Religious Prejudice in Sociology Gets Slammed

In academia, in general, and sociology, in particular, we constantly hear derogatory, prejudicial statements about religion. While it’s easy to just accept this religious prejudice as a given, Christian Smith has written a compelling challenge to it. For his whole essay, click here (page 14). Here are the first several paragraphs:

“The time has come for American sociology to stop being so ignorant and dogmatic about religion. As someone who knows something about the real history, cultures, and organizations of religious traditions, I am regularly appalled by the illiterate prejudices about religion that are routinely expressed by sociologist colleagues. It is embarrassing for our discipline and galling to those who know better.

For example, in a recent Contemporary Sociology book review, the reviewer, a senior sociologist from an Ivy League university, chides a book author for not knowing enough about religion. The reviewer then asserts that the real “net effects of religion and faith” operating “on a macro level” are “a few thousand years of horrible wars, genocide, slavery’s ideology, sexual exploitation, torture, devaluing others as not human, terrorism, and organized hatred.” That opinion is not uncommon—I frequently see and hear it expressed by sociologists.

News flash: this view of religion is so simplistic, ideological, parochial, ill-informed, and historically naïve that it can only be called ignorant or bigoted, or both. It simply parrots the polemics of 18th century skeptical Enlightenment activists and the New Atheists, like Voltaire and Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens (or the combined “Ditchkins”), as if they were historical and scientific fact. It substitutes caricature for scholarship, ideological politics for academic analysis, and understanding. If such sophomoric views were applied to any other area of social life, experts who knew better would laugh and scream…”

Religion in the News: What Does it All Mean?

by Richard Flory

Several news stories about religion in the U.S. have caught my attention over the last couple of weeks, and they each highlight a different lens on what the future may hold for these and other groups, and how the public perceives religion as an enduring (or not) institution in society. First, and this has been a long time coming, the Crystal Cathedral has finally met its demise. After bankruptcy, the sale of the landmark sanctuary to the Orange County Roman Catholic Diocese and now the (somewhat ungraceful) exit of the entire Schuller family, the fate of the formerly iconic megachurch has been sealed. Whatever the future holds, the Crystal Cathedral will no longer enjoy its identity of the past 40 years—a cultural landmark melding Christianity, American consumerism and celebrity.

As the Crystal Cathedral story was making headlines, including on the “CBS This Morning” show (alas, my interview ended up on the digital cutting room floor!), just up the freeway from the Cathedral’s home in Garden Grove, the Los Angeles City Council was working on an important but complex redistricting plan. Buried two-thirds of the way into a recent Los Angeles Times story recounting the final approval of the plan were quotations from two of “several African American pastors” who were in attendance at the City Council meeting. These pastors spoke against the plan as it would, from their point of view, adversely impact the economic growth and development of large swaths of South Los Angeles. In contrast to the Schullers, these pastors were from [Read more...]

What Paintball Taught Me about the Market in Relationships

My 12-year-old son and I play paintball about once every three or four months. (If it was up to him, it’d be every other weekend.) For a morning, we are mimicking soldiers—although without much strategy other than a “You go that way, and I’ll go this way”—attempting to win battles and avoid getting shot. Paintball is a unique social event—apart from the mild fear of being smacked in the head or neck by balls of tinted mineral oil sailing along at 300-feet-per-second —because  it’s one of the few venues in my social life where I’m nearly completely surrounded by men doing what they largely perceive to be a masculine thing. I say “nearly completely” because it’s not entirely comprised of men, and there’s no rule about it. Typically in a crowd of, say, 40-50 paint-ballers there will probably be 2-3 women. 20-to-1, of course, is quite a sex ratio, unmatched in most other social activities. (Such a radically-skewed ratio reminds me of the film Paint your Wagon, which details, in a very fictionalized way, life during the Gold Rush with oodles of men and few women).

While boyfriends or husbands often accompany the participating women—so far as I can tell—the women’s presence is noticeable simply for what it does to the other men. They perk up. They’re aware of the women. And they’re often more deferential and complimentary to the women. In other words, they notice. And it doesn’t much matter whether the women are 10s, 7s, or even 4s (to use a gross measure of attractiveness employed by another University of Texas faculty member). When something desirable—the company of a woman—is rare, it becomes more valuable just because. [Read more...]

Coming apart, coming together, coming…?

By Julie J. Park

I’ve been meaning to write an entry on Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, for a few weeks now. The book is divided into two main parts that address two sizable chunks of the population, elite White folks and lower-income White folks. You can skip Part I if you’ve read Bobos in Paradise or your fill of David Brooks columns–it basically talks about the rise of the meritocrats/creative class/latte-town. Murray’s contribution is documenting the rise of SuperZips, clusters of highly educated, influential folks in various pockets (including but not limited to people who watch Portlandia and their parents, people featured in Stuff White People Like, etc.).   [Read more...]

The Social Construction of Christian Leaders as Hypocrites

Several years, ABC’s newshow, 20/20, ran a story about a Southern California pastor, K.C. Price, and it showed a film clip of Price saying:
“I live in a 25-room mansion, I have my own $6-million yacht, I have my own private jet and I have my own helicopter and I have seven luxury automobiles.”
Sounds terrible, doesn’t it. Yet another instance of Christian leaders gone bad! Why, Diane Sawyer even expressed shock that a preacher would have this kind of wealth.
There’s only one problem… it’s not true. Price prefaced this statement by saying he was hypothetically “quoting a hypothetical person with great material wealth who failed to follow a righteous path.”
So, 20/20 was dead wrong; they’ve issued retractions, and now they are being sued. (Story from the LA Times).

This raises an interesting issue: Why does the media so frequently portray Christian leaders as hypocrites?

One reason is that it’s interesting.
A fundamental motivation for the media is increasing viewership, so any story that would broadly appeal will be prominently featured. This is why they carry endless stories about Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.
It’s also why we think crime is always getting worse when in fact it has mostly gotten better over the past two decades–murder and crime makes for a good story.
It’s also why so many people [Read more...]


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