This is cross-posted to my atheist blog, The Lucky Atheist.
Brooks has a piece about status hierarchies that oddly and very specifically focuses on religion. He claims religion plays less of a role in American life than it did decades ago. (That assertion needs its own defense, but that's not what this post is about.) His thesis seems to be that the decline of religion in public life is bad, because it leaves us with only one status measurement, that being career success. While the latter is certainly an important determinant of status (if not the most important), organized religion is far from being the only competitor.
It's increasingly recognized that it's better for individuals and societies to have multiple overlapping status domains, but there are more than two domains to choose from. And we already have natural experiments in this regard - do people in less religious countries feel more marginalized somehow? Or is there a difference within the U.S. between the more and less religious states? Do the "less successful" people of Washington State feel worse about themselves than the ones in Oklahoma? Somehow I have difficulty imagining this.