God in America | Notes & Review

Posted on October 14, 2010



Online you can watch the entire program, read original documents, download study guides to each program, and read the entire transcript. As always, I commend PBS (Frontline and American Experience) for their excellence.

This is the ending statement of the last installment from Stephen Prothero:

This is this great conversation we’ve had from the very beginning of American life. We’ve had this notion that this is a special place, and what makes it special is that we have some kind of special relationship with God. The exact parameters of that have always been up for debate. And exactly who’s included has always been up for debate.

And what’s happened over time is more and more and more people have been included. This moment in American religious life really is about pluralism. We just keep making the space bigger, you know, extending the sacred canopy over more and more people.

So how important is religion going to remain? Are we going to remain both the most modern country in the world and also one of the most religious? We don’t really know. We don’t have a narrative yet for that. And one interesting thing to see in coming years is, will we come up with one? What’s the story going to be?

— VIA —

The prevalence of (or rather a perception of) a rising atheism in the West may leave one with the impression that religion is becoming a less important factor in American culture. Through their excellent production, Frontline/American Experience, I believe, have proven otherwise. The genesis of our nation and the consecutive movements since have all included a critical thread of religious ideas and idealism that cannot be ignored. Like a trauma experience in childhood which shapes adult formation, America’s birthing has and will continue to impact its future. Prothero’s question, I believe, can be easily answered at least in one aspect: religion will continue to remain an extremely important part of the future of American life and culture.

Notice, “this moment in American religious life really is about pluralism.”

This, I contend, is a new religious idea in American history, and one that will have as vigorous a struggle as any in the past. Christian ideas of truth are fundamentally exclusive. Islamic ideas of practice are fundamentally in conflict. Jewish ideas of identity are fundamentally ontological. And fundamentals on all sides are, well, fundamental. The last time the West met East, the West dominated (cf. Hellenization). The last time the East met the West, the West acquiesced (cf. early Christianity). And in each scenario, they both lost their identity and their way, and developed something new the world had never seen before.

Perhaps God is doing something new, at least in our nation (and with globalization, the world). Perhaps, in the honest pursuit of truth, this will require all of us to lay down our ideologies to conform our ideas to the truth of God, rather than the other way around. Blaise Pascal is famous for saying,

God created us in His image, and we decided to return the favor.

Just like pain and suffering is no respecter of age or race, truth is no respecter of creed or dogma. And if we’re honest with ourselves, much of the pursuit of religion in the history of the world has been self-serving and narcissistic–a lengthy topic in itself. With the rise of the “Charter for Compassion,” and the religious pluralism that Prothero mentioned above, perhaps all of our faiths are evolving to a new religious enlightenment. As we cast our ideological nets a little wider, perhaps the threads that hold those ideas will break, and then we may truly be free. Not free from evil or falsehood or any of the other devils religion guards and fights against, but rather free from the religious dogmas and constructs that confine and enslave us all.

What about Christianity?

Since this blog is written by someone who has his faith journey in the Christian tradition, and our country is majority Christian, let me briefly say that Christianity is already fully engaged in this kind of evolution. The struggle to identify what “Christianity” is in this day and the next is a conversation most Christians can no longer ignore. Some call it a new “reformation,” an “emergent movement,” a “radical development,” or a “revolution.” Whatever one may entitle, the future of Christianity will in no doubt be some conglomerate of fundamental principles and beliefs, and religious pluralism. Why?

The very idea of religious liberty/freedom is a Christian/Biblical idea.

The Bible no doubt speaks to truth, and a way of life that is higher than any other way (why claim truth if it’s not better…really?!) But a fundamental truth that is often ignored by Christians that is also prevalent in our faith tradition is the freedom of choice; that each human being has the sovereignty to decide his or her own journey. This idea is found in the Garden of Eden, the ending chapters of the Torah (Pentateuch), the voice of the Prophets, the calling of the disciples by Jesus, and the fundamental principles of Paul and his writings. Thus, those who call themselves “Christian” today who ignore the principles of “separation of church and state,” and the “freedom to choose your faith,” as a right given by the Creator Himself, fundamentally ignore both the history of this country, and their own religious ancestry.

May God, and God’s love, compassion, justice, mercy, and truth do to humanity…

Posted in: Culture, Religion, Reviews