1960s white religious leaders: God told us to love our neighbors but did not mean to pick our neighbors for us

My history colleague Karen Johnson recently delivered the first Faith and Learning lecture on the Wheaton College campus titled “Place Matters:  The vocation of where we live and how we live there.” See the talk here.

One quote from her talk (roughly 35:50 into the talk) stuck with me. In opposing open housing efforts in the 1960s through the Illinois Association of Real Estate Boards, white religious leaders said:

“We don’t doubt the words of Him who said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,’ but we do doubt, gentlemen, that He meant to disturb our American heritage and freedoms by picking these neighbors for us.”
Three features of this stand out:
1. I suspect this logic is still in use in many American communities today. Individual liberty about where to live is more prized than government intervention to help those who cannot move to certain places unless they have help (usually for reasons connected to social class and race and ethnicity). While it is couched in religious terms in this quote, I don’t think it needs religious backing to be widely supported by many suburbanites or wealthier residents.
2. Connected to the first point, few white and wealthier residents would today explicitly say that their opposition to affordable housing or government intervention to bring new people to communities is because of race and ethnicity (some government intervention in housing is more than acceptable as long as it helps the right people). They might talk in terms of social class or the character of the community. But, it still often comes down to race and who are desirable neighbors.
3. The mixing of American and religious values is strong. For American Christians, where do individual liberties end and Christian responsibilities begin? Which takes precedence? All religious groups have to think about which ideas and values to take on within particular contexts (whether nations, communities, or subgroups). A good portion of the critique of conservative Protestants often seems to involve the blurring of these lines: can these Christians see when their own stated religious commitments do not align with particular American commitments?

Speculation: more Americans choose to pursue unretirement to find meaning

Various data points show more Americans continuing to work even when do not need the money at retirement age:

Unretirement is becoming more common, researchers report. A 2010 analysis by Nicole Maestas, an economist at Harvard Medical School, found that more than a quarter of retirees later resumed working. A more recent survey, from RAND Corporation, the nonprofit research firm, published in 2017, found almost 40 percent of workers over 65 had previously, at some point, retired…

Even more people might resume working if they could find attractive options. “We asked people over 50 who weren’t working, or looking for a job, whether they’d return if the right opportunity came along,” Dr. Mullen said. “About half said yes.”

Why go back to work? We hear endless warnings about Americans having failed to save enough, and the need for income does motivate some returning workers. But Dr. Maestas, using longitudinal data from the national Health and Retirement Study, has found that the decision to resume working doesn’t usually stem from unexpected financial problems or health expenses…

Researchers note that older workers have different needs. “Younger workers need the paycheck,” Dr. Mullen said. “Older jobseekers look for more autonomy, control over the pace of work. They’re less concerned about benefits. They can think about broader things, like whether the work is meaningful and stimulating.”

One of the primary ways that adult Americans find meaning is in their jobs. Not only does a job help pay the bills, a job has become a reflection of who you are. Think of that normal question that leads off many an adult conversation: “What do you do?” With a shift away from manufacturing and manual labor jobs, service and white-collar jobs can encourage the idea that our personality and skills are intimately tied up with our profession.
Put this emphasis on an identity rooted in a job or career together with a declining engagement in civic groups and a mistrust in institutions. Americans are choosing to interact less with a variety of social groups and this means they have fewer opportunities to find an identity based in those organizations. We are told to be our own people.
Imagine a different kind of retirement than the one depicted in this article: older Americans finish a long working career and then find time to get involved with extended family life or various causes, secular and religious, where they can provide both expertise and labor. Where would many congregations or civic groups be without the contributions of those who are retired and now can devote some more time to the public good? What if the child care needs that many younger families face be met with grandparents who could consistently help? What if retired Americans could regularly mentor children and teenagers who would benefit from wise counsel and a listening ear? That is not to say there are not plenty of retirees who do these things; however, this approach involves a broader look at life satisfaction that goes beyond a paying job.

“Minister of loneliness” will get to work

This may be a new governmental role in the 21st century: minister of loneliness.

On Wednesday, the U.K. made political history by creating an entirely new, untried political role: the world’s first “minister for loneliness.” The post is designed to combat what Prime Minister Theresa May called “the sad reality of modern life” for many people…

The scope and effects of loneliness are unquestionably devastating. Half a million British people over 60 only talk to another person once a week or less. People who self-report as lonely are more likely to experience dementia, heart disease, and depression. When it comes to life expectancy, the long-term health effects of loneliness are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day

So what could a minister do to ease this situation? The issues spread across a very wide range of policy areas—and that’s kind of the point. A minister for loneliness could potentially have a trans-governmental scope, pressing policy-makers, businesses, and individuals to look at a whole range of decisions through the lens of loneliness.

I was reminded of this recently by a book that suggested cities can contribute to profound social isolation for some. And pair this with the idea that social media can lead to isolation and you have much of the modern world: urbanized and Facebooked.

I would be interested to see if such a minister sticks to small changes across a range of social spheres or tackles some of the broader issues like the individualism and autonomy promoted through the last few centuries of Western life. Is there any chance a Western government would promote less individualism in order to help promote less loneliness? Or, put another way, what would be the tipping point to convince a public that they should give some individual liberty in order to together tackle social isolation?

Societal goals: avoiding society through online shopping

The comic Take It From the Tinkersons recently had a strip hinting at a major consequence of online shopping:

While this might be a bit of hyperbole, there is some truth to this. Is one of the appeals of online shopping the ability to avoid society and social interactions? Even shopping at your local big box store requires rubbing shoulders with other shoppers and a brief interaction with a cashier (even with self-checkout, you still have an overseer).

At the least, online shopping provides evidence of the significant shift that happened in Western societies in the last few hundred years. The earliest sociologists were very interested in the switch from tight-knit village or agrarian life to the less connected and varied urban life. Marx saw tremendous consequences for labor and the individual within an economic system rooted in burgeoning cities. Durkheim compared mechanical and organic solidarity, a shift toward a complex division of labor where individuals now depended on others to do essential tasks for their lives. Tonnies contrasted gemeinschaft and gesellschaft, more direct social interactions versus indirect social interactions.

Online shopping of the sorts we have today may only be possible in a highly complex and individualized society such as our own. The process of moving a product from its production point to a warehouse to your home or business through online clicks is quite complicated and amazing. Yet, it really does limit social interactions on the shopping end. As private individuals, we can now make choices and receive our products away from scrutiny. It would be an error to think that this private purchase is now removed from social influence – with the spread of media and influence of social media, we may be influenced by generalized social pressures more than ever – but the direct social experience is gone.

This could have big implications for social life. Will buying habits significantly change now that immediate social interactions and social pressure is removed? Will we become used to such social transactions not involving people that we will be willing to remove social interactions from other areas? There will certainly be consequences of increasing online shopping and public life – even if it is related to individuals consuming products in a capitalistic system – may just suffer for it.

 

Infographic: “Is Your McMansion Killing You?”

Put together a number of statistics about large American homes and an infographic can point the way towards death. These factors – everything from more TV watching, eating poorly, not getting much exercise, and paying more for space that isn’t necessarily needed – are not necessarily related to McMansions. You could do all of this and live in a more modest home or have a really large home that is more architecturally pleasing. For example, did growing up in a 1880s Victorian home or a 1950s ranch necessarily lead to better behavior or were these larger social issues? In this line of reasoning, McMansions may just be a symptom of larger issues such as increased consumerism and individualism.

All that said, I could imagine even more data that could be added to the infographic:

-How much extra infrastructure needs to be built to support suburban McMansions (as contrasted with denser apartment living in big cities)?

-What about the loss of aesthetic beauty in seeing or living in mass-produced, poorly designed McMansions? Can’t this decrease one’s enjoyment of life?

-What is the cost of all the driving often done to accommodate McMansions?

-How about the decrease in civic life encouraged by such large and well-furnished private spaces?

This infogrphic could keep going on and on and on…

Berger on evangelical Christianity as the most modern large religion

Sociologist Peter Berger argues evangelical Christianity may be so successful around the world because it is individualistic:

Why is this? David Martin, another British sociologist who has been a kind of dean of Pentecostalism studies, has shown in great detail how this astounding development can be understood as yet another incarnation of the Protestant ethic, which was a crucial factor in the genesis of modern capitalism.I think he is right.

But I think there is another important factor, which has been generally overlooked. Allow me to regale you with the Berger hypothesis on why Evangelical Protestantism is doing so well in much of the contemporary world: Because it is the most modern of any large religion on offer today. I am well aware of the fact that this contradicts the prevailing view of Evangelicals in academia and the media—so brilliantly expressed in President Obama’s priceless characterization of a demographic not voting for him in the 2008 election as economically challenged people “clinging to their guns and their God”. In other words, seen from the perspective of Harvard Yard these are the great unwashed out of step with modernity. But curiously this is also how diehard Evangelical fundamentalists see themselves—as defenders of the true faith against the intellectual and moral aberrations of modernity. They are both wrong.

Evangelicals believe that one cannot be born a Christian, one must be “born again” by a personal decision to accept Jesus. What can be more modern than this? This view of the Christian faith provides a unique combination of individualism with a strong community of fellow believers supporting the individual in his decision. It allows individuals to be both religious and modern. That is a pretty powerful package.

Berger isn’t the first to note the individualistic ethos of evangelicalism. This reminds me of one of the conclusions of Souls in Transition where Smith and Snell suggest that while conservative churches are the ones that have thrived in the United States, particularly compared to mainline churches, they too have accepted the tenets of liberal Protestantism including individualism, declining adherence to authority, and pluralism.

If Berger is right, can this tension between individual religiosity – notable dubbed “Sheilaism” in Habits of the Heart – and community (adherence to a larger umbrella of conservative Protestantism, going to church regularly, etc.) continue to propel evangelicalism or tear it apart?

Study suggests Millennials see diversity as “different experiences”

A recent study looked at how Millennials approach diversity:

Millennials seem to be tilting toward that latter, more easily attainable vision. A recent study from Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, found that when it comes to defining diversity, rather than focusing on demographic features, such as race, or gender, Millennials—those born roughly between 1980 and 2000—are more concerned with hiring those who may have different cognitive viewpoints due to growing up in a different part of the country, or attending a different type of school. Differences in race or gender can play a role in those differing viewpoints, but they may not be singled out as important diversifying characteristics. “Diversity means to me your background based on your previous work experience, where you were born and raised, and any unique factors that contribute to your personality and behavior,” said one Millennial who was surveyed.

This is a departure from what older generations understand diversity to mean. “Millennials frame diversity as a means to a business outcome, which is in stark contrast to older generations that view diversity through the lens of morality (the right thing to do), compliance, and equality,” the study of more than 3,700 individuals spanning different generations, races, and genders found. According to Christie Smith, one of the study’s authors, this generation is already comfortable with the idea of diversity in a traditional sense and they’re looking to expand the definition, which could be a good thing…

Millennials are the most diverse group of young adults the nation has seen. And for some, that may mean that the idea of diversity, at least when it comes to race and ethnicity, feels like a given. Though inequalities that have existed for generations persist, some Millennials might think of them as less of a problem. But research, and current events, would show that may not be the case. “We live in a more diverse world in a superficial sense,” Wingfield says. “When we think about where we live, where we go to school, where we work, that type of diversity hasn’t really happened yet.” That creates a gap between perception and reality she says. “Millennials have this reputation for having adopted this more progressive, forward-thinking viewpoint—at the same time, a lot of the institutions that structure their lives really haven’t changed so much.”

This could turn out to be diversity based on individualism and personal identity as opposed to any large-scale understanding of how different social markers, such as race, class, or gender, contribute to different life chances. And the broader data in the United States continues to suggest that those broader social forces still have a large impact on people’s lives.