Saturday, January 01, 2011

Faith without Fanticism -- America's Creed

As I continue to blog my way through American Grace, the book I named Book of the Year for 2010, I thought it worth noting this observation about the American people and their religious perspectives. 

Robert Putnam and David Campbell enlighten us about the realities of American religious life.  We may be more "religious" than most other Western nations, but our religious preferences can be well described with a phrase traditionally reserved for Episcopalians -- "In all things moderation."  We're spiritual, even religious, but we're not fanatics.  There is a small core of what the authors call "True Believers," but they make up only 10% of the population.  This is a group that, according to the authors, that "live in religiously monochromatic social environments."  That is, they tend not to marry outside their religious group and are much more insistent that their children remain true to the true faith.  Perhaps more importantly, they have fewer social/kinship ties to people outside their faith community (American Grace, pp. 546-547).  

Here is a kicker that needs to be considered, and I'll be coming back to this point later, is that while 52% of "True Believers" are Evangelicals -- that is, they believe that their faith alone is the true faith -- 75% of Evangelicals cannot be categorized as "True Believers."  And the reason for this?  Well, the message that comes through time and again is that our pluralistic context means that we are simply not able to write off what the authors call our "Aunt Susan's," the members of our kinship circle who are outside our faith tradition.  But, even more common than having someone of another faith in our kinship circle, is our wider friendship circile.  The authors note:

Most Americans have at least one close friend of another religion, and many have multiple friends of other faiths.  Even over a short period of time, we have seen that a small increase in such religious bridging corresponds to warmer feelings toward at least two relatively unpopular religious groups (Mormons and non-religious).  Furthermore, we have seen that a religious bridging can expand American's sense of who is fully a member of the national community. (p. 548).
There is a lot of "exclusivist" yelling going on in our socieity today, but it would appear that these voices represent a very small percentage of the American population.  Of course, as I'll show later, clergy are much less likely than laity, to believe this way!


Jonkwilliams said...

Happy New Year, Bob and family. I've been going 'round with a Facebook friend from my home town in Indiana about the meaning of belief and the checklist for salvation. Though I'm an atheist, I woke up this morning thinking about The Lord's Prayer and how absolutely simple yet all-encompassing it is. It was a response, I think, to a smug, tight-knit society of "True Believers" who had so complicated religion and "access to God" that the common person felt left out and overlooked. The fellow we call Jesus told those commoners that in their prayers they should acknowledge: that we're all brothers and sisters under one undiscriminating, all-loving parent; life on that parent's plane is well-worth emulating so we should actively work toward establishing a similar existence here; we should expect, in this life, to receive the necessities and; as human beings, subject ourselves to moral lapses, we owe it others to forgive their occasional bad behavior - nobody's perfect.

Nothing in there about salvation or an afterlife, about Lucifer or about pitting one belief system against another. Not even reliant on a god actually existing. Just a gentle reminder that if we want our chldren and our children's children to live in a better world we have to work toward it.

I'm not real familiar with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, but I have a feeling that if Jesus dropped in on us today, he'd have little trouble finding both among those who think of themselves as "True Believers."

Gary said...

Jesus said, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and MANY there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and FEW there be that find it."
Matthew 7:13,14

George said...

But are the people in the US really more religious than those in other countries? Maybe not...

Why do Americans claim to be more religious than they are?

Brian said...

Gary - He didn't elaborate as to what that narrow path was. He sure didn't come out and say this path involved having the right opinion about him.

Right before that passage he says God is more loving than any earthly parent who wants the best for their kids. (v9-12) Right after the passage he warns us to watch out for wolves in sheep's clothing. He says we'll "know them by their fruits". (v15-16)

What if the spirit of the narrow path is found in the idea that the sabbath is made for folks, not folks for the sabbath? Sounds like good news for the poor to me.

Gary said...

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

John 3:3

Jesus said, "Ye are of your father the devil and the lusts of your father ye will do." John 8:44

Nikoya said...

It's just about a relationship.

Yes He loves the church but I don't think He does from a "religious" standpoint.. He doesn't say to the lukewarm "get away from me you evil doers, you signed up for the wrong denomination, affiliation or church." But He said, "Get away from me your evil doers, I never KNEW you."