Saturday, May 15, 2010

Kagen and the Decline of the American WASP

Some facts and ideas from two articles in the Wall Street Journal today are worth considering.

The first article "That Bright, Dying Star, the American WASP" directly discusses the absence of Protestants on the Supreme Court.
Of the 111 Supreme Court Justices who have served, 35 have been Episcopalians, making them the largest religious group on the court, according to court historians. The court's first non-Protestant was Catholic Justice Roger Taney, appointed by President Andrew Jackson in 1836.

Whether the court's religious makeup even matters in today's legal world has become a subject of hot debate. Yet by ushering in a Protestant-free court, Ms. Kagan is helping to sweep away some of the last vestiges of a group that ruled American politics, wealth and culture for much of the nation's history.

"The fact that we're going to zero Protestants in the court may not be as significant as the fact that her appointment perfectly reflects the decline of the Establishment, or the WASP Establishment, in America," said David Campbell, associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame.

The article goes on to note that other groups are now wealthier than Protestants:

In old-money enclaves like Palm Beach, Fla., Nantucket, Mass., and Greenwich, Conn., WASPs are being priced out of their waterfront estates and displaced on their nonprofit boards by Jewish, Catholic and other non-Protestant entrepreneurs.

A survey by Pew Research found only 21% of mainline U.S. Protestants had income of $100,000 or more, compared with 46% of Jews and 42% of Hindus.

Then in her column "The Lamest Show on Earth", Peggy Noonan describes what she sees as "the great class marker of the age":
The ones on top now and in the future will be those who start off with the advantage not of great wealth but of the great class marker of the age: two parents who are together and who drive their children toward academic excellence. It isn't "Mom and Dad had millions" anymore as much as "Mom and Dad made me do my homework, gave me emotional guidance, made sure I got to trombone lessons, and drove me to soccer."

I think historically mainline Protestants were providing their children with "two parents who are together and who drive their children toward academic excellence." Mainline Protestant churches used to be places where parents could take their children to be surrounded by others who shares the values of two-parent families who valued education. The sexual morality of the Bible emphasized the two parent family. And the Protestant tradition was based on every family being able to read their own Bible, so literacy was emphasized.

These days, mainline Protestants are more concerned with "social justice" and personal gratification. The parents in the churches can get divorced and still be beloved members of the community because divorce is no longer stigmatized. Episcopal priests now celebrate the move to authenticity when men divorce their wives to live authentically in gay relationships. Morality is now about helping in soup kitchens or organizing a protest for some public issue (health care, immigrant rights, etc.) And the ones who are being short changed are the children of the church.

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