Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Religion and the West. I've mentioned before that I am a fan in general of Rodney Stark's book, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. Now it looks like Robert Royal has a similar work out called The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West At First Things, Richard John Neuhaus writes about Royal:

I am struck by a review of the book in the New York Sun by Brooke Allen.

She writes: "Mr. Royal's belief that religion has acted as a restraint on human cruelty rather than an instigation to it addresses a question that probably will never be settled satisfactorily. He points out, as others have, that anti-religious regimes like Mao's and Stalin's murdered many more people than religious persecutions ever did. While this is certainly true, Mr. Royal does not take into account the fact that ideology functions as a sort of religion in its own right, offerings its acolytes the feeling of transcendence normally associated with faith, and the sublimation of the ego in a larger cause."

This is part of a very old word game. If you say anti-religious ideologies are more destructive than religion, it is only because anti-religious ideologies are, in fact, religion in another guise.
Neuhaus points out that it is also a silly word game. Send the memo to Bill Maher, who insists on repeating the nonsense that 'more people have been killed in the name of religion then any other cause' to yet another round of adoring applause from a crowd that would applaud their arms off before they could clap one time for every person who was slaughtered in the name of anti-religious causes in the 20th century alone.

Add to the meaningless statistic category. The latest Atlantic Monthly has Stanford historian David Kennedy musing on the threat of our militaristic society. His main concern, it seems, is that we can go to war too easily in part because we can field a lethal military without straining our economy hardly at all. True enough. But then he adds this bizarre point: "In the general population in the eighteen-to-twenty-four-year-old cohort, nearly 50 percent of people ... have had some exposure to college education. In that same cohort in the U.S. military today ... the percentage of people who've had some kind [of] exposure to college education is 6.5 percent." Well, yeah, no kidding. People who join the military out of high school do not go to college (until, in many cases, after they get out of the military). Thanks for the update.

On the other hand, what do you suppose the statistic is for military officers' exposure to college? Oh yeah, 100%. And that's not just exposure, mind you, that is 100% college graduates.

What's even more interesting, to me anyway, is that it is possible that none of this matters as much as Kennedy seems to let on. Indeed, this Atlantic seems to have elite = college education on the brain. Witness Richard Florida's article on the concentration of college graduates in a few specific cities and regions. Florida explains this concentration: "Some of the reasons for it are essentially aesthetic--many of the means metros are beautiful, energizing, and fun to live in. But there is another reason, rooted in economics: increasingly, the most talented and ambitious people need to live in a means metro in order to realize their full economic value."

What does that mean? To me it reinforces what Matthew Crawford talks about in his article on shop class and manual labor. Office jobs, the types of jobs that college graduates do, are becoming more and more like factory work. Those jobs, with their TPS reports and PC Load Letter, are not as intellectually stimulating as advertised, but they pay reasonably well. Besides, those jobs are really all that people with the generic, useless, and ubiquitous business degree can do. So, like Florida pointed out, these elite college graduates flock to the business factory towns and work in cubicles at places like the Denver Tech Center along the always happily congested I-25.

If only our soldiers had more exposure to colleges that boost enrollment and increase revenue by offering mindless degrees to pump out white collar workers, then our military would no longer be exploiting the most disadvantaged in the country.

Look, if I learned anything from my ten years of college, it's that contrary to the airy expectations of high-minded educators, the overwhelming majority of students see higher education as, oh, let's call it "social training." They see their degree as a box to check on a job application. This is the dark side of American pragmatism--learning for the sake of learning, intellectually challenging yourself, learning to better oneself does not offer a readily apparent pecuniary benefit, so we don't do it.

A college degree used to mean something. It used to be an indication of some sort of intellectual elite status. Then it became just a key to better jobs. Now that might not even be the case. Being able to afford a college education probably indicates to one degree or another having somewhat more money to begin with, which is an advantage. But the college education itself is becoming less of an advantage with every passing year, and that's something none of these statistics are taking into account.

Note on the end of summer. The family went for a long walk on Monday night (Sept 11--I don't want to talk about that), and the fall chill has most assuredly arrived. The streetlights were on by the time we got home, another reminder that the days are getting shorter. I dread the switch to standard time, with it's evil premature sunsets forcing us to spend the better part of our evenings under artificial lights. The dimming daylight the other night was a sad reminder of the excitement of the spring, when the days get longer and you can stay outside and not even realize how late it's gotten.

But for all that, the cool weather, overcast skies, and approaching darkness felt right on Monday night. Long, hot days are great for working outside and having barbeques and washing cars and drinking beer on the porch into the wee hours, but by the end of the summer I always feel a little too stretched out. Summer provides opportunity, becomes busy, and ends up frantic. I need the weather to remind me to go inside and pick up a book.

Long way of saying thank goodness for the seasons.


And that's the sort of blogging that you'll probably see from me for the next little while. Hope you like it.


greg said...

I like it. Nice touch with the seasons talk. It is slowly starting to feel like fall. Unfortunately we are in the midst of a huge fire (around 7000 acres at last count) and the school I'm at is right in the middle of the smoke. Nonetheless, last Friday night as I sat in my apartment I could hear the familiar sounds of the public address announcer at the high school announcing the first football game of the year (his voice has been doing this for over 30 years and it's sound always announces the beginning of the fall season for me) and could smell a tint of smoke in the air as the sun set a little earlier.

Nice post Tom.

dcat said...

Good work. You'll be linked on dcat.

greg said...

You inspired me to write my own post on fall. Thanks.

Tom said...

Thanks Greg. And thanks for the link, too. The football smell still gets me fired up.

Let me know (good and bad) what you think of the sanctuary book-thing when you finish.