Posted on

Religion’s not under attack in United States

During the holidays, my wife and I went to a party at the home of an Iran-American family in Louisville. Since I lived in that country for a time, the event was a kind of home- coming for me. There was lots of family including many children, a good deal of boisterous laughter and some tasty food. Iranians make the best rice in the world.
The family is Muslim, and their religion provides a good deal of their identity. At the same time, I suspect they are no more devoted in their religious observances than a typical Christian family.
In the course of the evening, our host told me he had had a phone call from old friends in Teheran. He said they told him they were about to have a big New Year’s Eve party. He added, ‘Lots of people (in Iran) now celebrate the Western New Year’s. This didn’t happen when I was young.’ He continued, ‘People are tired of having religion shoved down their throats,’ indicating that the celebrations are a small form of protest against rule by religious authorities.
I thought about his statements and in the process recalled just how far-sighted our founding fathers were in charting the future of the nation. Having come from Europe where virtually every nation had a state religion and having experienced how it worked in colonies like Virginia where everyone paid taxes to support the Church of England, they wanted a new direction.
The result was Article I of the Bill of Rights: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … ‘ With those 16 words they cut religion loose from the clutches of government and made it a matter of private conscience rather than public policy.
By not ‘shoving religion down people’s throats’ they took a major step toward fostering the strength of religious observance we have in these United States today. We are perhaps the most religiously diverse nation on earth. Survey after survey finds well over 90 percent of Americans believe in God, and a high percentage of us regularly attend our church, temple, mosque, etc. Here people come to religion of their own free will, and having arrived, can leave if they wish with no penalty except perhaps some hard feelings from other members of the congregation. And come they do, for there seems to be a need in the vast majority of people to be connected to something larger, wiser and more significant than themselves.
So why, a few days later, while channel surfing, did I come across a televangelist informing his audience that the Christian church in the United States was under concerted attack? If I were a cynic, I would dismiss his comments as an effort to get folks to dig deeper when it came time for the collection plate to be passed. This pastor, however, seemed both honest and distressed.
Now I’m sure being the leader of a religious flock is at times no bed of roses, and I believe he was seeking to truthfully interpret the world around him; still I disagree with him for four reasons.
First there is the already mentioned popularity of religion in this country.
Second, what appears to be a threat to some may be the simple fact that social attitudes are changing on subjects like the role of women, abortion and homosexuality in ways that our preacher sees as immoral. He has every right to hold this position, but he needs to consider that changes in the attitudes of the general population are in no way meant as an attack on Christianity.
Third, he may not have considered it, but in the last 100 years religion in America has become a much more complicated business. In 1907, there were essentially three or maybe four religious groups ‘ mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics and a sprinkling of Jews in big cities.
Today, you add Buddhists, Muslims and several varieties of religion from India. There is an ever-growing variety: an expanding Mormon hurch, mega churches with spiritual life centers, yoga and meditation, and congregations speaking in tongues, plus others I have forgotten. The religious market place has become crowded, and our preacher may have just been responding to this.
Finally, there is the difficult truth that religious groups are now examined more carefully to see if they live up to the ideals they preach. Remember that while religion may reasonably claim divine inspiration, the institutional form ‘ church, temple, etc. ‘ is run by people, which means it is subject to the same disasters all flesh is heir to. So the Rev. Jim Jones and mass suicide, the effort by some in the Catholic leadership to shield pedophile priests, the sexual exploitation of young women by a break-away Mormon sect, and other events have left a bad taste in the public’s mouth. Folks now want to be sure that in addition to talking the talk religious leaders are also walking the walk.
So while I believe times are changing, and not always for the better, I don’t think the Christian religion is under attack. Religion in general and Christianity in particular are alive and well in this country in part because people are free to seek its solace and rejoice in what they perceive as the goodness of God.