Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Today David Brooks looks at indebtedness in America and says that one of the causes is our atrophied sense of sin:

...Some of the toxins were economic. Rising house prices gave people the impression that they could take on more risk. Some were cultural. We entered a period of mass luxury, in which people down the income scale expect to own designer goods. Some were moral. Schools and other institutions used to talk the language of sin and temptation to alert people to the seductions that could ruin their lives. They no longer do....

(Emphasis mine.)

So Madalyn Murray O'Hair is more responsible for the bankrupting of America than the CEO of Countrywide Financial. Got it?

But surely there are some institutions in America that still talk about sin and temptation -- y'know, churches? And if that kind of talk keeps people from financial trouble, surely it stands to reason that there'd be less bankruptcy among churchgoers than among non-churchgoers -- right?

Um, apparently not. A 2006 ranking of states by weekly or near-weekly church or synagogue attendance is here. The top ten states are as follows:

Alabama 58%
Louisiana 58%
South Carolina 58%
Mississippi 57%
Utah 55%
Arkansas 55%
Nebraska 53%
North Carolina 53%
Tennessee 52%
Georgia 52%

Now here's the top ten from a 2006 list of bankruptcy filings per capita:

#1 Tennessee: 1.099 per 1,000 people
#2 Georgia: 0.953 per 1,000 people
#3 Alabama: 0.809 per 1,000 people

#4 Michigan: 0.661 per 1,000 people
#5 Arkansas: 0.643 per 1,000 people
#6 Indiana: 0.609 per 1,000 people
#7 Kentucky: 0.542 per 1,000 people
#8 Mississippi: 0.538 per 1,000 people
#9 Missouri: 0.534 per 1,000 people
#10 Ohio: 0.512 per 1,000 people

I've highlighted the states that overlap.

Similar correspondences appear at the other end as well: Maine and Vermont, for instance, have the lowest rates of church attendance among the 50 states -- and the 3rd- and 7th-lowest rates of bankruptcy.

(The bankruptcy numbers for 2007 are here; they're not very different.)

Maybe churches have just gotten more liberal and relativistic in ... um ... Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia. No that doesn't sound right, does it? OK, I'll try again: Maybe these churches would get around to talking about the sinful temptations of materialism if they weren't too busy talking about the evils of gay marriage and the Democratic Party. Yeah, that's a bit more plausible.

No comments: