What is America?
Do you ever get the feeling that the experts concerned with keeping us informed don't really know the answer to that question?
As I travel around the country, I seem to be discovering lots of people who don't fit into the image of America offered by the major media in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. The contrast is so great that I find myself increasingly convinced this nation is not what we've been told it is in the past 20 years. The people in Bangor, Maine, or Roswell, New Mexico, or Fletcher, Oklahoma, just don't think the way they're being portrayed.
The discrepancy is probably caused by ignorance, not outright deceit. Authors, TV writers, news people, educators--they for the most part seem unable to grasp the truth of what America is. Their perceptions are skewed; they deal in caricatures. It's quite likely that some, even when they do glimpse the difference, get caught up in a defense of their own preconceptions. To do otherwise would be to admit that they have been wrong. And That's contrary to human nature.
Let's look at one facet of life.
"The U.S. is the most religious country in the world. Some 95 percent to 98 percent of Americans say they believe in God"--the opinion of Seymour Martin Lipset, a professor of political science and sociology at Stanford University, as expressed in Time magazine last year. If he is correct, several findings of the Gallup organization in a recent poll commissioned by the Christian Broadcasting Network become more clear. Gallup learned that:
(1) Fifty-six percent of the American people say they are more reliant upon God than they were five years ago.
(2) One-third of the people say they base their political opinions on religious beliefs to a greater extent than they did five years ago.
In addition to these self assessments, Gallup's queries showed a majority (58 percent) believe Americans as a whole are increasing their efforts to put their religious faith into practice. Thirty-three percent believe that citizens as a whole are more and more forming their political opinions because of religious beliefs.
All these findings suggest a populace far more value oriented and traditional in its views than one would suspect from observing the day-to-day fare of the television, the film, the publishing and the educational industries.
I believe two factors are at work.
First, evangelical Christians are steadily moving from the pew to the marketplace. Prodded by the Jesus revivals of the '60s and and '70s, as well as by the ongoing charismatic renewal of the last 25 years, they have determined that the Bible and their faith apply to all of life, not merely to personal, devotional life.
Supplementing this move is a substantial residue of faith and moral value within Americans generally, even those not themselves overtly committed to God, to prayer, to churchgoing or the like. We might describe it as a "memory" of faith, almost a subconscious recollection of the days when faith, the Bible and moral character figured in the day-to-day life of the nation. This residue is capable of responding, at first almost imperceptibly, to leadership that invokes the name of God and Biblical values.
Contemporary portraits of American life have missed the significance of …