How Important Is Religion in Understanding the U.S.?
Considering the atrocities occurring in the United States of America, one could not help but ask, “Does religion still play an important role in the lives of the citizens of America?” As news about massacres, terrorism attacks, racism, and other political issues abound, one begins to question whether people still look up to religion as a guiding light in their lives or maybe they have slowly drifted away from their once strong faith. America, being a melting pot of various cultures and religious affiliations, is home to different religious beliefs, including Protestantism, Catholicism, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, and Atheists and Agnostics. Despite belonging to various religious groups, Americans believe that religion affects politics, public education, business, and the country’s future in a big way.
In a Gallup survey conducted from January to November 2011, results showed that there has been a steady “increase in the percentage of Americans who do not have a formal religious identity” (Newport). For instance, beginning 1952, respondents were asked to rate how important religion is in their lives using ‘very important’, ‘fairly important’, and ‘not very important’ as gauge. Back in 1952, 75% of the respondents rated religion as ‘very important’, 20% said ‘fairly important’, and 5% claimed religion is not very important (Holifield). What makes the modern day result interesting is that from the time the survey was done up to 2011, people apparently have been showing a change of heart when it comes to their religious beliefs and affiliation, with results showing a decrease in respondents agreeing on the importance of religion (from 75% down to 55%) to an increase in the percentage of people acknowledging that religion is not that important (from 5% moving up to 19%). In the same year as the Gallup survey (2011), another survey reveals that “92% of Americans say they believe in God” (Newport), which goes to say that not having a solid religious identity does not equate to not having a certain degree of religiosity for the people.
Kevin Eckstrom, Religion News Service editor, claims religion is still very much part of the American way of living (McCleskey). “If you want to understand America, you have to understand religion. You cannot understand where we have been, where we are or where we are going without understanding the religious currents that course through American life,” (qtd. in McCleskey). He adds that religion is very much ingrained in the American culture and way of living as it helps shape the American identity despite having various immigrants coming from all over the world and bringing with them their own religious traditions and beliefs (Sullivan), although sometimes coming from conflicting faiths and beliefs. Timothy Beal, in his book, Religion in America: A Short Introduction, says, “The religious landscape of America is not as simple or uniform as it might initially appear. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a single aspect of American culture, past or present, in which religion has not played a major part” (Beal 5). Indeed, there is a semblance of truth to this claim considering the role religion has played in various aspects of the American way of life, including politics, education, and business, among others.
“America is rich in highly particular, often highly peculiar religious groups and individuals. On the other hand, running counter to this proliferation for the religious peculiar and particular, we are all very aware of the predominance of Christian beliefs and values especially Protestant one, in American society and culture” (Beal 7). Take, for instance politics. In politics, religion is very much involved in debates concerning abortion and stem cell research, as political leaders present their cases citing how and where religion comes in when it comes to discussing these issues. The question of morality and moral issues often become parts of debate topics, which would help voters to determine who to vote come election time. A Gallup poll conducted in 1999, for example, reveals that “90 percent of the population would vote for a president who was Jewish, black, Catholic, female or Baptist; 79 percent would vote for a Mormon candidate; and 59 percent would vote for a homosexual candidate – but only 49 percent would vote for an atheist” (Murray). Considering the results of the survey, it can be argued that voters opt for religious public officials (“Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush, Obama Years”).
In terms of education, there is a clamor for religion education and religious artifacts to be included in schools, especially in connection with the aftermath of massacres perpetuated in various U.S. schools. Another Gallup poll conducted in 2001 reveals that 66 percent of those who were included in the survey approved of daily prayers being recited in the classrooms, while 77 percent supported the display of the Ten Commandments in school premises (Murray).
Religion also contributes to the country’s business opportunities as Christian stores mushroom in various parts of America. This is mainly due to the demand for Christian items and memorabilia that are sold in Christian stores, including supermarkets such as Target, Wal-Mart, and Kmart, among others (Murray). This unexpected source of revenue has brought in about $4.2 billion in sales and continues to rise steadily (Murray).
Despite the positive ways of using religion in the country, still there are a number of young people who leave their faith because of sad or negative experiences. Based on random interviews done by David Greene, an NPR staff, it appears that a huge number of 30-somethings and below are beginning to veer away from their faith and religion. For example, a 29-year old female who was raised Jewish now considers herself “Jewish with an agnostic bent” (NPR Staff). Her belief stems from a feeling of disconnection with religious upbringing and her actual beliefs. Mirriam Nissly contends that everything she did in the past are mainly due to the way her culture treats religion. She says there is the realization that if one doesn’t necessarily believe in God, then the individual does not have to participate in religious celebrations (NPR Staff). Similar to this story is Yusuf Ahmad, who was originally raised as a Muslim, but who has changed affiliations by becoming an atheist. He says his doubts began in childhood as he heard religious and sacred stories that he found difficult to believe (NPR Staff). Another example is Rigoberto Perez who was raised a Seventh - day Adventist, but has since then turned his back on his religion primarily due to personal experiences, including the death of his mother and a brother, his father’s alcoholism problem, and abuses at home. Due to the negative experiences, he began to question his faith and why such things have to happen in his life (NPR Staff).
In America, people are allowed to exercise their religious belief that is why various religious denominations thrive in the country. It also appears that Christianity is the more prevalent religious affiliation in America as compared with the other sects. As the public continually demand for religious and social influences through religion, one thing is for sure: Christianity will remain a major influence in the United States as it affects the political, educational, and business fronts of the country.
Beal, Timothy. Religion in America: A Very Short Introduction. 2008. Oxford University Press, Inc.: New York.
Holifield, E. Brooks. “Understanding Why Americans Seem More Religious Than Other Western Powers.”2014. Web. 10 November 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/15/americans-more-religious_n_4780594.html>.
McCleskey, Clayton, M. “Just How Important Is Religion to America.” 2010. Web. 8 November 2014. <http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/2010/06/just-how-import.html/>.
Murray, Lissa. The Importance of Religion in America. 2006. Web. 7 November 2014. <http://www2.coloradocollege.edu/bulletin/March2006/?importance>.
Newport, Frank. “Christianity Remains Dominant Religion in the United States.” 2011. Web. 9 November 2014. <http://www.gallup.com/poll/151760/Christianity-Remains-Dominant-Religion-United-States.aspx?version=print#main>.
NPR Staff. “More Young People Are moving Away from Religion, But Why.” 2013. Web. 8 November 2014. <http://www.npr.org/2013/01/15/169342349/more-young-people-are-moving-away-from-religion-but-why#wrapper>.
“Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush, Obama Years.” 2012. Web. 9 November 2014.
Sullivan, Amy. “Articles of Faith: The Importance of Understanding Religion in a Post-9/11 World.” 2011. Web. 8 November 2014. <http://swampland.time.com/2011/09/09/articles-of-faith-the-importance-of-understanding-religion-in-a-post-911-world/ >.