RSS 2.0 Feed

» Welcome Guest Log In :: Register

    
  Topic: religion as a lifestyle, A non-Americans questions< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  
Janf



Posts: 1
Joined: Feb. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 21 2006,10:50   

Hello,

I am new to this forum, moreover I'm European, Danish in fact, and Ateist to boot, so I apologise for any inadvertant rude behaviour. However as I'm sure you can all understand after the last couple of weeks where the Danish flag has been burned in (apparently) all parts of the world where a moslem presence exists, I have been made aware of the enormous influence religion does have on the main part of the worlds population. The Mohammad drawings themselves were crude and unnecessarily provocative, and so I can understand, if not condone the reactions that followed. However, unpleasant as that was, my thoughts were drawn a bit more to the US, as I can't really relate to people living in the mountains or at war in some country which has never known democracy. I have been following the discussion on ID in the media for a while and find it somewhat disquieting that such a huge part (60% of the US population was mentioned) in some way or another believe in the Bible to a greater or lesser extent. Coming from a country where this is true for perhaps 2-5% of the adult population this mystifies, and so here are (finally) my questions.
1. Why is religion such a large part of many American's lives.
2. Why is it so sacrosanct that a fantasy such as ID needs to be thought out, and defended so vigorously.
3. How can it be that the mightiest nation on Earth is led by a man who apparently prays for guidance, whenever he has to make an important decision, and how can that be a reason to choose him in the first place.

  
tacitus



Posts: 118
Joined: May 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 21 2006,11:24   

Welcome to the board Janf!
Quote
1. Why is religion such a large part of many American's lives.

Good question. I'm English and have lived in Texas for the past ten years, so I've seen both sides of the fence. As far as I can tell the religious nature of America is due to who founded the country (i.e. many religious people escaping persecution or simply wanting more freedom than they had in the Old World) combined with a written constitution that, for the most part, has allowed religion to flourish without government interference.

In many parts of Europe, and certainly in the UK, religion has been controlled by the mainstream establishment for so long that religious thought has struggled to survive, especially in the past half-century or so.  American Christianity has had a much more independent streak and their leaders fiercely defend their beliefs and rights.
Ironically, many of those leaders (Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Albert Mohler, etc) are now trying to claim that there is no such thing as "the separation of church and state" in the Constitution forgetting that it's this separation which has helped keep their churches full and healthy despite the decline in other western nations.

The bottom line, I think, is that they feel (incorrectly) they have to continue to fight for their rights and it's that fight that is the driving force of their success. There is no such battle in places like the UK and Denmark and Christianity is in a slow decline.
Quote
2. Why is it so sacrosanct that a fantasy such as ID needs to be thought out, and defended so vigorously.

Well, for the religious leaders it's popular with their followers, so even if they lose the legal battle, they win (perhaps even more so than if they did win the legal battle).  Again, it's the fight that keeps the money coming in and the leaders in the public eye. They thrive on the controversy.
Quote
3. How can it be that the mightiest nation on Earth is led by a man who apparently prays for guidance, whenever he has to make an important decision, and how can that be a reason to choose him in the first place.

Because religious people love to see it. They think the president is humble and trustworthy if he prays to God for guidance and they are willing to overlook a multitude of sins so long as he is "faithful".  In the case of Bush, Karl Rove has been a master at using the religious right to get Bush elected two times. They think that Bush is one of them, but in reality I believe he is much less conservative religiously than he lets on.  As it was with Bill Clinton, much of the religious attitude is just for show.

I don't know the numbers, but I believe that there are many more openly gay elected officials in the USA today than there are elected atheists who are open about their lack of belief in a God.  The most an atheist running for office can say (if they have a hope of winning) is that his religious beliefs are private and personal.

  
Russell



Posts: 1082
Joined: April 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 21 2006,12:30   

Tacitus's observations are probably more insightful than mine, as I've lived in the US all my life - and haven't even traveled all that much.

But you ask a question that puzzles me, too.

I suspect a full answer to the question would be rather complicated, but here's some suggestions for fragments of an answer.

I think there's a strong undercurrent of religion as an aspect of nationalism (I'm not sure if the word "jingoism" means much to non-native English users - but if it does, that's what I'm getting at.) A lot of Americans seem to think that WE are the new "chosen people", and it's our duty to bring God (= our vision of how things are supposed to be) to the rest of the world. In many, many areas, the line between "patriotic" and "pious" is fuzzy or nonexistent.

We have a ritual here, for which I don't know if there's a Danish equivalent. At the beginning of every school day, every school child is expected to recite, in unison with the rest of the school, the "Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag". (This has always struck me as strange, and very much at odds with what I thought America was supposed to be all about.) Also, all kinds of official meetings - school boards, local legislatures, - also incorporate this ritual: the Reciting of The Pledge.

Here's The Pledge, as of about 1950:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, with liberty and justice for all"

At the height of the "Cold War", though, I believe in order to emphasize that God was on our side and that the enemy was Godless Communism, an official act of Congress inserted the words "under God" right after "one nation", and that's been part of the ritual ever since. (Pretty strange for a supposedly secular nation, in my opinion.)

Even questioning this is considered "radical". Lately there have been a few court challenges to this practice, but I believe EVERY SINGLE member of congress (certainly all 100 senators; it's harder to keep track of the 434 members of the "lower house") and, of course, the president, and every politician I've heard on the question, rushed to assure the public that they strenuously opposed removing God from The Pledge.

Despite the fact that separation of church and state is supposed to be a bedrock American principle, we have a long history of entanglement of politics and religion. Back in the days of slavery, the anti-slavery forces were pretty sure God would not approve of slavery. Likewise, during the Civil Rights struggles more recently, religion was a powerful organizing tool for people on the left. Meanwhile, the right has made an aggressive claim to have God on their side - the God of "traditional values", who regards homosexuality as an affront, who favors the state of women's rights that existed a hundred years ago, etc.

The first time I was aware of a national politician thinking that an appeal to creationism was a winning idea was when Reagan raised the issue in 1980.  Right-wing politicians ever since then have found it addictive, and seem to need a stronger and stronger dose.

--------------
Must... not... scratch... mosquito bite.

  
tacitus



Posts: 118
Joined: May 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 21 2006,20:48   

Hey Russell, you bring up some good points. It's amazing really how the religious right can claim that religion is in great danger of being subsumed by secularism when in reality America is now one of the most religious countries on the planet. And without religion, you have very little chance of making it in politics today unless you are prepared to lie about it (seemingly not hard for most polititians, sadly). Out of all the presidents since the 1980, the only one who strikes me as genuine about his faith is Jimmy Carter (and, ironically, the most liberal!;). Reagan, Clinton, Bush II and, to a lesser extent, Bush I all, to one degree or another, turned on the religious charm when it suited them.

What strikes me (and you touched on this in your comment) is how narrow and superficial all this religiousity can be.  To me people like Karl Rove and Tom Delay are the slickest and most devious political operatives around today and have almost certainly done many very unchristian things in their rise to power (or in Rove's case, by proxy, Bush's rise to power). But all is forgiven by the religious right so long as they pander to and occasionally deliver on the narrow moral issues they are concerned about--anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, and anti-evolution.  I just gag when I hear Christians say things like "Tom Delay is a deeply moral man". I just want to yell at the screen saying how can you be so stupid!

(Anyway, enough ranting).

One thing I omitted in my first note was to point out that one of the effects of having established churches in the UK (i.e. the Church of England and the Church of Scotland) is that schools regularly have classes like Religious Instruction and have religious school assemblies on a daily or weekly basis, with the odd trip to the local church thrown in. You would think that all this exposure to Christianity as children would increase the amount of religious people, but in truth the exposure is so watered down, so rote, that the effect has been the opposite. Church attendance has been in decline for decades.

So if the Religious Right in the US wins and gets their way, and things like school prayer, religious education, etc. are introduced into the public schools, they may find that in the long run it will be bad for them. If they become the establishment (more completely than they are today) then they will have nothing to rail against, And with no battles to keep the troops engaged in, they will probably drift off and lose interest.

  
Pangloss



Posts: 4
Joined: June 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 22 2006,01:59   

The geographic separation from Europe, and the wide open spaces between settlements for much of American history engendered a feeling of isolation.  This was compensated for in part by the 'chosen people' attitude already mentioned (along with the factually based foundation myth of the First Pilgrims), as well as a vigorous 'frontier mentality', influenced by the very real hazards and challenges of life lived on the advancing fringe of 'civilisation'.  The two threads combined to encourage strong community-binding traditions, which still exist in many forms, particularly in the interior of the country.

One example is the church-going culture.  Another is the way in which high schools have become the focus of community-reinforcing secular activity.  (An American interschool sporting event I observed way back in 1978 appeared as something between a military parade, a Broadway production, and the Olympic Games in miniature.  Reflecting on the earnest enthusiasm of the crowds, I offer the observation that the distinction between a wave and a salute is less marked in America than in Europe.)

America grew up as a community of villages, at the same time as village life throughout Western Europe was becoming more cosmopolitan.   If you take the leap from that concept to suspecting that the relative proportions (between America and Europe) in the population  of village idiots is growing apart, you might not be far wrong.  I read a report last year that found American religious communities (defined often as no more than a few dozen families congregating around a pastor with a particular perspective on the Bible) are increasingly rejecting 'intermarriage' with people outside the group.  

As the world becomes a scarier and climactically more chaotic place, we can expect the trend to insularity and dependency upon religion to worsen.  America is ahead of the pack in the 'Western' world, with the closest comparisons to be made with Islamic nations.  For example, in Indonesia, marriage across religious lines is even against the law (or so I read just this week).

Australia is somewhere between America and Europe in its religiosity.  Around 70% say they believe in God, and around 25% accept the Bible stories.  This high number is, I think, not so much due to a tradition of fundamentalist churches, as to the under-emphasis of science at the early stages of education.  In the earliest days of the country's settlement by Europeans, the churches took control of school education and have remained a significant influence, with about 25% of students attending church-run schools, mostly Catholic in the Irish tradition (the Catholics even set up their own university a few years ago).

Most of the church-run schools don't push a biblical-literalist line, but by force of repetition for whatever purposes, the Bible stories seem to impress themselves more strongly upon many young minds than factually-based information.  Nevertheless, church attendance has recently been creeping up (it's around 15-20%), and all of the growth has been in the 'evangelical' segment of the faith market.

  
stevestory



Posts: 10127
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 22 2006,03:29   

To add to what tacitus said, it's natural to dislike the government. So the european system of making the clergy an official power is, the clergy recieves the same kind of love and goodwill the tax collector feels.

Also, Pangloss is right, Americans historically chose their flavor of christianity voluntarily, rather than having it imposed by King whoever.

   
Chris Hyland



Posts: 705
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 22 2006,03:58   

Quote
one of the effects of having established churches in the UK (i.e. the Church of England and the Church of Scotland) is that schools regularly have classes like Religious Instruction and have religious school assemblies on a daily or weekly basis, with the odd trip to the local church thrown in. You would think that all this exposure to Christianity as children would increase the amount of religious people, but in truth the exposure is so watered down, so rote, that the effect has been the opposite.
I completely agree: because religion was part of the school routine, it became something to be made fun of and not taken seriously. Even though many teachers taught us religion as fact, most of the children when I left primary school had become at least agnostic because they no longer respected religion. It is also interesting to note that Tony Blair usually plays down his religion, except when it suits him, and his cheif press officer once said 'We dont do god'.

In answer to question 2, one thing i notice in deabtes is that people who dont understand the science often say that ID may afford attempts to answer the big questions such as why are we here, what is our purpose, etc. As George Monbiot put it:
Quote
Darwinian evolution tells us that we are incipient compost: assemblages of complex molecules that – for no greater purpose than to secure sources of energy against competing claims – have developed the ability to speculate. After a few score years, the molecules disaggregate and return whence they came. Period.
This is the problem: that many religious people believe that evolution renders life meaningless and without purpose, therefore they will reject it regardless of the scientific evidence. Personaly i feel sorry for people who think this, and suggest they have a long hard think about the things that really matter in life, but it is so important to them that nothing will change their minds. As Terminator once put it:
Quote
There is no fate but what we make

  
guthrie



Posts: 696
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 22 2006,05:11   

I offer this possibly controversial idea about religion in the USA:

That, due to it being a heavily capitalist nation, people in the USA cling ever more tightly to helpful bedrocks such as church and community, to help buffer themselves against the winds of economic change.  Whereas in much of Europe, the gvt on behalf of the electorate has taken over a fair bit of this role and thus churches just arent as necessary.  


Its a viewpoint, anyway.

  
Flint



Posts: 478
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 23 2006,05:28   

I tend to see much of American religious zealotry as a disease, passed from generation to generation through careful indoctrination and social reinforcement. I'm quite convinced that if by some miracle one single generation could be raised without exposure to religion, the nation would be essentially cured, and the zillions of churches would be regarded as quaint leftovers of a baffling past.

  
Savagemutt



Posts: 18
Joined: Nov. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 23 2006,05:50   

Quote (guthrie @ Feb. 22 2006,11:11)
That, due to it being a heavily capitalist nation, people in the USA cling ever more tightly to helpful bedrocks such as church and community, to help buffer themselves against the winds of economic change.  Whereas in much of Europe, the gvt on behalf of the electorate has taken over a fair bit of this role and thus churches just arent as necessary.


I don't think that argument holds up. But I do think it raises a similar point in that some of our religion is tied up with our capitalistic outlook. The whole "Protestant Work Ethic" mentality was born out of the early colonists who believed that doing well in business was a sign of God's blessing. In a sense, the richer you were (which implied that you worked hard and were honest), the holier you were.

  
Mr_Christopher



Posts: 1238
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 23 2006,06:44   

To aid in understanding the religiosity of America be sure to read up on John Calvin and John Wesley as well as the Puritans.  All had a huge influence on early American religious thought that still resonates today.

And here is a pretty good Wiki article on Religion in the United States

--------------
Uncommon Descent is a moral cesspool, a festering intellectual ghetto that intoxicates and degrades its inhabitants - Stephen Matheson

  
BWE



Posts: 1898
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 23 2006,07:44   

And don't forget to read my blog

http://brainwashedgod.blogspot.com

:D  :p

--------------
Who said that ev'ry wish would be heard and answered
When wished on the morning star
Somebody thought of that, and someone believed it
Look what it's done so far

The Daily Wingnut

   
sir_toejam



Posts: 846
Joined: April 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 23 2006,12:21   

Quote
I'm quite convinced that if by some miracle one single generation could be raised without exposure to religion..


lol.  no pun intended?

  
sir_toejam



Posts: 846
Joined: April 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 23 2006,12:24   

Quote
a sense, the richer you were (which implied that you worked hard and were honest), the holier you were.


so... Bill Gates is the second coming?

  
tacitus



Posts: 118
Joined: May 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 23 2006,12:50   

I sometimes wonder if American respect for authority is also a contributing factor to the sway religion has over the public.  Pastors, especially those of fundamentalist churches, are immensly powerful (fighteningly so, in my opinion) and their pronouncements are seldom questioned or challenged by anyone within their congregation. Usually the only option available if you disagree with what you are hearing from the pulpit is to leave.

I never felt that way growing up in England and Scotland. Perhaps the Catholic church was a little more authoritarian but the Protestant ministers I met in the UK were much more open to debating the issues than they seem to be over here. (I understand that there are probably many reasonable church leaders here in the USA, but the influential ones, those with the power and who wield it, are a very scary bunch).

I think it all still boils down to the Biblical fundamentalism.  The fundie pastors wield this belief as a weapon. "It's in the Bible so it must be true--and because I say so."  So if you go up against the pastor, you are questioning the Bible and, hence, the will of God. Not an easy thing to do unless you are a strong willed person.

  
sir_toejam



Posts: 846
Joined: April 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 23 2006,16:13   

Quote
Usually the only option available if you disagree with what you are hearing from the pulpit is to leave.


well, actually, it's been my experience that if enough of a congregation disagree with what their pastor is saying, they'll dump him/her in favor of somebody with a more compatible worldview.

back in the days when I used to actually attend a Lutheran church, I saw this happen over and over.

In fact, one of the reasons i started to bag on the whole church idea as a teen was that the congregation would toss pastors out that focused on biblical passages about love and generosity, (there were arguments about whether the church should side with the inclusionists or not), or attempted to try to get the congregation involved in public service of any kind.

I often wonder whether this played at least some small role in my rejection of the value of relying on the authority of people as opposed to scientific data in general.

probably why i find it offensive to be labeled a 'Darwinist'.

Now, i can't say whether this is true in evangelical churches or not, not having ever attended any.  

  
tacitus



Posts: 118
Joined: May 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 23 2006,16:39   

I guess I probably shouldn't have lumped the mainstream churches in with the fundamentalist churches.  Since I no longer go to church, most of the exposure I get to the religious community is on TV and radio where the fundies tend to dominate.  But having seen some of the local broadcasts on the religious public access channel here in Austin, TX, there does seem to be an awful lot of them.

  
guthrie



Posts: 696
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 24 2006,01:14   

Quote (tacitus @ Feb. 23 2006,18:50)
I sometimes wonder if American respect for authority is also a contributing factor to the sway religion has over the public.  Pastors, especially those of fundamentalist churches, are immensly powerful (fighteningly so, in my opinion) and their pronouncements are seldom questioned or challenged by anyone within their congregation. Usually the only option available if you disagree with what you are hearing from the pulpit is to leave.

And that is why, in my humble opinion, (given that I am a chirch of scotland raised agnostic) the American fundamentalists we are on about display a total betrayal of the very values of the protestant revolution, even though you'll find quite a few of them who will hark back to the past, and also their Scottish ancestry.

  
MidnightVoice



Posts: 380
Joined: Aug. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 26 2006,09:25   

Just my two cents worth:

I have lived half my life in UK and most of the rest in the States.  If one looks at the history of the States, it has always been very religious, as numerous European commentators have noticed over the centuries.  The Pew Research foundation did an interesting survey a couple of years ago, and commentated that in its devotion to religion the States was closer to the African level of belief than the European.

I think some of it comes from being such a young country.  And like every country, when it teaches history it tends to concentrate on its own history, and there is not too much of that.  So there is lack of exposure to the rest of the world, and no religious instruction, so little exposure to other religions.  I learnt a great deal about religions by just studying the history of the British Empire!

Finally, I blame the lack of pubs.  There are beer joints in the States, but few good pubs.  When I were a lad the Pub was often a very significant part of social life (football teams, cricket teams, darts, crib, Christmas Club etc).  This role in the States seems to have been  taken over by Churches.

--------------
If I fly the coop some time
And take nothing but a grip
With the few good books that really count
It's a necessary trip

I'll be gone with the girl in the gold silk jacket
The girl with the pearl-driller's hands

  
beervolcano



Posts: 147
Joined: Dec. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 27 2006,04:27   

MidnightVoice,,

You've nailed it.

This is why religion is so strong in the US. It is the chief organizing social factor in most of the US, especially in the south and midwest. Kids are in church a lot, more than just sunday morning. They have all kinds of activities and camps to keep kids busy and hearing the word.

This leaves little room for competing viewpoints and leads to a very narrow, and I dare say immature, worldview.

This is the beginning. There is more to it, but the main thing is that the church is the main focal point of most socializing in this country.

--------------
("It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into."--Jonathan Swift)

  
MidnightVoice



Posts: 380
Joined: Aug. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Mar. 02 2006,07:22   

One thing I was staggered to learn when my daughter went to High School - very few events or sports training sessions were held on a Wednesday night.  When I asked why, I was told it was because it was a traditional night for Church Events!!

--------------
If I fly the coop some time
And take nothing but a grip
With the few good books that really count
It's a necessary trip

I'll be gone with the girl in the gold silk jacket
The girl with the pearl-driller's hands

  
  20 replies since Feb. 21 2006,10:50 < Next Oldest | Next Newest >  

    


Track this topic Email this topic Print this topic

[ Read the Board Rules ] | [Useful Links] | [Evolving Designs]