In the United States, religion is simply complicated. Separation of church and state seems clear enough, right? Keep religion out of public schools, government, politics, etc. And since the U.S. separates government and religious practice, there is a guarantee of religious freedom. That means you can choose any faith you want and practice it without discrimination….right?
In reality, religious tradition (or lack thereof) is pervasive throughout American culture and every day life, and Christianity is the dominant strain – according to a Pew Research Center study, 78% of American adults identify as Christians. Even though minority religious communities are growing, the United States is an unofficial Christian nation obsessed with religion.
I know there are people who might say, “Separation of church and state produces a religiously neutral political system, so there is no way we can be a Christian nation;” or “But we value religious diversity so much, we guarantee religious freedom! It doesn’t matter if most Americans are Christian.” On the first point, we may believe in the separation of church and state, but can you compartmentalize your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) from the decisions you make about who you will vote for or how you feel about foreign policy? When Mitt Romney ran for president, his Mormon faith was on the ballot right next to his campaign promises. President Barack Obama has been scrutinized for his possible Islamic roots since before he was elected. It’s harder to separate church and state than it sounds.
Speaking to religious diversity and acceptance, this too is squarely in a gray area. Yes, each and every person in this country is promised the freedom to practice their religious tradition, as wacky as others may see it. Yet is this freedom equal across traditions? You need look no further than the 2012 shooting in a Sikh temple, arson attempts at mosques around the country, assaults on people based on their religious tradition, and other acts of discrimination and harm to religious minorities to see that you can try to practice your religion freely, but you’ll have much more trouble as a Muslim than as an Episcopalian [to read more about some of these incidents, see federal cases on religious hate crimes from 2012].
This blog seeks to explore the nuances of American religious history and culture. Religion is a fact of every day life in the United States, whether you prescribe to it or not. While I will try to be objective in my writing, I have biases and lenses just like everyone else. I am a life-long liberal United Methodist, and this identity colors my interpretations of stories and issues. However, I am also a college graduate with a degree in Religious Studies and Anthropology – you will not find any harsh judgments or condemnations of groups that differ from my own, or complete affirmation of “my people.”
I hope you find this blog as a resource, as well as a form of entertainment, and I welcome questions, comments, suggestions, and thoughts on everyday religion.