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Bishop: The Big Sort

Bill Bishop’s book The Big Sort is about divided politics and a divided society; sometimes he talks about how there’s no middle ground in society, how people in Red States and Blue States live in different neighborhoods (and not just different worlds), and sometimes about how Congress pretty much votes on everything along party lines because it is also deeply divided.

In other words, Bishop believes that there’s no middle any more. As a result political campaigns are rarely about convincing undecided voters and are commonly about motivating the base. And he makes an argument that strikes me as odd coming from a little-d democrat: he suggests that we’d all be better off if we were less interested in politics and let the politicians get on with their horse-trading and compromising.

His closing chapter is especially strange; he holds up Huey Long and Lyndon Johnson as being the sort of politicians he’d prefer to the lot we have now. And in a strange twist, he suggests that the Emerging Church is the wave of the future and the only glimmer of hope for Christianity in America. He visits Bluer, an Emerging Church in the Minneapolis area under the leadership of John Musick [link], points out that they’re sort of post-political, and suggests that because they’re self-described devout Christians they’re the future of the Church.

I really don’t know what to make of this; Bishop tells us in the book’s opening scene that he and his wife lived in Austin for a number of years, and are a particular kind of political and social liberal that congratulates itself on finding a place like Austin to live. Most of the rest of the book takes place in admittedly politically liberal urban centers (Austin, Portland, and Minneapolis) and their contrasting nearby rural areas; he never ventures into conservative cities (say, Houston) or liberal rural areas (are there any of these?) so it’s easy to fault him for cherry-picking results here. Regardless, I get the feeling that he sees the Emerging Church as his kind of people emerging (pun intended) from some sort of conservative cultural stream. I have no idea why he thinks this; it reminds me somewhat of some of the discussions I read where people suggest that e.g. educated middle-class Muslims living outside their (or their parents’) country of origin are somehow the future of Islam.

I honestly don’t know what to make of the Emerging Church; it looks to me like it is on a path to (but has not yet reached) some sort of mainline liberal Christianity. So I suspect that what Bishop is seeing when he looks at it is actually a contradiction to the thesis he spent most of the book defending; he isn’t seeing the future of a broad open-minded middle, but a group that is in the process of switching once and for all.

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