Re-thinking our obsession with diversity
Religion is good for you. Religious participation, sociologists tell us, correlates with lower levels of criminality, better health, greater marital stability, and greater well-being.
According to an article awhile back in the Atlantic Monthly, sociologists and economists are studying this phenomenon further and, in the process, have discovered other things. For instance, they've discovered that Catholics are likelier to attend Mass if they live in a heavily Catholic neighborhood.
This doesn't surprise me. When I attended the University of Michigan, I never heard any Catholics discuss Mass, confession, fasting on Fridays during Lent, etc. When I went to the University of Notre Dame, such topics came up all the time. Students discussed what churches have the best (okay, shortest) Mass. They moaned about fasting. Notre Dame back then was 91% Catholic. When almost everyone around you is Catholic, you're more comfortable being Catholic and acting like one.
The same goes for any characteristic. It will become pronounced if you're around people who share a particular characteristic. It can work for good or ill. If you're around people who cuss, you're more likely to cuss. If you work in a business where integrity is important, you're more likely to show integrity.
Even though this “like pronounces like” phenomenon works both ways, it's more likely to serve a good function in today's culture. We live in a secularist, avaricious, and sensuous culture, at least as measured by mass media and popular entertainment. From billboards to TV, “anti-virtuous” conduct is presented and encouraged. It's important for people to have a group in which virtuous conduct is emphasized, in order to counteract the deleterious effects of our debased culture.
Such groups are also important for society. As sociologists recognize, people who share virtuous conduct – like religious people hanging out together – are more likely to be good members of society.
What does this say about our culture's obsession with diversity and efforts to impose it?
The federal highway project of the 1950s and 1960s demolished many ethnic neighborhoods where people shared the same religious beliefs. The desegregation of schools put blacks and whites together even though they normally had different economic, social, and religious backgrounds. In many parts of the country, public schools are crushing parochial schools out of existence. The value of “diversity” even trumps out the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection guarantee at public universities, according to the Supreme Court.
Quite frankly, I think diversity cuts against human nature. People want to hang out with others like themselves. Catholics like to hang out with Catholics and Muslims with Muslims. We should respect it. But instead, we worship the God of Diversity and tend to believe bonding among people of similar traits is wrong. We think it leads to prejudice and a lack of tolerance for others.
It really doesn't. Sure, the circles of similarity can be quite narrow, thereby leading to suspicion of others outside the circle.
But the thing is, people also have a tendency to hang out with others like themselves in all sorts of areas, not just religion. A Catholic likes to hang out with Catholics, yes, but if he's a man, he likes hanging out with other men, even if the others aren't Catholic. If he's a sports fan, he likes hanging out with other sports fans, regardless of religion or (maybe) gender. If he's a conservative, he likes hanging out with other conservatives, regardless of whether they're male or female, Catholic or Methodist, or a Detroit Lions or Chicago Bears fan.
Life, in other words, brings its own levels of diversity. Diversity doesn't need to be forced or championed. It'll happen on its own. And if left to happen on its own, it won't crush that other good thing: solidarity among people of similar characteristics.
The results will redound to the benefit of the individual, the group, and society as a whole.
But, first, we have to let it happen.