Monday, November 13, 2006

Religion in America

Mjae over at M-Pyre has an outstanding post about a recent study on religious beliefs in America and their relationship to voting patterns, and it is a wonderful

It's truly refreshing to see people dealing with religion in America not as a means of exclusion (among believers) or a means of intellectually ridiculing people (among non-believers). For some reason, it has become vogue in the last 20-25 years (though the roots can go back further) to presume that religion can have nothing to do with thinking things out, that it is strictly an emotional and faith-based matter that allows no philosophical inquiry (and for those who feel this way, allow me to introduce you to men such as Soren Kierkegaard and a little guy many have heard of named C.S. Lewis, who, besides writing "The Chronicles of Narnia", was probably one of the most important 20th-century theologians, masterfully chronicling why he moved from atheism to Christianity).

Unfortunately, too many people, both religious and non-religious, feel that religion is (depending on which side you ask) something to be accepted without thinking or something to be viewed as ignorant superstition. I consider myself a religious and spiritual man (falling geographically into the Midwest and ideologically into a Midwest-West hybrid), yet the tendency of so many Americans to refuse to think about why we believe what we believe often upsets me. As Mjae points out, among many things, religion offers us solace and a way to cope with the world. It's a personal decision what we believe, and should be accepted, again as Mjae puts it, as much as our music preferences or skin color are (hopefully) accepted.

Unfortunately, it isn't, and, particularly in the media, there is an image of greater division. Men like James Dobson, as well as the atheists that are often placed against a conservative Christian on talk programs, make it all seem like a pedantic division, when things are far more complex. My father is a minister (United Methodist), and, since childhood, I've run in religious (as well as non-religious) circles, and I can assure you that most ministers and, I'm willing to venture, a majority of laypeople, don't think or act like your James Dobsons. They view religion as open-mindedly as the people described in the Baylor study, and something that not only can be thought through, it SHOULD be thought through (hence the reasons they read scholars like Karl Barth, Lewis, Kierkegaard, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as modern scholars like Martin Marty and others). And that is what America is founded on - not pedantic divisions that view "us" vs. "them" in a philosophical battle to determine the existence or extinction of religion, but on the grounds of open-mindedness, freedom, and acceptance of all sides on all sides. May we always remember that.