Sunday, July 31, 2005
Here are two, possibly complementary, op-eds -- one by Niall Ferguson about the apparent decline in religion (or, religiosity) in Britain, and the other by Paul Krugman on the state of things related to work and family in France. Ferguson writes:
Why have the British lost their historic faith? Like so many difficult questions, this seems at first sight to have an easy answer. But before you blame it on "The Sixties" - the Beatles, the Pill and the mini-skirt - remember that the United States had all these earthly delights too, without ceasing to be a Christian country. To be frank, I have no idea what the answer is. But I do know that it matters.
Chesterton feared that, if Christianity declined, "superstition" would "drown all your old rationalism and scepticism". When educated friends tell me that they have invited a shaman to investigate their new house for bad ju-ju, I see what Chesterton meant. Yet it is not the spread of such mumbo-jumbo that concerns me half so much as the moral vacuum our dechristianisation has created. I do not deny that sermons are sometimes dull and that British congregations often sing out of tune. But, if nothing else, a weekly dose of Christian doctrine will help to provide an ethical framework for your life. And I certainly do not know where else you are going to get one.
Over the past few weeks we have all read a great deal about the threat posed to our "way of life" by Muslim extremists like Muktar Said-Ibrahim. But how far has our own loss of religious faith turned this country into a soft target - not so much for the superstition Chesterton feared, but for the fanaticism of others?
Echoing an argument that some have pressed here at MOJ, Krugman writes:
The point is that to the extent that the French have less income than we do, it's mainly a matter of choice. And to see the consequences of that choice, let's ask how the situation of a typical middle-class family in France compares with that of its American counterpart.
The French family, without question, has lower disposable income. This translates into lower personal consumption: a smaller car, a smaller house, less eating out.
But there are compensations for this lower level of consumption. Because French schools are good across the country, the French family doesn't have to worry as much about getting its children into a good school district. Nor does the French family, with guaranteed access to excellent health care, have to worry about losing health insurance or being driven into bankruptcy by medical bills.
Perhaps even more important, however, the members of that French family are compensated for their lower income with much more time together. Fully employed French workers average about seven weeks of paid vacation a year. In America, that figure is less than four.
So which society has made the better choice?
There are some disputable factual premises doing a fair bit of work in Krugman's piece, but -- putting those aside -- the point is a provocative one.