Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Dylan Thomas Trip to Shakertown

We had a delightful bit of providential timing last night.

Near Danville is Pleasant Hill, a restored Shaker community now known as Shakertown. It is, in my opinion, the most beautiful human-made place in Kentucky. I took the family there for Christmas Eve-eve dinner.

My mother-in-law brought a recording of Dylan Thomas reading "A Child's Christmas in Wales," a favorite family poem that I used to read to the kids when they were small. We started listening as we pulled out of the driveway. "I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six," and all that follows, carried us through the misty December twilight in the lovely Kentucky countryside.

As we came in sight of the entrance to Shakertown, Dylan Thomas was winding down Christmas day.

Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.
And he spoke the last word as we pulled up to the stop sign opposite the Pleasant Hill gate.

So now we know: the distance from Danville to Shakertown can be measured in the scientific unit of one Child's Christmas in Wales.

Friday, December 23, 2011

China's Surprising Christian Distribution

The Pew Research Center has taken on the difficult task of estimating the numbers of Christians all over the world.  Yesterday I reported that the country with the third largest number of Protestants is China - many in underground churches. 

I was surprised, though, to see the ratio of Protestant to Catholic Christians in China

Using the same methods to estimate both groups, Pew came up with these totals for Chinese Christians:

Protestants: 58 million

Catholics:     9 million

I hope that some day, when China is democratic, these churches will be able to operate openly.  I expect that, when that day comes, there will be an evangelical boom in China - as is already happening covertly.

And, incidentally, sociologists will be able to get more definite numbers.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Which Countries Have the Most Protestants?

Which country has the most Protestants?  The United States - that one was not so hard.

But which countries have the second and third largest Protestant populations?  Not the largest percentage, but the largest number - a question that obviously favors the countries with the largest populations?

The answer?  China and Nigeria.

A new world Christianity is being built.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Keeping Her Maiden Name" on the Decline

A young friend, recently engaged, passed on this story of the decline in married women keeping their maiden names.

The interesting statistics on American brides keeping their maiden names:

1980s: 9%
1990s: 23%
2000s: 18%

They also report a large, but probably not scientific, survey by, which found that only 8% did in 2010.

The article suggests, by anecdote, that more women are using their maiden names as middle names for professional purposes, as Mrs. G. does.

I do remember noticing that among people we know, the trend seemed to peak with the late Baby Boomers of the college class of '77, but had was less common in our early Gen X cohort marrying in the early 1980s, even at a very politically correct college.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Marry Before Kids: An Answer to Tracy McMillan

Tracy McMillan has written very popular piece at The Huffington Post that is funny, insightful, and deliberately over the top, explaining to aging single women, like herself, "Why You Are Not Married." McMillan's politically incorrect advice has drawn some criticism, including Lisa Wade's piece at Sociological Images that I addressed yesterday.

I did want to take issue with one point that McMillan, a thrice-divorced single mother, makes:

if what you really want is a baby, go get you one. Your husband will be along shortly. Motherhood has a way of weeding out the lotharios.

 McMillan's advice is not completely wrong, but it is very risky.

On the one hand, it is true many women who have children out of wedlock do eventually marry someone, including most teen welfare moms (see Edin and Kefalas' Promises I Can Keep).

On the other hand, it is much harder to court with children.  It is less likely that step-fathers will be as good for kids as would natural fathers married to natural mothers. Most of all, McMillan's strategy discounts the bad effects on the children of their single-parent years. Things may work out OK eventually, but there are usually costs from the tough years.  And if things do not work out eventually, all the years are likely to be tough.

I think Tracy McMillan does offer a helpful reality check to single women who do want to marry, though she offers it in an almost brutal way.   But I think she errs in her advice about the relationship between marriage and children.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Marriage is so Normal: an Answer to Lisa Wade

The other day I posted about the scary report that only a bare majority of American adults are married. I argued that the alarm over this report is overblown. Marriage is not becoming a minority taste.

Another sociologist has argued that marriage could become a minority taste, but so what? Lisa Wade, at the always-interesting Sociological Images, defended her own unmarried pairing with a general critique of marriage. She distinguishes, rightly, between the idea that marriage is normative - that is, thought to be good and desirable - and the factual question of whether or not marriage is normal - that is, what most people actually do.

Marriage is normative. Most Americans favor marriage, and do marry. They think it is good for society, even if they are not married themselves. They think marriage is good for children, even if they are not married or parents themselves. Wade dances around this fact, but she does not (and cannot) actually deny it.

She does, though, make this claim: "In actual reality, though, the state of being married is not any more normal than the state of being unmarried."

This is not true, for reasons I outlined in my earlier post. The proportion of people who marry for life is closer to two-thirds than to one-half. We are dealing with estimates of what people will do in the future, so it is hard to be more precise than that.

My more important critique of Wade's position, though, is that the conception of marriage she defends is entirely about her relationship.

The greatest value of marriage to society as a whole, and to the members of most families, is that marriage is the best environment for raising children. Once you have kids, your life is not all about you any more. Since the great majority of adults do have children, we all have an interest - first-hand or second-hand - in the social arrangements that are best for children.

Marriage is both normal and normative primarily because it is best for children, and secondarily because, on the whole, most people are happier married than as cohabitors or as single parents.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The World's Worst Tyrant Dies

Kim Jong-Il, the brutal dictator of North Korea, has died. It would take someone at a higher paygrade than mine to explain why this is a bad thing.

I hope the North Koreans can escape the whole apparatus of their police state. In fact, I think it is realistic to think that if they can upgrade to even a merely bad government, the long hoped-for reunification of the Koreas might become real.