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White Working-Class ‘Seculars’

From Charles Murray’s piece “Five myths about white people”:

1. Working-class whites are more religious than upper-class whites.

This is a pervasive misconception encouraged by liberals who conflate the religious right with the working class, and by conservative evangelicals who inveigh against the godless ruling class.

Certainly, white intellectual elites have become extremely secular. However, as a whole, the white upper middle class has long displayed higher attendance at worship services and stronger allegiance to their religious faith than the white working class — going all the way back to the first data collected in the 1920s and continuing today.

Since the early 1970s, white America has become more secular overall, but the drop has been much greater in the working classes.As of the 2000s, the General Social Survey indicates, nearly 32 percent of upper-middle-class whites ages 30 to 49 attended church regularly, compared with 17 percent of the white working class in the same age group.

What’s interesting to think about is that these working-class non-churchgoers are probably not secular in the same way white intellectual elites are secular. I bet if you polled them, 999 out of 1,000 would say they believed in God and considered themselves to be Christians. It’s just that they don’t go to church. Where I live, during deer hunting season, to be a white male is to be seasonally “secular” in this way.

Are white working-class seculars the “spiritual but not religious” sort? I don’t know. That designation seems so SWPL-y.

(H/T: Steve Sailer.)

UPDATE: Just to be clear, I don’t consider it properly “Christian” in any meaningful sense to identify culturally as a Christian, but never to turn up in church, or to participate in any of the rites that are part of normative Christian behavior. I’m not praising what Murray identifies as working-class “secularism” here, but only saying that it’s likely that the educated, professional-class secular is significantly different in his relationship to religion than the working-class guy. I grew up around plenty of men who would have affirmed that they were Christians had you asked them, but who rarely if ever went to church, and who couldn’t have told you much of anything about what Jesus taught, or what any of it really meant beyond “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

UPDATE.2: An insightful comment from the thread below, from reader Mark B., who pastors in a largely working-class area:

You start a conversation with someone and steer it to faith matters. When you get past the kitschy Jesus and emo faith stuff which is more about saying “I’m not a bad person”, then you get to the church conversation.

Q: So if you believe in this Jesus, what church are you part of?
A: Oh, the place would fall down and burn if I walked in the doors.
Q: Why do you say that?
A: Well you have to have your @#$!% together to go to church.

I’ve had that conversation dozens of times. The invitation is usually something along the lines of “well, this Jesus you believe in, said his church is the place for sinners. He didn’t come for the righteous, but sinners.”

Now there are a whole bunch of other lines that can come up (I’m hunting, they just want money, all the good old lines), but that conversation marks the difference between the working class secular and the elite. The elite considers the church as the center of sin and the cause of wickedness. They make a moral argument against the church. The working class still nod at Jesus and even the church. They are much more like the crowds in the gospels. They can be swayed. They recognize the authority in the words and work of Jesus. The elite are more like the scribes and pharisees – very sure in their own righteousness.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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