Sunday, September 10, 2017

"Only Connect"

(I know; needs a picture)

I'm going to try to connect a few dots here.  Let's start with Cajuns in Louisiana, my favorite people because their cuisine is so good.

Much of Hochschild’s research took place in Louisiana’s southwest, home to Cajun, Catholic conservatives deeply attached to a culture of church and bayou.

Hochschild stresses the devastating effects of the oil industry (and more recently the chemical industry) on their community through environmental degradation. Still, the jobs in these industries had given people incomes, pride and meaning in a past “golden age”.

Many of those jobs are long gone. The industries’ legacy, in addition to a degraded environment, includes work-related illness, disability and unemployment.

We meet Lee Sherman, who exemplifies the “Great Paradox – the need for help and a principled refusal of it”. Sherman worked for a chemical company and become chronically ill through toxic exposure. Later, he became an avowed environmentalist. And yet he still supported the anti-environmental Tea Party.

Hochschild notes:

His source of news was limited to Fox News and videos and blogs exchanged by right-wing friends, which placed him in an echo chamber of doubt about the EPA, the federal government, the president, and taxes.

Tea Party supporters blame the federal government for challenging their religious faith, imposing wasteful “progressive” taxes and diminishing their pride and honour. For them, the church provides community, culture, meaning and succour. They see government as an ungodly roadblock to infusing religion into every aspect of their community, especially in public education.

The Louisianan group’s experience of losing honour cuts profoundly into the foundational cultural logic of the US, the “American dream”. It tells its adherents that, through unfailing effort, they can, and should, progress in the queue towards material success and the relief and happiness this brings.

Indeed, it is an individual’s right and duty to progress along this path.

Sherman and his community’s hatred of taxes, then, masks a strong underlying belief about “others” interfering in their passage along the path. Hochschild writes:

Lee’s biggest beef was taxes. They went to the wrong people — especially welfare beneficiaries who ‘lazed around days and partied at night’ and government workers in cushy jobs.

Some 150 years of perceived discrimination, from defeat in the Civil War through to the “northern” promotion of equal rights for African-Americans and women in the 1960s, and more recently LGBTI activism and support for Syrian refugees, have fuelled the group’s growing hatred for the political elites purportedly driving these changes.

Hochschild’s deep story of these very normal, often generous and intelligent people is that, as they try to pursue the American dream, they resent the government humiliating them by pushing “others” ahead in the line.

Stop there, because that's a fairly scholarly study that soon starts using terms like "orthogonality thesis" (I speak jargon in at least three fields, that's not the problem here) and move over to Valerie Tarico, a cottage industry on her own about the evils of religion in America.  Her theme this week is that churches get money you don't:

You say you don’t have star power? No worries. Millions of ordinary ministers, priests, missionaries, religious hospital administrators and other church employees earn solid middle or upper middle class incomes in the God business. The pay is good, and for most positions it doesn’t matter what race you are or what grade you happened to get in chemistry. Getting real revenue flow in religion is all about scale, which means its a straightforward matter of recruiting loyal members.
Millions of them?  Really?  Then the ones I know are doing it wrong.  And how does this rob the taxpayer?  Except for priests (RC, I don't think ECUSA take a vow of poverty) who take a vow of poverty, ministers and anyone else who earns a "church income" as Tarico would probably think of it, pay income tax.  Self-employment taxes, in the case of ministers, which means you pay your own Social Security taxes, no halfsies with the employer, thank you very much!  I don't know how that is getting something other taxpayers don't.  Where does she get this idea that "millions" of people "earn solid middle or upper middle class incomes in the God business?"  She doesn't say.  That's a howler without any attribution to where she gets her numbers (same place the President does, apparently), but this one is even better:

That said, growing a religious enterprise doesn’t come cheap, even in an established religion that transforms ordinary members into volunteer outreach staff. Christianity spends an estimated sixteen billion dollars annually on the kind of marketing-service blend traditionally called “missions.”

That's the next paragraph, and the second sentence contains a link to this source, which source includes this caveat:

Note: I don’t know where they collected their data or method they used to do so. So you might treat this as a guestimation of that information until you know for sure. ,
But, hey, it's on the internet, and that's good enough for Ms. Tarico!

You see what we're dealing with here.

We're also dealing with the same problem identified by Hochschild.  The people she writes about see the government allowing someone else to "jump the line" and get benefits they don't get.  How many times have I heard about "illegal immigrants" who "don't pay taxes"?  Paying taxes is not limited to U.S. citizens, not even income and social security taxes.  But hey, they get free money "we" don't get.  Just like churches!  It's a conspiracy, I tells ya!

Sure it is.  For Tarico it isn't welfare recipients and government workers with easy jobs, it's evangelical church leaders and "millions" of church workers and even people working in hospitals who are somehow rich, even the ones run by nuns (like the one in Austin where my daughter was born).  I don't know too many nuns earning "middle or upper middle class incomes in the God business."  I'm sure hospital administrators are well reimbursed, but so are many such administrators in non-profit hospitals and other charitable organizations.  Are they ripping off taxpayers, too?

I don't think the problem is them. I think the problem is us.  If we start there, we might actually find solutions.


  1. Wow, I didn't know so I googled how much a parish priest gets paid in the United States, at the top of my search there was this:

    Catholic Salaries. A survey conducted by the National Association of Church Business Administration found that Catholic priests earned some of the lowest wages for clergy in the United States. As of 2008, a Catholic priest can expect a median wage of $33,100 a year, while a Catholic music minister made $42,700 a year.

    If only Tarico knew, it's really those choir directors who are living large. I do know that parish priests don't take a vow of poverty though monastic ones do.

    I wonder how much the people who run Salon and Alternet get paid, how much their scribblers make. Not to mention the professional atheist class. I've got a feeling the big names make a bit more than a blue-collar wage and I'll bet your average priest probably gives more of his salary to charity than your average atheist.

  2. That's in-line with what the average pastor earns, so I'm not surprised. Tarico is a putz, but a putz (ostensibly) on our side.