OK, so I am finally getting through the stack of reading that accumulated during the school year, and finally read a book that was all the buzz about five months ago. The good news is that you can finally get it at your local library, and the price is already dropping at your local bookstore. So if you missed it when it came out, you’re in luck. The book is Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 (Cox & Murray, 2012).
This book is not a Christian book, but a cultural analysis of my own dominant culture, and, frankly the best of its kind that I have read since D. A. Carson’s Gagging of God. I still recommend that you read Carson’s book: it is more comprehensive and packs in a lot of background analysis that is not in Coming Apart. But read Coming Apart, too, because the evolution of culture described in the Gagging of God has not stopped. The America in which we live today is not Clinton’s America, much less Reagan’s America, and most certainly is not JKF’s America (the starting point of Murray’s study). America has changed and is changing (as anyone who pauses to lift his head above the fury of the presidential campaign ads can clearly see). We live in a country that is “coming apart,” not so much in the sense of being morally adrift (though that’s part of it), but one that is breaking very painfully into classes that cannot understand one another—classes represented in Murray’s book by the two fabricated communities of Belmont and Fishtown.
It is impossible to reduce 350 pages to a blog entry, but what impressed me most significantly for the purposes of those who read this blog is the fact is that many seminary-trained pastors train in bubbles with Belmont values on marriage, industry, honesty, and religiosity for ministerial careers in bubbles with Fishtown values on the same topics. And they sometimes fail in Fishtown and have no idea why (hint: it’s not a problem solved by using smaller words, finding musical concord, or crafting out more culturally appropriate sermon illustrations). The problem runs far deeper, and I think Murray has plumbed some of those depths. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the American population, who live rather obliviously in their situations either in Belmont and Fishtown bubbles, will find the book terribly dull and may even resent it (for reasons, incidentally, found right in the book). But if you want to understand how your culture thinks, the book is an eye-opener and a mind-stretcher.