Friday, January 14, 2011

Adam the Prophet

My "Sociology of American Religion" class had an excellent visit to our local Muslim school yesterday. The principal, Dr. Jitmoud, very helpfully explained the basics of Islam. He said something that I had heard before, but then gave it a further application I had not appreciated.

By the Muslim account, Adam is the first prophet of God (Allah), a witness to the Creator. In saying that Adam is the first prophet of God, Islamic thought thus reasons that Islam is the oldest religion. This also then makes sense of the claim that all people are really Muslims, most of whom need to be encouraged to return to the original religion. And this, in turn, helps account for why they are so hard on people who convert from Islam to other faiths.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Power Denominations: Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Jews

Steve Prothero has just release his analysis of the 112th Congress. He notes that three denominations are vastly overrepresented there. Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Jews together make up just 5.9% of the population. However, they make up nearly a quarter of the Congress, at 23.4%.

These three denominations are not merely the best educated and richest denominations, which we should always expect to be over-represented in the halls of power. These three traditions also have the best developed theories - along with Congregationalists and Catholics - of how to wield power. They develop in their members a stronger sense that they should take on the burden of responsibility for the common good.

It is fascinating to see that Jews have displaced Congregationalists among the Big Three power denominations. I think this a very good sign about the state of American pluralism.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Smiling Young People Are 1/5th as Likely to Divorce

Matthew Hertenstein and colleagues found this interesting result:

If you didn't smile for photographs early in life, your marriage is five times more likely to end in divorce than if you smiled intensely in early photographs.

This is probably because optimists smile more, and optimists are more likely to have successful marriages.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Marriage is the Upward Mobility Path You Most Control

Doyle McManus has a fine op-ed in the Los Angeles Times summarizing the three main elements of upward mobility for the poor, as summarized by Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution:

"If young people do three things — graduate from high school, get a job, and get married and wait until they're 21 before having a baby — they have an almost 75% chance of making it into the middle class."
McManus reasonably focuses on the big things government, business, and other social institutions can do to improve the chances of upward mobility for poor people. Creating jobs and improving the quality of schools is beyond what most people can affect individually.

The main tool that people have to lift themselves is in the hands of all Americans, no matter how poor they start out: stay married and have your kids in marriage.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Decent Muslims Turn Out to Protect Christians

This is how to make a good society.

When Muslim extremists threatened to attack Christians on Christmas eve, ordinary decent Muslims turned out by the thousands to act as human shields to protect their Christian neighbors.

That all of this happened in Egypt, where Christians are a small minority, and the government has turned a blind eye to Muslim attacks on Christians, makes this story all the more remarkable and heroic.