I look forward to this explanation of how church and “civic life” are entirely divorced from economics because everyone knows you don’t need money to buy, say, land to build your sanctuary on, or textbooks:
Why do so many people believe that the American dream is no longer within reach? Growing inequality, stubborn pockets of immobility, rising rates of deadly addiction, the increasing and troubling fact that where you start determines where you end up, heightening political strife—these are the disturbing realities threatening ordinary American lives today.
The standard accounts pointed to economic problems among the working class, but the root was a cultural collapse: While the educated and wealthy elites still enjoy strong communities, most blue-collar Americans lack strong communities and institutions that bind them to their neighbors. And outside of the elites, the central American institution has been religion.
That is, it’s not the factory closings that have torn us apart; it’s the church closings. The dissolution of our most cherished institutions—nuclear families, places of worship, civic organizations—has not only divided us, but eroded our sense of worth, belief in opportunity, and connection to one another.
Let’s ignore for a moment three generations of people subjected to a national media narrative driven by a 24-hour propaganda network telling them to feel alienated from modern life, and pretend they arrived at this feeling of alienation independently.
Let’s take this nonsense on its face for a moment because there’s a romanticism to this argument that a lot of people passively watching this guy get interviewed on GMA will find persuasive.
It’s entirely CRAP to say “factory closings” are somehow separate from “church closings” or that the loss of civic institutions isn’t economic. You know what closes a church? MONEY. If people can’t afford to send their kids to the local Catholic school, and can’t put anything in the collection plate, the lights won’t stay on. God may take an IOU but the electric company won’t.
That’s not “morality,” that’s reality.
Morality isn’t just mouthing words at a podium, or bowing your head once a week, or joining a bowling league. Morality is your actions toward others, the way you construct your days, the world you decide to build.
If you build a world without libraries, without schools, without roads and water pipes and snowplows and street sweeping, that will erode the feeling of community connection. If you replace every small music venue with a Starbucks, that will erode the feeling of community connection. If you make seeing a dentist a disaster on par with the car breaking down or your house catching fire, that will erode the feeling of community connection.
If you make it impossible for the elderly to stay in their homes and put decent retirement out of reach. If you stop picking up litter in neighborhoods where people aren’t likely to have time to complain. If you pay people sub-minimum wages so that they have to work two or three jobs and don’t have time to take their kids to the park much less join the damn bowling league.
All of that is immoral. All of that will erode the ties that bind us to one another. I understand the appeal of this argument that modern life sucks so hard because young people would rather be on their phones than attend church services. It lets us all off the hook for the world that we have built, and lets us sit back and judge others as silly and shallow without even once talking to them about how they feel and what they need.
I am happy to have a conversation about the morality of the way we build our lives now. I am beyond thrilled for us to start talking about why our sense of responsibility to one another is disappearing. I would LOVE the chance to explain, on national TV or with a Big 5 book deal, just how it is the world of the middle class disappeared and all the churches closed.
But somehow that conversation is never about money, and it needs to be.
Also? Not for nothing, but the bona fides of this whisperer of the great unwashed?
Timothy P. Carney is the commentary editor at the Washington Examiner and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money and Obamanomics: How Barack Obama is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses. He lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
I’m sure he’s welcome to move to a small town in Idaho and run their community rec center anytime he likes. Amazing how all these extollers of the virtues of Heartland poverty run zero risk of encountering it in the wild.