Why is the U.S. so religious?

Discussion in 'Religion' started by Seattle, Jan 29, 2015.

  1. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    3,492
    When you compare the U.S. with Europe it seems that the U.S. is much more religious (however you chose to measure it).

    Why?

    I think the answer is that the state is still generally involved with religion in Europe and therefore people want no part of it.

    Also, the Puritans were the ones who left England to come to the U.S. and those were the fundamentalists.

    Conversely, since the state largely stays out of religion in the U.S. the "market" takes over as with everything else and the end product "religion" is therefore more abundant.

    What other reasons do you think lead to this outcome in the U.S. and to the "Bible Belt" in particular?
     
  2. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  3. Kristoffer Giant Hyrax Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,233
    I think you're wrong about European states being generally more involved with religion.

    As to why Americans are more religious than Europeans, I think it may have something to do with the fact that many of those who immigrated to the US were persecuted religious minorities.
     
  4. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  5. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    7,468
    I don't think the state is involved with religion in Europe much more than it is in the USA.

    The UK is exceptional in maintaining an official church, thanks to Henry VIII. France is famously secular, Germany has no link between church and state, nor does Spain, nor, since the 1970s, Ireland. Denmark, oddly, considers the Lutheran church its state faith. There is more detail here: http://www.law.cf.ac.uk/clr/networks/Frank Cranmer_ Church & State in W Europe.pdf

    Constitutional positions aside, I can think of no European country in which any religion is, as you suggest, associated with the state in the public mind.

    The USA is the only major Western country I know of where its leaders openly wear religion on their sleeves and regularly call on God in their public pronouncements.

    But I certainly agree with your second point, about Europe exporting its religious eccentrics to the USA. That went on for a long time, as a result of the European wars of religion at the Reformation and the legal constraints that were imposed subsequently - just about all of them long gone.
     
  6. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  7. Kristoffer Giant Hyrax Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,233
    It's true that the Lutheran church is considered our state faith, but most of us Danes don't really care about religion. I think of the tax I pay to the church as more of a "museum" tax, used to maintain historical buildings.
     
  8. Hapsburg Hellenistic polytheist Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    5,163
    It's not as big of a gap as it might seem. Most 'religious' people in the US are so in name only, and practise about as often or believe about as intensely as Western and Central Europeans do. Likewise, most European countries and cultures pay lip service to Christianity even if they are functionally secular states, and many still have state religions. That last thing is something that would be anathema in the US, even with the somewhat larger numbers of churchgoers. And, mind, "Europe" is an ethnically diverse and broad area, with considerable differences between regions; Eastern and Southern Europe display much more public religiosity than Northern, Western, or Central Europe, for instance.

    But, admittedly, there are differences and Americans tend to be somewhat more openly religious than most Western and/or Central Europeans. Ultimately, the difference likely stems from several factors. Perhaps the most recent is the faith-shaking events of the World Wars in Europe, and the subsequent effects of certain anti-clerical and secular ideologies. Older than that are revolutionary ideologies that challenged the state, which by extension challenged religion due to the interconnectedness of church and state. When we get into geography, you'll note that the US is much more rural than Western and Central Europe, and rural areas tend to be more conservative and traditionalist; in such regions, the church is still the locus of the community. Which leads to another trend sparked by Industrial Modernity--the breakdown of traditional social organization and relationships, and the rise of large urban centres.

    Though probably the biggest reason you see so much about religion and religiosity in the US is because we are politically dominated by special interest groups, and the Religious Right is one the most wealthy, media-savvy, and powerful of these.
     
    Seattle and Yazata like this.
  9. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    4,920
    I saw a comparison a while back between the US and Denmark (one of the less religious European countries). The percentage of people who say that they believe in God is significantly higher in the US than in Denmark. But when Danes are asked if they believe in a 'higher power', the percentage saying 'yes' rises.

    And I'm reminded of a close friend, an American engineer who to my knowledge never entered a church except for weddings and funerals and never picked up a Bible that I know of, once telling me that anyone who doesn't believe in God is 'stupid'. I don't believe in God, so I asked him what the word 'God' meant to him. He waved his arm to encompass everything and said, 'There has to be more to reality than this!'.

    So for him, 'God' was apparently a synonym for a vague sense of transcendence, not unlike the Danes' 'higher power'. I think that there are a lot of people like my friend here in the United States. Which suggests that some of the differences in between the US and Europe might be a function of how words are defined.

    Yes, I agree. Europe has historically had state churches, very closely associated with the ruling kings and princes. Even in relatively tolerant England, individuals who refused to join the state church ("non-conformists", that's where the word originated) were sometimes refused entry into schools and weren't allowed to hold public office. In other places, non-conformists were in danger for their lives. So non-conformity became widely associated with freedom.

    Then, around the French Revolution and in the 19th century, when overthrowing "old regimes" in the name of "progressive" republicanism was a major historical force, the threatened kings found allies in their state churches in defense of the old orders. We see France swinging crazily back and forth during the 1800's between numbered republics and periods of renewed monarchy with various 'revolutions' marking the changes. This kind of turmoil and the role that the state churches played in it pretty much discredited the churches as far as more 'progressive' European opinion was concerned. There's a strong tradition of anti-clericalism in European popular culture even today that we don't see here in the United States.

    It wasn't just fundies. Britain's American colonies became a refuge for non-conformists of all kinds. The English king gave royal charters to the new colonies in hopes that all the damned non-conformists would move there and leave England to the Anglicans. So the Puritans moved to New England, Catholics moved to Maryland, and many Quakers ended up in the vicinity of Philadelphia (which helps explain why that city was the cultural capital of the colonies). So many Baptists moved to the US that Baptists are far more prevalent in the US today than in Europe. All kinds of unpopular groups like the Unitarians and the Jews washed up on our shores.

    Here in America, churches didn't represent established old orders and the heavy hand of monarchs. Instead, people's ability to worship freely as they choose became a core principle of what American freedom meant. Belonging to one's church was seen as an expression of that freedom. This is why the American 'founding fathers' were so concerned to prevent the 'establishment' of government churches and it's why Jefferson wrote about the need for a 'wall of separation' between church and state.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2015
    Ophiolite likes this.
  10. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    4,571
    It's true that the USA was a melting pot for religious loonies but I don't think that explains the perpetuation of the looniness for two or three centuries.
     
  11. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    4,920
  12. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    53,205
    There was no state religion and religion wasn't taught in public schools, so people didn't get sick of it. The state sponsored religion in Great Britain wasn't exactly "passionate".
     
  13. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    3,492
    Good responses everyone! I think there is a lot to the comments made above about church wealth and politics in the U.S. as well as the point about rural areas being typically more traditional (everywhere).
     
  14. Kristoffer Giant Hyrax Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,233
    Yazata, I don't think you can call Queen Elizabeth or Queen Margrethe proper leaders.
    They're figureheads, not leaders.
     
  15. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    7,468
  16. Bells Staff Member

    Messages:
    22,823
    Australia does not have a State sponsored religion and religion was not taught in public schools either and we aren't that religious.

    Not in the way Americans are, to the point where an atheist becoming President is so unthinkable for so many. Certainly, there are some who have tried and continue to try to insert religion and religious belief into the Governance of Australia, but they don't tend to get far and the response they generally get from the majority is one of sarcasm and mockery. There have been a couple of Australian Prime Ministers who have tried to lobby the Christian right for votes, but again, most view that as being a bit of a joke and most of our Prime Ministers appear to have been mostly agnostic. At least one was an atheist. We generally tend to view religion as being a private matter, not a public one.

    Unfortunately, religion enters the political fray too deeply in the States, so much so that they even attempt to legislate based on religious belief. So the separation between church and state becomes even more blurred.
     
  17. kx000 Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    4,428
    America is idealistic, and virtuistic by nature even if it rots for impurity.
     
  18. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    53,205
    I guess that why we genocided the natives.
     
  19. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    4,920
    I suspect that part of that difference is that the American colonies got their start in the early 1600's, around the time of the English civil war, while the Australian colonies got their start in the late 1700's, after many of the religious persecutions in Europe had moderated. So the American colonies received more refugees from European religious persecution and the issue was more on the minds of the Founders.

    Not so long ago, people would have said the same thing about a negro being elected American President. I think that Americans are more open-mnded and flexible than many foreigners give us credit for being.

    It seems that Australia has followed the American lead on that one.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_church_and_state_in_Australia

    Interestingly, government funding for religious schools would be unconstitutional here in the US, as would government payments for public and private school chaplains.
     
  20. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    4,920
    Yes. Many Americans associate their highest ideals with religion (or with something cosmic and transcendent, at any rate). The Ameican Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson (a free-thinking Deist) insists that human rights come from God. That's stressed so as to head off any claim that whatever rights possessed by 'subjects' are bestowed on them by the royal Soverign (or by an all-powerful State).

    http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html
     
  21. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    3,492
    I would like to the U.S. get to the point where religion is only a private (personal) thing. When I was a kid it was much more like that even in the U.S. South where I grew up.

    The only "evangelicals" I ever heard of were crazies who set up tents occasionally on the edge of town.

    I think I've read somewhere that prior to the two World Wars the level of public religiosity wasn't nearly as high here in the U.S.

    I don't see anyone being elected President who is avowedly an atheist for a long time. Even if many people aren't as religious as the polls may indicate the culture is still such that atheism has a bad rap.
     
  22. Bells Staff Member

    Messages:
    22,823
    Possibly. Not to mention the fact that Australia was originally a penal colony..

    You can hope so. However even with a black President, you cannot forget or ignore the reaction to it from some quarters, the birth certificate conspiracy theories being a very good example of that.

    Oh people are not happy that they flaunt the constitution and fund private religious schools and the chaplaincy program has received so many complaints and it was deemed unconstitutional by our High Court. The conservative Federal Government is trying bypass it by providing the States to fund it, and that is also probably going to be challenged as well.

    I know in my home state, religious education programs are funded by the State Government, even though they are not allowed to do so and they did so in the sneakiest way possible, and it has caused a big brouhaha amongst parents and schools and the State Government, with many parents protesting that they are receiving funding for RE programs and the content of some of the RE programs being taught in some schools. My children's primary school has an opt out for RE, which angered me greatly, because it should be opt in if it has to be there at all - they attend a public school and frankly, RE should not be allowed in a public school. Two years ago, only about 5 kids opted out of my son's classes, last year it was about 15 who opted out. Parents are fed up with the whole program because it is not broad based religious education - learning about different religions for example, but it is aimed directly at teaching children particular fundamentalist or born again Christian principles (in my kid's school at least).

    Yesterday, my youngest came home and told us how he had his start of the year spelling test in class, which is meant to test the students for their spelling proficiency (he is in grade 3). And I asked him what words did he have to spell and he said they had to spell Jesus Christ and Moses. So I am now querying why students have to learn or know how to spell the names of biblical figures. I am not concerned that he got them wrong, he did not, as his spelling is at grade 6-7 level, but I am concerned that this is somehow being included in what should have been a standard spelling test. Having spoken to several other parents of students in his class, they are also making the same queries. Students in other classes in his year did not have to do so. New teacher and yeah, we do want some answers. The school is apparently investigating the matter.

    There is a push from the religious right in this country to try to inflict their religious beliefs in the public arena, but there is also a push against it.
     
  23. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    53,205
    I don't see how it can or should be just a private thing. It informs one's whole worldview. And if you sincerely believed that someone was going to be damned, it would be the right thing to do to try and save them.
     

Share This Page