Fundamentalism when you hate your neighbour

One of the paradoxes of modern religion is that the intolerant forms grow with immigration. As a general rule, you get liberal churches in monocultural places, and fundie ones in multicultural ones. This is depressing, but I had just come on a simple explanation.

Hilary Putnam’s research into social capital shows that ethnic diversity makes people less willing to trust their neighbours — irrespective of ethnicity. He was working, I think, in Los Angeles, but I have seen the result repeated by a couple of Swedish sociologists there.

The thing about fundie churches is that they have high costs of entry. These aren’t financial so much as matters of daily discipline — temperance, dietary restrictions, keeping-it-in-your-trousers, wearing silly clothes, etc. The payoff is that you know that everyone else who pays this price is committed to the success of the enterprise and so can be trusted. I first came across this dynamic, and felt its force, on the visit to Romania excepted below. It was obvious then that there was no one in the whole country you could trust except another Baptist.

So in large, multicultural cities, with low levels of social trust, you would expect strict churches to flourish. It’s not more complicated than that. This explains why HTB is in London, and the diocese of Sydney is in Sydney. Whether there is any correlation between immigrant density and conservatism in TEC I don’t know but it would be interesting to find out.

This is an elegant explanation, but not a cheering one. It certainly suggest that we will see a Christianist backlash in some parts of Europe. Does anyone out there have evidence of flourishing evangelical churches in Belgium?

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6 Responses to Fundamentalism when you hate your neighbour

  1. Tijl says:

    I don’t think there are flourishing evangelical churches in Belgium. Marcel Lefebvre has a small group of followers in Belgium (they have 1 church in Antwerp I think) and there is of course the controversial Bishop Léonard and the Armenian priest Père Samuel.

  2. acb says:

    Hmm. I was thinking more of pentecostals. I am sorry about your accented characters, by the way. They have been chewed.

  3. Marek says:

    Do you mean this? It compares rural and urban locations across the US – but that doesn’t mean the effects are going to be the same everywhere else.

    E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture
    Robert D. Putnam

    Scandinavian Political Studies
    Volume 30 Issue 2 Page 137-174, June 2007

  4. acb says:

    I’ll get back to you on that, Marek. I need first to write something that involves no research at all.

  5. Mark Vernon says:

    I don’t think things are quite as bad. And my worry about Putnam’s new research is the same as the worry before: social capital does not measure people’s interactions, commitments, friendships and so on directly but only indirectly via membership stats, financial expenditure etc. In fact, the most valuable exchanges between people in communities might be precisely those that are invisible to social capital: they are so valuable precisely because they carry no utility that can be measured, being offered solely to be kind. It happens all day every day in my local paper shop.

    On the particular point of mixed churches, I think many Anglican churches in south London are counter-examples. I think of St Giles Camberwell that I know: a mix of Nigerian, Caribbean and Anglo-Saxon in a liberal Catholic setting. The church in Walworth just up the road is similar, as is the one on the borders of Peckham. And they are busy places too, counting their congregations in the hundreds.

    The mixed churches of south London are partly a collonial legacy: northern Nigeria (I believe) and the Carribean were evangelised by anglo-catholics not evangelicals. But that is not to say that the people going to these churches are not really liberally minded: they are!

    So liberal churches most certainly do exist in multi-cultural settings. I don’t know the precise figures. And they may not make much media or social capital registered noise. But they flourish.

  6. H. E. Baber says:

    Wow! I wish I’d gotten ahold of that article on diversity, social capital and “hunkering” while I was writing the multiculturalism book–not that it told me anything that I, or anyone else from tribal territory didn’t know. That’s what it was like in the multicultural town where I grew up. When I went to college in the midwest, which my friends despised as bland and homogeneous, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I should note though that the “diversity” in my home town was strictly in-house Caucasian–it was Italians, Jews, Germans, Dutch, and various other flavors of “white ethnics.”

    About your sociology of religion conjecture though it doesn’t fly in the US: fundamentalist churches have always been concentrated in the most ethnically homogeneous places, in rural areas generally and especially in the South. When I was growing up I never even realized that fundamentalists still existed–they were mythological creatures out of Elmer Gantry and the story of the Scopes Monkey Trial.

    As regards TEC it’s a little harder because the Episcopal Church hardly exists in most homogeneous rural areas. Nevertheless, the most ethnically diverse dioceses, like the Diocese of Newark (think Bishop Spong) have generally been the most liberal and churches in multicultural urban areas have been usually been the most liberal of the liberal.

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