The New Class and Religion

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One of the sovereign beliefs of the culture warriors of the right is that the problem with America is that it is in the grip of over-educated elites who don’t uphold the traditional values of God and country. Especially God. And one of the sovereign beliefs of the culture warriors of the left is that the problem with America is that it is in the grip of under-educated yahoos who, er, cling to their guns and Bibles. Especially their Bibles.

Well, actually, no. Thanks to my colleague Barry Kosmin’s ongoing analysis of the 2008 Trinity ARIS data, it turns out that America’s over-educated elites are just about as likely to believe in God and cling to their Bibles as the rest of their fellow citizens. Those New Class types that neocons and their paleocon readers love to excoriate are just a couple of percentage points more likely to say they have no religion than the population at large–and a lot more likely to belong to a religious congregation and to participate in religious life-cycle events.

Now, the criterion for elite membership is achieving a degree higher than a B.A. And no doubt, the elite that the right has in mind is the professoriat–pointy headed atheists who spend all their time teaching undergraduates advanced thinking that the undergraduates promptly go on to forget. Be that as it may, it’s time for all of us to stop thinking about higher education as a barricade in the culture wars.

  • Atheists like to tout the fact that “elites” their ranks are more likely to hold advanced degrees. What they consistently gloss over is that “elites” are still four times more likely to have a religious outlook than secular outlook, and are over twenty times more likely to agree God exists.
    When atheists start talking statistics, they’re usually cooking the books and spinning hard.

  • Kosmin’s findings are muted because of his limit to BA degree, failure to identify specific occupational groups associated with science and learning, and because of data quality issues. As Ecklund’s data show (and she denies) the vast majority of elite scientists are non-Christian. Over half are non-identifiers and about the same percentage atheist or agnostic. Gross finds similar rates of irreligiosity in the elite, and I have extended this across a variety of types of professional occupations in a recent paper. Avery’s assertions are baseless. The negative relationship between educational and occupational attainment and religiosity is extremely robust across cohorts and racial and ethnic groups.

  • As predicted, Sherkat, you’re trying to manipulate the definition of “elite” used in the analysis by rejecting the limit to graduate and professional degrees and pleading to the narrow cases of science and learning fields.