Three Interesting Items

1) From the Economic Files, Tyler Cowen injecting a heavy word into the discussion. I think he (maybe Academic Economists in general?) might be stumbling back to a more fundamental understanding of the economy. I remember studying all these models and even building some in prior work and they all worked pretty well, until they didn’t. That didn’t work phase was usually because something big had changed, but if you are focusing on your model and that quarter or even worse that month, you didn’t empirically know what the big things was. You knew it in your gut, but everyone would say, “no, stick with the model for now.”

Trust was broken, most of all in the financial system, but like a wet spill this has soaked into many parts of the economy and polity…In one very real sense, the economy is well below potential output (though less than many people think, due to the great stagnation). In another very real sense, that gap cannot be exploited in the short run by reflationary policy. Once again, it requires a reestablishment of trust. Trust is more easily broken than repaired.

[If you want to see a prime example of the moral blindness, or the unwillingness to consider more fundamental things such as trust, take a look at the comments which take Dr. Cowen to task for using a morally laden word, trust.]

2) An emotionally tough family reflection about the results of the way we live now. This is the story that would go along with last Sunday’s sermon. This is also part of the call of the church to bind the wounds. This generation’s wounds are deep and possibly fatal.

What strikes me most powerfully about the defenders of the sexual revolution is their immovable abstraction. Always the matter is couched in terms of rights, or individual desires—what I want, what I may pursue. That this sexual laissez-faire destroys the common good, by undermining families and rotting whole neighborhoods from within, seems not to matter. Honest sociologists can give us the numbers, of children growing up without fathers or mothers, of the incidence of venereal diseases, of births out of wedlock, of delinquency and crime. I think instead of the people I have known.

3) An editor at Real Clear Religion (part of the burgeoning empire of Real Clear X sites) is thinking along the same lines as I was on the Pew Survey finding more “nones”. The biggest difference is that they don’t think that compounding effect across generations has happened, where I ended in saying that is exactly what we are seeing right now. The statistical numbers are just catching up with the reality. He ends with this.

Fischer’s take was that the Pew survey is basically reinforcing the poll results that they’d worked with a decade ago. And he offers this thought:

“One open question is when this becomes self reinforcing — when the ‘nones’ raise no-religion children, when the cultural climate changes.”

To me, the latest Pew survey brings to mind the chorus of an old union organizing song: “Which side are you on boys? Which side are you on?”

Political and religious pressure from the right is pushing folks who once would have been happy to sit in the middle to pick a side. And increasingly, the side they pick is away from religion.

What he doesn’t address is if that is a good or a bad thing. Is that a call for further gap straddling? Or is that a recognition of Jesus saying things like “I’ve not come to bring peace but a sword.” (Matt 10:34). The nature of gospel is to cause a division.

Religious Affiliation

Here is the complete Pew report.

There are plenty of good graphs, but I like this one the best.What you see is generation by generation the number that is willing to say “I’m not affiliated with any religious tradition” goes up. One caveat to this is that “none” does not mean atheist. There is a small wedge (2.4 pts) that is atheist. What this really means is a large number of people just have not thought at all about religious affiliation. If you were forcing me to tell a narrative about this I would have two beats. The first beat is that a mushy-headed tolerance became the defining virtue of American life. Mushy-headed is important there. Strong tolerance happens when I know what you believe, don’t like it, but tolerate. Mushy-headed is along the lines of “all roads go up the same hill” stuff. That mushy-headed tolerance leads to a devaluation of religious education by a generation of parents that has compounded itself. There are a lot of people who just have never been forced or even seriously encountered religious claims. Is there a God? Well, I suppose so is the default. No, there isn’t, or a doctrine content answer like the Nicene Creed are learned (i.e. revealed) answers.

The second beat in that story is this graph. Jesus said that “to the one who has, more will be give, but the one who lacks, even what he has will be taken away.” (Luke 8:18 and others). The first and most basic aspect of practicing Christianity is gathering with believers. Yes, Jesus founded a church. The all-roads-mushy-ness gave reason to drop out. As more dropped out the signal effect of religious attendance both grew and attenuated. Attending church for a millennial is a strong signal they believe what is proclaimed there. Attending church no longer says “I’m trust-worthy to do business with”. Hence you get the divide shown in this graph. Stable affiliation for those who attend even monthly, but tendency to “none” for those of slight to no attendance.

Churches attempted to straddle that gap for the last couple of decades with “seeker services” and all kinds of Christianity lite attempts. Think doctrine divides love unites. Many groups did this so effectively that they actually forgot what they believed. I think the jig is up. The successful churches going forward will be those that actually teach the faith. There is no longer a societal urge to say “I belong to x church” hence that well of rotating seekers is drying up. What is left is the hard business of making disciples.

I’d also agree with this take in that what we are seeing happening was already present. Just the labels are catching up with reality.