Discover more from Bonnie Kristian
‘Religion as a luxury good’ will make our politics even weirder
Plus: My new job, a variant on the Jungle Bird cocktail, and more
Good morning! It’s Wednesday, and here are this week’s five items for you.
But first, job news: Next week, I’m starting a full-time role at Christianity Today as editorial director of ideas and books. Here’s the announcement:
It’s been an honor to have a column there for three years, and I’ll still be doing plenty of my own writing in this role. But I’m also looking forward to getting back into editing as well as doing some big-picture thinking about how CT can both serve its evangelical audience well and better participate in broader conversations about politics, culture, and more.
1. A take I haven’t written elsewhere
‘Religion as a luxury good’ will make our politics even weirder
In a recent post on his Substack, political scientist and pastor Ryan Burge posited that religion in America is becoming a “luxury good.”
Religion in the 21st Century America has become an enclave for people who have done everything “right.” They have college degrees and marriages and children and middle-class incomes. For those who don’t check all those boxes, religion is just not for them.
Notice that this isn’t just about income. On the contrary, Burge charts a strong correlation between education and religiosity:
The most likely to be non-religious? Those who didn’t finish high school. As education increases, so does religious affiliation. The group with the highest level of religious affiliation are those with a master’s degree. […]
[Looking at religious service attendance, the] trend is just as unmistakable: those who are the most likely to attend services weekly are those with a graduate degree. The least likely to attend are those with a high school diploma or less. And these aren’t small differences, either. The last few years have seen nearly a ten-point gap in attendance from the bottom to the top of the education scale.
Click over to Burge’s post to see this data visualized and more, but I think that’s enough to give you the gist.
And it’s a strange gist, no?
On a worldwide scale, we see Christianity growing rapidly in the Global South—places in Africa, Latin America, and Asia that are typically poorer than the U.S. and the rest of the industrialized West. (I highly recommend Philip Jenkins’ The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity as an eye-opening read on this subject.)
And historically, even those of us who don’t accept the premise of Karl Marx’s famous line about religion as the “opium of the people” could grant that religiosity and poverty are often correlated. The United States is still an outlier in this regard: We are very rich but, by Western standards, pretty religious.
At least, we are for now. American religiosity is rapidly declining—that’s not news at this point. But the class patterns Burge documents is news, and I can only expect it will make U.S. politics, especially on the right, even weirder than they already are. I don’t have a cohesive theory here, but probabilities I see include:
Class stratification increases across social contexts.
We all come to know fewer people—especially with the immediate intimacy congregational relationships often have—who are unlike us in meaningful ways.
The “Barstool conservative” faction continues to grow and assert more formal power in the GOP.
The overtly irreligious right (Barstool types are often vaguely religious, in my experience, though not church attendees) also continues to grow, with generally ill effects. (“A thought sent back in time to the theocracy panic of 2005,” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat said in a 2016 tweet: “If you dislike the religious right, wait till you meet the post-religious right.” He was prescient then, and it seems to me that shift only merits more attention seven years later.)
A final thought: Burge ends his post by musing that the American church has become “a hospital for the healthy,” an “echo chamber for folks who did everything ‘right,’ which means that is seeming less and less inviting to those who did life another way.”
I take his point—and don’t want to be unduly defensive—but I’m not sure the causality only flows one way. That is: Are churches off-putting to less educated, low-income, unmarred, and childless Americans because of something the churches are doing wrong? Or are those people rejecting religion for some other reason, perhaps because they’ve found a different source of meaning or have given up on finding meaning altogether?
My knee-jerk reaction is to say it’s some of both, but I’m just thinking aloud here. What do you think?
2. What I'm reading this week
You’ve likely have seen the NPC streamer meme by now. Young women on TikTok are mimiking behavior of Non Playing Characters (NPC) in Videogames by reacting to rewards given to them by their audience. It’s basically a videogame played by an audience with real actors in a TikTok-interface. […]
As Based Beff Jezos rightly remarks on the Tweeties:
In the memetic market competition, humans are reengineering their own behavior to mimic AI and be competitive in their ability to amass attention and capital. Wont be the last time humans become more robot-like to compete against synthetics.
[…] [W]hile some people suggest these NPC streamers are a sign of the coming apocalypse or the downfall of the human spirit or whatever, I think these streamers are more aware, honest and confident about their role in an attention economy than a million Mr. Beasts combined.
I lean more toward the “downfall of the human spirit or whatever” side of things, but am similarly fascinated by the phenomenon. Seriously, click through to watch one of these videos and read the rest here.
3. A recommendation
Visiting Presque Isle in Erie, PA. It’s a very pleasant little beach, and we just went.
4. Recent work
I was sick and then on vacation last week, so I literally only wrote one thing.
The nuanced reality of European strength, Russian weakness, and Ukrainian diplomacy | Defense Priorities (newsletter)
A Jungle Bird cocktail variant I’ve been making:
1 1/2 ounces rum (I used a gold rum I’d infused with pineapple, cinnamon, and cayenne)
3/4 ounce Cynar (h/t)
1 1/2 ounces pineapple juice
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup (I used a lime-orange oleo saccharum)
Shake with ice, then strain and serve. I put it in our roomiest coupes and don’t bother to garnish.