Christianity and Attributions

I’m just finishing Martin Seligman’s fascinating book Learned Optimism. Seligman, a psychologist at Penn, makes the case that how we explain the world has a big impact on us—especially when we’re explaining the causes of difficult or unpleasant events.

One way of explaining things is what Seligman refers to as a pessimistic attributional style. Here, when something bad happens, we explain it as a permanent event that is due to our own actions and that will affect every part of our lives. In contrast, an optimistic attributional style explains bad things as temporary, due to causes outside of us, and affecting only part of our lives.

For example, suppose that you’re driving in traffic and another driver cuts you off and makes an angry, obscene gesture at you. A pessimistic explanation might go something like this: “I’m a bad driver who must have done something stupid to upset the other driver so much. I always do stupid things.” An optimistic explanation might say “Oh, it’s Steve Bell. Hi Steve! [Read more…]

Demographic Change: Casualties or Opportunities?

By Richard Flory

At the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, we’ve been talking a lot lately about how different communities in the Los Angeles area have undergone significant demographic change, shifting in the last 20 years from predominantly African American to predominantly Latino communities. In fact, there remains only one predominantly African American community in south Los Angeles, while all the others now have majority Latino populations. This change presents many challenges and problems, not the least of which is the fact that there are now dozens—perhaps hundreds (and I’m not being dramatic in this)—of Black churches situated in those formerly African American neighborhoods. Which means that most of these congregations have been transformed from churches where most of their members lived in the surrounding neighborhoods and walked to church on Sunday (indeed many of these churches have very small, or no parking lots—in L.A.!), but who now live as far away as the Palmdale to the north, or Riverside and San Bernardino to the east.

The problem that these churches face is whether can they figure out a way to survive, let alone thrive, when their members are now in many cases former members, worshipping closer to where they currently live. Thus these churches are left with the dilemma of exactly who it is that they should serve, their few remaining long-time members, maybe attract a few more commuting members, or reach out to their Latino neighbors in their ministry and outreach programs. These churches have long ago paid off their mortgages, but they are now empty shells most days of the week, and on Sundays, most are barely one-quarter to one-half full. Several churches we have heard of have only a few remaining seniors, who are too old and lacking in resources to move out of the area, and are left to worship together as they, and perhaps their church, approach the inevitable end.

Yet this isn’t a new problem. [Read more…]

Nonmonogamy? Not yet.

“Nonmonogamy” is a gentle mouthful of a word, a polite replacement of sorts for “promiscuity” and “infidelity” in the lexicons of cosmopolitans. The same kind of transformation has happened to “virginity loss,” “cheating,” and “prostitute,” terms no longer considered appropriate for the more sex-positive among us. In their place we now have sexual debut, extradyadic sex, and sex worker, respectively. As a student of young Americans’ sexual behavior, I’ve found that the lingo alone requires effort to master. But neither my word processor nor even most of my hipster neighbors recognize the legitimacy of nonmonogamy—the practice of supplementing a primary sexual partner with one or more others.

Serial monogamy, however, is another story. In fact, it’s the primary sexual script among young adults today. And it’s into this pattern that most Americans of any age put their energy. You’re only allowed one sexual partner at a time, and to overlap is to cheat, and cheating remains a serious norm violation that gives the victimized party not just the uncontested right but often a perceived moral obligation to end the relationship. And that, argues the authors of Sex at Dawn, is a problem.

Apparently we didn’t just evolve from apes. We are apes. When it comes to matters of sex, authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá charge, we haven’t really even evolved. Although we more closely mimic chimpanzees, who fight and feud over sex, we would do well—the authors assert—to mimic the Bonobo, that amiable chimp cousin who appears both gracious and generous in its sexual expressions. Bonobos resolve their power issues with sex. And their anxiety issues. And pretty much any issue. Make love, not war, is their mantra.

Monogamy, Ryan and Jethá claim, is not natural. [Read more…]

Institutional Drift of the Working Class

Has something happened to our working class? While much of my research has focused on racial inequalities in America, these investigations usually don’t leave me too far from the broader matter of social class inequalities. When sociologists talk about social inequalities we usually are referring to those who are making low wages or those who are classified in poverty. In class I tend to refer to them as a vulnerable population since many students are working minimum wage jobs and don’t always connect their experience with the concept of being part of the working class.  For the most part the “returns on education,” particularly college education, is still better than no college education-so for many of these students they intuitively know, or hope, that their job at Ann Taylor or as library assistant is temporary until they land a “real job,” the one that their college degree promises.

The message regarding those in poverty and the working poor is usually the same: life is pretty hard, as this online experiment shows (very useful by the way in teaching). Your pay is just sufficient enough to get by as long as you never get sick, don’t get your hours cut, or have a major transportation problem that leaves you showing up for work late (and potentially fired as a result). You’re more often exposed to natural elements, harsh chemicals, and dangerous machinery which can cause bodily harm if you’re not careful. Typical examples include: migrant agrarian workers, waste management, restaurant staff, valet parking workers, fast food employees, building custodians. Millions of Americans who won’t attain a college degree earn their livelihood from these jobs.

When I read about the recent finding that more than 50% of births to women under 30 occur outside of marriage, (which fellow blogger Mark Regnerus described), [Read more…]

Religious Affiliation in the United States by State (Interactive Map)

One of the joys of studying religion is how much high-quality data are available. For the latest “wow, that’s cool” source of data, check out this interactive map of religion in the United States. Put a cursor over a state and you see the religious distribution of its population. Want to see trends by region? Just move your cursor slowly across groups of states and watch how the bars change.

Thanks David Mimms and Kyndria Brown for the link.