Trayvon Martin and the implicit prejudice of faith

By now many readers of this blog are probably at least slightly aware of the Trayvon Martin killing. As the news reports continue to come in, certain characteristics of the incident remain stable: George Zimmerman, a 20-something half-white, half-Latino neighborhood watch member in the gated community of Sanford, FL, identified Trayvon, a 17-year-old unarmed African American teenager who was visiting relatives in the same community. Zimmerman put a bullet in him after calling police (who told him not to pursue Trayvon) and reporting Trayvon as a suspicious-looking individual. Some disagreement is now in the newsfeed over whether there was physical conflict or not between Zimmerman and Martin, but it’s clear that most of the organized voices have sided with Trayvon’s family who are asking for justice. Part of the complication here is that Zimmerman has not been arrested for this shooting. And part of the defense for Zimmerman’s innocence rests on responding to Trayvon’s manner of dress, particularly donning a hoodie with the hood covering his head. This has sparked national-level concern over well-worn territory that we’re familiar with: was Trayvon killed because Zimmerman made an association between racial blackness and criminal behavior when he saw Trayvon with his hood covering his head? Could racism have somehow played a subtle or overt role in Zimmerman’s decision to pull that trigger? If so, our President’s comment that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon has a sad and chilling ring; we still harbor a reflexive animosity toward black Americans.  In a split second a young teen’s life is lost, a family is forever changed, and those of us who identify as black are left wondering if this can happen again, especially if one is a young man[Read more…]

Religion and Class: From Harvard to the Quick Stop

by John Schmalzbauer, Missouri State University

Conservatives have long extolled the virtues of the American working class. In an oft-repeated statement, William F. Buckley said he would rather “entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.” The author of God and Man at Yale, Buckley saw higher education as a threat to religious faith. Forced to choose between Harvard Yard and South Boston, he chose Southie.

Had Buckley lived long enough to read Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, he might have reconsidered his choice.  More than any other conservative tome, it challenges the myth of proletarian piety. Chronicling the decline of marriage, work, and church attendance among blue collar whites, it presents an American working class that looks more like Jay and Silent Bob than Ralph Kramden (Jay and Silent Bob are recurring characters in the films of director Kevin Smith, including a 1994 feature set in a New Jersey convenience store. Despite Buckley’s support for drug legalization, it’s hard to imagine him patronizing the Quick Stop).

Throughout the book, Murray compares [Read more…]

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…]