Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Big Sort

I just finished reading an excellent book by Bill Bishop called The Big Sort. Fair warning: the author is a Democrat, though perhaps not so strident as most. For the most part he presents information in an even-handed way.

The Big Sort is all about how Americans have been quietly sorting themselves into homogeneous counties, cities, neighborhoods and even churches since the mid-1970s. Bishop melds together demography, sociology and psychology together in surprising ways and applies them mainly to questions of politics and religion.

I was particularly struck by the accuracy with which Bishop explains such nuanced topics as the Modernist/Fundamentalist divide and the rise of Evangelicalism in post-WWII America. He also explores the age of the Mega Church and even delves briefly into the Emergent Church.

Bishop concludes that because Americans have such wide latitude in deciding where to live (a consequence of our unparalleled prosperity), we have taken the opportunity to live apart from people who might confront us with opposing points of view. This explains the recent electoral phenomena of Blue urban areas voting for Democrats and Red rural areas voting for Republicans. An additional result of the Big Sort is that our isolated communities (both liberal and conservative) are becoming more and more extreme.

Bishop certainly presents some very interesting and entertaining (even thought-provoking) evidence to support his thesis. However, I'm not quite ready to sign up for his negative outlook towards the future. He offers very little in the way of a solution, if indeed a solution is warranted. Nevertheless, something strange is going on across our nation, and I believe this book comes very close to explaining it. Read it for yourself and see what you think!

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