Peggy Noonan asks, in the subtitle of her WSJ piece today, “Why are rich people afraid of the Virgin Mary?” She begins with a rehash of the issue:
We have all seen the stories this Christmas season–they are not new, they are only more so–of the local struggles between what I suppose might be called the forces of modernity versus the forces of faith. Tussles in schools and townships over the Christmas display, the prayer, the T-shirt, the cross, the statue of Mary. It’s all a continuation of what Michael Kinsley once sardonically referred to as the creche menace. But it has moved beyond the creche: It is increasingly a movement to ban on all public property–and pretty much in public, period–the signs and symbols of a religious holiday that roughly 90% of Americans celebrate. It doesn’t even have to be Christmas-related. Last week there was the story of the Florida housing group that banned a statue of the Virgin Mary from the front of a house in the community.
I’m not sure there’s anything original left to say on this topic. Kinsley’s sardonic jibe encapsulates my view of the issue rather nicely.
Buried in the column is the theme from the subtitle:
You can tool the streets of working class Lodi, N.J., and see little Marys in the front and back yards and no one says boo. But you can go from one end of Park Avenue to the other, and never–and I mean never–see a Virgin Mary in a window or a roof garden. I know. I have searched. There are Catholics on Park Avenue, but mostly there are rich people. And believe me the rich of Manhattan seem either not to like religious symbols or they know to keep them to themselves. Display is vulgar (and working-class).
The rich are lucky, but they are also human. Like most humans they think they have what they have only because of their efforts; or, as is often the case in America, they’ve been lucky so long they think they deserve it. They think they got it because they made better decisions and more sober choices. I think they forget God had anything to do with it. Displaying the signs and symbols of faith is just not very . . . Park Avenue.
Of course, the rich are also likely better educated. But there’s something to this argument: It’s not just religious symbols but most symbolism that is eschewed by the upper class. I’d guess that one sees a lot fewer American flags being flown, Yankees caps being worn, and bumper stickers on display on Park Avenue than in Lodi, too. Also, much less hollering across the street at the neighbors, shooting off fireworks on the 4th of July, and loud music blaring from the car stereo. Similarly, the wardrobes likely consist of more earth tones and blacks and fewer pastels and jewel tones.