americans attend there. Very weird.

  18. Guys! Some update regarding, "US Home Care Aides can Expect for Wage and Overtime Protections from Obama" you can read it at


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