1. Religion & Spirituality

American Religion: Religious Groups, History, Beliefs in America

The United States of America is the most religious and most religiously diverse of all Western industrialized nations. American political and social history are indecipherable without references to its religious history, so influential have religious groups and ideology been over the centuries. Particularly interesting is the fact that his religious diversity and religious devotion is enhanced by the traditional separation of church and state - something which conservative religious groups seek to undermine.
  1. How Americans Believe in God (18)

Why Do Christians Allow Divorce & Remarriage?
American Christians who are most preoccupied with sexual morality tend focus on homosexuality, pornography, sex before marriage, etc. Except for the Catholic Church, we don't hear much about divorce and remarriage (and even American Catholic leaders don't say much that is covered in the media). Why? Some Christians do argue against divorce, but...

Corporate Religion & Christian Nationalism: Religion for Profit, War, Power
American churches have aligned themselves with American nationalism in a way that has caused Christianity to be as 'American' as it is 'Christian' - sometimes as unlike European Christianity as it is unlike Islam. Nationalism, however, isn't the only force which has changed the nature of American Christianity. Major corporations are becoming...

Secession & Slavery: Christian Justifications for Secession, Rebellion
It's common for people to imagine that the case for the slave states seceding from the Union was based upon political principle. Some even think that secession and the Civil War were more about states' rights than slavery. If we look at the actual arguments made by supporters of secession, though, we'll find it common for them to cite Christianity, God, and the Bible in their arguments.

American Religion & American Empire: Theological Justifications
Throughout history, imperialism and religion have gone hand-in-hand. Imperialistic expansion provides opportunities for religious expansion while religion offers theological justification for the violence and oppression needed for imperialism to work. It's not unusual to hear talk about America being an "empire," but even if that is true in a very loose sense, what's the role for religion?

There Will Be No Religious Left
Most liberals are religious theists, and Christians in particular, so it naturally annoys them that public Christianity tends to be associated with the conservative - and authoritarian - politics of the Christian Right. Some liberals harbor the hope that they can create a "Religious Left" as a counter-force in American politics. Not only is this unlikely, but it is in fact very undesirable.

Evangelicalism & Anglicanism: Development of Religion in the South
Today the American South is defined by evangelical Christianity - not just in terms of religion, but also politics, culture, and history. Many may be surprised, though, that there was a time when evangelical Christianity didn't dominate the South. In fact, evangelicals were treated more like a weird cult that wasn't really trusted.

Slavery & Christianity: Justifying Oppression for Sake of Social Order
That slavery was not merely tolerated, but actively endorsed and defended by Christians in the American South is a matter of public record. Few people are willing to think much about this, but it's a historical fact. Less well known is why defending slavery was so critical in the minds of Christians. According to at least some, slavery was a vital component of social order.

Christianity & Women: Christian Equality vs. Christian Misogyny
Christians often regard their religion as one of peace, freedom, and liberation - but it hasn't always been that way, and it isn't even always that way today. For most of history, Christianity has provided the ideological and theological muscle behind the repression of... just about everyone, but especially women - one half of the human population. Some Christians resisted, though.

Race & Honor: Biblical Origins of Christian Racism, Slavery
Why would Christians believe that someone is inferior simply because their skin is black? Racism likely derives from fear of differences, but that has nothing to do with how they rationalize and justify it. For Christians, this was done through Genesis 9 and the Noah story, which they read as the origin of how all black Africans are "dishonorable" and therefore unworthy of freedom.

America is a Religion
Many people regard America as being an idea or ideal - but is it a religious idea? There may be some merit to that. Many of the first colonists in America saw it as a "City on the Hill," a "new Canaan" where a pure Christianity could be developed. This has helped increase the fervor of patriotism and nationalism in America, even among the more secular Americans.

Puritanism vs. Pornography: Contradictions of America's Culture
America is more religious and had more religious diversity than most nations in the world - certainly more than other industrial nations of the West. America also produces more popular culture than other nations - popular culture which is often thought of as 'pornographic' by religious conservatives, especially those in America. Why does this contradiction exist?

Making People Think That They Think: How Evangelists Work
The similarities between religious evangelism and sales run deep and are not coincidental: evangelists are trying to sell something and, like all sales people, use standard social and psychological techniques in order to complete a sale. Whereas sales people use these techniques consciously and deliberately, though, evangelists may simply see themselves as preaching.

Religion and Morality in Modern Society
It's popular for religious believers to insist that their religion, or even just religion generally, is critical for the existence of good morals. Why? Perhaps it's because in the modern world there simply isn't much of anything left for religion to do. There once was a time when religion organized all of a person's life; today, religion is relegated to the dusty corners of society.

Women and Christianity: Changing Role of Women in Denominations
The interaction between religion and culture is extensive: religion influences culture while culture in turn influences religion. Most religious believers are eager to acknowledge and emphasize the former, but they don't seem to recognize the extent to which the latter occurs. This is unfortunate as it prevents them from seeing how extensively the religion they follow is culturally conditioned.

Intellectual Curiosity vs. Religious Orthodoxy
Maintaining religious orthodoxy means holding on to specific beliefs against any challenges or questions from the outside. Religious orthodoxy is imperiled by too much intellectual curiosity because no religion can completely satisfy all doubts and challenges. The more widely a person reads and studies, the harder it can be to hold on to traditional, orthodox beliefs.

White & Black Christians in the South
It didn't happen immediately, but over time slaveholders in the South allowed their slaves to be evangelized and convert to Christianity. At no point, though, did it seem to occur to most slave owners that perhaps owning slaves - including Christian slaves - might be contrary to Christian principles. Instead, they simply modified their Christianity to suit their social situation.

American Clergy: What Do Congregations Expect?
American families no longer reflect the 1950s ideals which the Christian Right insists on pushing. There's no way to achieve this ideal, either, and people's failure to face up to this fact may be one of the most significant causes of social strife and stress in American today. Just how far we have to go is demonstrated by the demands congregations put on their own ministers.

Who is Saved? Who Can Know?
A fundamental and vital aspect to the evangelical Christian worldview is being 'saved.' The whole purpose of Christianity is to be saved, which means avoiding hell and going to heaven. How does a person know whether they are saved or not? Most appear to be convinced that they are saved but there is still some anxiety about how a person can know and whether one is fooling themselves.

Female Clergy in America: Changing the Face of Christianity
It has been difficult for just about all sectors of American society to fully accept and integrate women as equals, but the clergy appears to have been the worst. Why have Christian institutions done such a bad job at fully recognizing and accepting the equal worth and abilities of half the human population?

American Churches and Corporations: How Churches are Going Corporate
Just as corporations in America are pushing religion and spirituality, churches in America are adopting values and practices from the corporate world. They have mission statements, management teams, consulting services, and so forth. Whatever happened to the simple gospel of Jesus? Whatever happened to simply taking up a cross and following Jesus?

Religious Identity in America: Is America a Christian Nation?
The insistence that America must be a Christian Nation is popular among conservative Christians, but it is arguably both un-Christian and un-America. It's un-Christian because it ties Christianity to a particular cultural and political order; it's un-America because it denigrates and denies all of the other religions and cultures which have contributed to the nation.

Pastors' Cars Reflect Parish Beliefs
Most people might assume that pastors and ministers should try to live at least somewhat modestly - like, for example, by driving average, modest cars. Many Christian congregations reject this, however, and insist that their spiritual leaders live in a manner which exalts materialism, consumerism, and acquisitiveness. How very Christian of them.

Religious Identity in Modern Society
Religion is important in people's lives, but is it important enough to form the basic core of a person's identity - their sense of self? Should religion be more significant in a person's identity than things like their race, their family, or their socioeconomic background? Perhaps, but even if this is the case it can surely be taken too far.

Why Do Christians Think They Are Persecuted?
A common refrain heard from many conservative evangelical Christians is that Christianity is being persecuted in America. Somehow, despite all the political power and influence they have, they are still managing to be oppressed. How can they possibly think this?

Future of Islam in America: Muslims vs Nation of Islam
When people think about Islam in America, they quickly turn to traditional Muslims who have immigrated from the Middle East. This is reasonable, but it ignores the sizable population of Muslims who have lived in America all their lives and who have a long, complex, and controversial history here: The Nation of Islam. How will the two groups interact?

Shedding America's Pretend Christianity
The Christian Right makes a big deal about religion in America, arguing that America is a Christian Nation where Christianity and Christians should be privileged above others. There are many things wrong with this position, but perhaps the most interesting is the fact that America simply isn't as "Christian" as is claimed.

American Religion: Spirituality vs. Fundamentalism
Just as important in American religious history as fundamentalism is 'spirituality' - individualized religious and spiritual quests to find meaning, solace, and God. For as long as it has existed, defenders of hierarchical, orthodox religious institutions have attacked it on a variety of levels.

The Importance of the Bible for American History
Demographically speaking, America is a Christian nation because most people are Christians. Most Christians, though, don't do a very good job at raising their children to understand the Bible. Biblical literacy is woefully inadequate to the task of understanding art, literature, and even American history itself. Should public schools take over the job?

Wal-Mart and American Churches
The dominant image of American capitalism and consumerism today is Wal-Mart. The dominant image of American Christianity today may be the mega-church which draws in thousands of visitors and broadcasts to perhaps millions more. Are there any similarities between discount mega-stores and mega-churches?

Religious Privilege in Modern Society
For a long time, religion has served as an important part of most cultures around the world. Religion has been a primary basis for art, music, and literature. Religion has been a primary source of morality and social stability. Religion has provided people with a means for understanding the world and their place in it. This is no longer the case, but should religion be treated as if it were?

Theological Liberalism and American History
Many religious conservatives today argue that the religious rhetoric of America's founders indicates that they believed America should be a Christian nation and that America should be shaped by Christian values. In fact, just the opposite can be argued: they hoped that Christian groups would be shaped by American democratic and liberal values.

America: Civil Religion & the City on the Hill
Many people regard America as being an idea or ideal - but is it a religious idea? There may be some merit to that. Many of the first colonists in America saw it as a "City on the Hill," a "new Canaan" where a pure Christianity could be developed. For much of its history, people in America have seen their nation, guided by divine providence...

American Attitudes on Religion & Government
Although Americans tend to be more religious than other nations in the industrialized West, there remains strong opposition to religious leaders trying to influence government. At the same time, though, this opposition is lower than in other Western nations.

Authority vs. Reason: Original Intent & Biblical Literalism
A curious feature of the "original intent" school of constitutional theory is just how close it comes in form and attitude towards the "biblical literalism" form of Christianity. Both insist on "interpreting" a sacred text according to how it was originally "intended" and in no other way.

Alexis de Tocqueville and American Democracy
Alexis de Tocqueville is best known for his praise of American democracy and society; less well known, however, are later criticisms he made of both. Apparently he grew disillusioned of America in ways that echo down through today.

Corporate Spirituality & the Co-opting of Religion
American churches have aligned themselves with American nationalism in a way that has caused Christianity here to be as "American" as it is "Christian" - sometimes as unlike European Christianity as it is unlike Islam. Nationalism, however, isn't the only force which has changed the nature of American Christianity.

How Many Americans Attend Church Regularly?
Polls of Americans regularly indicate that around 40% attend church or other religious services every week. Studies of how many people actually appear in churches, though, suggest a much lower number - around 20%. It seems that people are answering polls based upon what they think they are supposed to say rather than based upon what they actually do.

The Purpose Driven Life an the Future of American Religion
Rick Warren, author of the popular book The Purpose Driven Life, is having a big impact on people's religious beliefs - but will he also have an impact on politics? That's a question which many are asking, but there are no clear answers as of yet.

Churches Debate Flying the American Flag
Some Christians are having trouble reconciling their allegiance to their faith and their allegiance to their nation. If their religion is supposed to be "above" nationality, then presumably churches shouldn't send messages of national allegiance. For some, though, religion and patriotism go hand-in-hand.

Religious Identity Decline in U.S.
Traditional wisdom has it that America is not only highly religious but is getting more religious as time goes on. But is this true? There are in fact more nonreligious people in America than most realize - and their numbers seem to be increasing.

Abortion in Early America
Abortion has probably existed for as long as self-conscious animals have existed - pregnancy may be part of a species natural life cycle, but not every individual who becomes pregnant wants to remain that way and some will go to great lengths in order to end a pregnancy.

American Churches, Capitalism, Consumerism
One of the interesting features of modern American Christianity is how much it has borrowed from American capitalism. More and more, American churches have been explicit in their use of the techniques more commonly associated with big business. Just how "Christian" is that, anyway?

America's Developing Death Industry
Everyone dies, so it's likely that just about everyone will experience some sort of funeral or memorial service, probably in their own immediate family. Traditional funeral services with a casket and burial, however, are becoming increasingly expensive - and that's the way the burgeoning funeral industry wants it.

Flag Desecration and Flag Fetishism
On a regular basis, some Republican politician introduces a constitutional amendment that would allow the government to ban the "desecration" of the American flag. The immediate target is flag burning, but the idea that the flag can be "desecrated" implies that it is "sacred" to begin with...

America as a Christian Nation
It's common to hear from the Christian Right that America is a "Christian Nation" and, as such, should be ruled according to Christian principles, by Christian politicians, and for the benefit of a Christian agenda - not to mention for the benefit of Christians themselves. Their arguments are quite mistaken.

The Inferiority of Gay Americans
Members of the Christian Right sometimes like to say that their policy is to "hate the sin but love the sinner" and, therefore, while they hate homosexuality, they don't hate homosexuals. Their actions and statements, though, betray their true feelings: they believe that gays are inferior citizens and inferior human beings.

America as a Community of the Righteous
Many citizens see America as a quasi-religious project - they have been ordained by God to bring the Truth and the Light to all the people's of the Earth. One consequence of Americans having the Light and all others lacking it is that Americans are regarded as uniquely and automatically righteous.

Christian Disinterest in the Holocaust
Recent years have seen a sharp increase in people's interest in the Holocaust: there are a large number of books, movies, and documentaries available for consumption. Interest in learning about the Holocaust has not, however, translated into an interest in learning from the Holocaust and remembering all those who died in it.

Hate the Sin, Hate the Sinner
It's common for Christians to claim that they "hate the sin, but lover the sinner." Do their actions match their rhetoric, though? That's a difficult proposition to defend. It's surely true with some, but the most vocal and active members of the Christian Right don't really act like they believe what they are saying.

Christian Nation and Presidential Elections
It's become common in America for religion to be used as a political football. Implicitly or explicitly, there are many who argue that a person should receive or be denied people's votes based upon the candidate's religious beliefs. There is actually a long tradition of this in America - but it's not one that anyone should want to be part of.

Skepticism of the Holocaust, Skepticism of Evolution
Religious critics of evolutionary theory emphasize the idea that 'all sides' of a debate should be taught and that schools have an obligation to present the 'debates' about academic subjects. If we apply this to evolution, though, why not also the Holocaust? This is a valid question because some teachers have tried to do exactly that.

Divorce as a Sin and a Crime: Christianity, Marriage, and the State
The arguments being used by the Christian Right today against gay marriage are not unique or sui generis. These arguments are an integral part of how the Christian Right views the world and they have used the exact same arguments in the past - for example, when they were opposing the liberalization of divorce laws.

Objectification and Evangelization
Proselytization is central to the religious faith of many evangelical Christians - they will "share" their beliefs with anyone they come across if they are given half a chance. They believe they are doing a good deed, but from the other side it often doesn't appear very positive.

How Do We Encourage Doubt & Skepticism of Gods?
Belief in God is popular in America, but less popular when people are offered more alternatives to the traditional positions. This suggests that there is fertile ground out there for more doubt and skepticism - but how do we promote it?

Belief in God & Sex in America - Sex Differences for Belief in God in America
Theism and religion appear among women at higher rates than they do among men. Surveys find this not just in America, but in other nations as well. The degree of difference in belief between men and women may vary with nation and era, but the existence of the difference is fairly consistent. But why?

Why Do More Women than Men Believe in God?
We see differences in rates of belief in god across many nations. This must be partially due to differences between men and women or something in religion itself (or both).

Are Atheists Really Less Fat than Christians? If so, Why?
What data we have suggests that atheists and agnostics suffer from obesity at lower rates than ChristiansDo you agree that the difference exists? If so, why do you think it exists?

Why is Belief in God Highest in the American South?
Surveys show that theism in America is highest in the South, also known as the Bible Belt. Belief in God is lowest in the Northeast and Northwest. Why have these differences developed?

Why Does Belief in God Decline with Education in America?
Surveys show that the less education an American has the more likely they are to believe in God while the more education they have the less likely they are to believe in God. What is the reason for this?

Why Do Americans Believe God Plays Favorites in Sports or with Athletes?
A large number of Americans believe God intervenes in sports: 53% believe God rewards athletes with success for their faith and 27% believe God personally intervenes in sports matches. But why? Why would God care?

Evangelicalism Threat Public Order
Evangelical Christianity started out in America as an insurgent form of Christianity which was perceived by defenders of the status quo as serious threat to public order itself.

Religious Identity in Modern Society
Religion is important in people's lives, but is it important enough to form the basic core of a person's identity - their sense of self? Should religion be more significant in a person's identity than things like their race, their family, or their socioeconomic background?

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