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    When Faith and Community Erode

    Yes, another on faith and community. When Faith and Community Erode is a review of two books on the subject. I'll provide a few excerpts from the review.

    First, the atheist:

    ...Arnade [in Dignity], a non-believer, devotes an entire chapter to religious faith, offering a sympathetic view of the importance of churches and worship. He observes how faith helps people cope and find support in places where hardly any other sense of community can be found. In addition to offering deep acceptance, churches encourage accountability and self-improvement, making them rare examples of constructive belonging in the devastated landscapes Arnade surveys.

    As traditional forms of community erode, people create ersatz communities elsewhere. Churchgoing, volunteering, and participation in fraternal organizations may be in decline, but McDonald’s has become a social hub that links people across race, income, and geography. People want to “hold on to community and dignity,” suggests Arnade, and when existing bulwarks fail they do this “by creating new relationships and communities in whatever spaces are available. In the Bronx and in rural areas, in black neighborhoods and white neighborhoods, that includes McDonald’s.” Arnade praises the company for allowing its restaurants to become gathering places, and suggests this holds lessons for civic organizations. McDonald’s serves as a local community center because it offers inexpensive food at all times of day, with Internet access, and a chance for people to sit together without programming restrictions. Time with others and access to information are part of what people without family supports, former felons, addicts, and other strugglers need, he suggests.

    Arnade puts a face on the rootedness of most people. Even where hometowns are riddled with problems, when Arnade asks residents if they would move away, the answer is almost always no. Because most families are not intact in society’s back row, people lead complicated lives of mutual interdependence. Brothers and mothers, grandmothers and cousins, coworkers and nieces rely on each other in ways that make moving hard to imagine.

    Others are simply committed to “home” and would never think of leaving....
    And the believer:

    ...Tim Carney’s book has the nature of community, and its decline, right at its heart. Alienated America is a journalistic excursion into the two Americas that Charles Murray dissected in Coming Apart and Robert Putnam chronicled in Our Kids. Carney pivots back and forth between first-hand accounts and academic literature in surveying American disaffection: factory closings, men dropping out of the labor force, declining marriage rates, broken families, and crumbling civic institutions.

    The originality of Carney’s take on these issues lies in the weight he gives to religious practice. Whereas religion is more of an anthropological curiosity for Arnade because of its therapeutic power for struggling people, religion in Carney’s account is essential to broad civic well-being in America. Outside of houses of worship, much of civil society is “a high-end good that most people can’t afford.” Yet “churchgoing people have access to civil society regardless of income.”

    This is why secularization in America has hit working-class and low-income people the hardest. Upper-class Americans live in a rich civic ecosystem populated by associations of many types, including religious ones, but lower-income people have long relied on organizations of faith to anchor their communities. As religious life declines, civic life craters. It is a loss of civic capital even more than financial capital that alienated America suffers from....
    Edmund Burke: "In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse!"

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