Weekly Digest: Young Men Turn to Church in Finland
The energetic optimism of Gen Z, the two-parent privilege, and the latest on my book in this week's roundup.
Welcome to my weekly digest for February 9, 2024, with the best articles from around the web and a roundup of my recent writings and appearances.
Life in the Negative World Roundup
If you’re in Columbus, Ohio, it’s not too late to come to my talk tomorrow morning at New Albany Presbyterian Church.
Rod Dreher published a freely available transcript of an interview he did with me. I’ve gotten great feedback on this.
There’s an interesting discussion of my book from Patrick Miller, who is a pastor at The Crossing church, which I featured in the Introduction. I think it is a good summation of how cultural engagers see the world, see themselves, and see other evangelicals. While he disagrees with some of the implications I took from what happened to The Crossing, I’m gratified he agrees that I got the facts right (which I should have since I interviewed the senior pastor and asked him to review my text before including it). I should note that I spent the bulk of adult life living in the city of Chicago and Manhattan. I was actually living in Manhattan when I published the first version of the three worlds, which was based on my experience in elite cities.
Someone sent me this blog post by someone in the UK named “Campbell.” He doesn’t mention my book and may never have heard of me, but comes to similar conclusions. It’s worth a read.
Preach for America Follow-Up
My “Preach for America” piece seems to have gotten some viral pickup. A Gen Z reader who is in seminary and aspires to be a pastor shared these optimistic thoughts:
If like me you think American Christianity is going to rebound not in the next 3 years but probably in the next 30 years, getting in as a pastor now will set you up to be at the height of your experience, influence, responsibility, etc. in the 2050s when the church is strong again.
This is something we often forget about the boomer pastors with their 40 year tenures at mega-churches or whatever. Those guys went into the pastorate in the 1980s when the church was not doing well and turned down other more desirable career paths to heed the call to ministry. Then in the 90s and 00s they reaped the benefits when the harvest came. There is seedtime and harvest in the church and if you start work in the seedtime, you will be in the right position when the harvest comes.
One thing I greatly appreciate is the optimism and enthusiasm of so many Gen Z people. This isn’t the majority, but it is a minority strand that I see. This sentiment is similar to Redeemed Zoomer’s view of the mainline denominations. It’s very different from the Boomer, Gen X, or Millennial point of view.
And someone suggested that church work qualifies for the non-profit path to student loan forgiveness. You would for sure need to validate this for yourself before basing decisions on it, but I had not heard this before.
Just another data point—the federal government reversed its longstanding position a couple years ago and now allows ministry to count as public service when it’s full-time employment at a nonprofit organization like a church. That means public service loan forgiveness for federal student loans would apply after 10 years of income-based payments. The income-based payment formula is very generous to families with kids. So all those guys getting $100,000 in loans for a MA in theology or MDiv and then having families should be getting debt forgiveness with minimal payments along the way if they actually stay in ministry long enough. This might raise a few good questions, like whether Christians should build institutions with a financing model based on federal student loans. I’m not trying to answer those questions; I’m just pointing out that to the extent there is currently a federal student loan feature of the minister pipeline, loan forgiveness with generous terms is available. I think a lot of ministers don’t know about this. My brother-in-law youth minister did not.
In a follow-up to a different post, last week I posted excerpts from a Financial Times interview with a Finnish demographer on fertility declines in her country. One of my Finnish readers, Miikka Niiranen, left this comment giving some additional context on that country.
The line that the Nordic countries have generous subsidies for all families is simply not true. The social engineering project known as the welfare state creates a myriad of nudges and punishments pressuring couples towards the norm of two working parents with two kids, maybe three, and having them quickly so that the mother can go back to work (very often in the public sector funded by taxes). For instance, having your children with a maximum of two years age difference is (or at least was 10 years ago) heavily incentivized by tying more generous maternity subsidies to that time frame. Bigger difference, and you lose some of the subsidies.
It means that a family choosing to have 4 kids or more and not fitting that mold, and the mother taking care of them at home, will very likely suffer poverty, as we did. There's even a definition for "poverty in families with children" in social sciences. I don't have data, but my common sense says and social contacts confirm that a traditional family (with the father as the breadwinner) in Finland is at a high risk of succumbing to it.
He also linked to this interesting article from last month, which shows a rise in church attendance among Finnish men - but not Finnish women.
However, in Finland, an exceptional rise in religiosity has been observed, especially among young men. This is evident, for example, in the participation of 15 to 29-year-old men in church services. In 2011, only 5 percent of men attended church monthly, while in 2019, that figure rose to 12 percent. The corresponding figures for women of the same age group was much lower: 3 and 4 percent.
Young men who prayed at least once a week went from being 16 percent in 2011 to 26 percent in 2019. Meanwhile, women’s prayers were decreasing. Belief in God was professed by 19 percent of men aged 15-19 in 2011, while in 2019, the figure had risen to 43 percent.
It’s very interesting to see that there’s a male skew to Christianity among Finnish young adults. I will be keeping an eye out for similar trends elsewhere. We already know that in the US the gender gap favoring women in church attendance has shrunk or disappeared among younger age groups due to falling female religiosity.
In a final followup, the Ohio pastor I mentioned in a previous newsletter who was criminally charged over zoning violations has made a deal with the city and all charges were dropped.
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The Two-Parent Privilege
I have not yet read Melissa Kearney’s The Two-Parent Privilege. I’m still on the waiting list at my local library. But the Liberal Patriot published some interesting thoughts on it.
Backed with abundant data, Kearney argues the collapse of marriage as a social institution among lower-income families has compounded the demographic consequences of stagnant wages and the loss of steady employment in many sectors and regions. This phenomenon, she writes, is inextricable from the education gap, the geographic narrowing of economic opportunities, and policy decisions that have reinforced the advantages of the already well-off.
Among Kearney’s startling statistics, a few are especially worrisome. The first concerns the drop in partnered mothers that coincided with deindustrialization, huge tax cuts for the wealthy, and greater capital mobility. In 2019, 63 percent of American children lived with married parents, down from 77 percent in 1980; what’s more, according to Kearney, 29 percent of children whose mothers don’t have a college degree and 30 percent of children whose mothers lack a high school degree were without a second parent in their home.
These changes would not be so troubling if the material outcomes and nurturing of children raised by single mothers defied the loss of a stable father figure and his contribution to the family budget. But the reality is stark: over one in five households with an unpartnered mother live in poverty. The erosion of marriage—not simply as a cultural norm, but as a means to share resources, mutually support engaged parenting, and foster opportunities for young children—has been a defining feature of America’s widening socioeconomic disparities.
Might bold changes to U.S. welfare policy significantly improve the life chances of children with unpartnered mothers? Kearney is doubtful these would make a lasting difference in and of themselves. Though broadly supportive of redistributive measures that would expand mothers’ monthly budgets and increase quality family time—and a critic of the stringent and penurious standards effected by the bipartisan welfare reforms of 1996—Kearney argues the data is unambiguous: benefits flow to children in a two-parent home that cannot be duplicated easily through welfare programs. “Even if policymakers were to dramatically scale up government support and shrink income gaps between one- and two-parent families,” she writes, “there would still be meaningful differences in children’s experiences and outcomes.”
On this score, it is hard to find fault with most of her arguments. Even if one is philosophically disinclined to advocate traditional marriage, or rightfully mindful of the heartache and abuse that can arise from an unhappy one, the upshot is clear: greatly improving economic prospects for less-educated men, regardless of race or ethnicity, would in all likelihood have a very positive impact on childhood outcomes and thus overall development standards. With a reasonable degree of confidence, we can conclude that would also mean a meaningful uptick in committed, two-parent households among the bottom eighty percent of wage earners.
Click over to read the whole thing.
Best of the Web
Anthony Bradley: Conservative Young Men and The Brotherhood Void - I think Andrew Tate is exploiting his followers’ desire for fraternity, but there’s no doubt this gap is real. Multiple manosphere figures run for-profit men’s fraternal groups that are more legitimate, and I know some people have profited from them.
Law and Liberty: The Conservative Feminist Revolution
John Fea/The Atlantic: What I Wish More People Knew About American Evangelicalism - a nice piece by John.
NYT: What Does Being Sober Mean Today? For Many, Not Full Abstinence - Apparently for some people, sobriety only refers to alcohol and not drug use.
New Content and Media Mentions
And this week I published the transcript of my discussion with Dwight Gibson on exploration (paid subscribers only). And I wrote about why Hillsdale stands alone.
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