A Nation of Religions: The Politics of Pluralism in Multireligious America

A Nation of Religions: The Politics of Pluralism in Multireligious America

A Nation of Religions: The Politics of Pluralism in Multireligious America

A Nation of Religions: The Politics of Pluralism in Multireligious America

Excerpt

In the United States, religion matters. In overwhelming numbers, Americans believe in God, pray, and contribute their time and money to churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. As much as race, gender, ethnicity, or region, religious commitments make individual Americans who they arc. The significance of religion is not confined, however, to self-identity and the private sphere, in the United States, religion is as public as it is pervasive, as political as it is personal. And so it has been for a long, long time.

Some Puritans, no doubt, came to the New World just to catch fish, but many more came to build a biblical commonwealth, to construct, inhabit, and defend what the first Massachusetts governor, John Winthrop, called a "city upon a hill." Nineteenth-century Americans reinterpreted that spiritual errand as an errand to the West, but as they pushed the frontier across the Mississippi and over the Rockies, they too saw themselves as doing God's work. In the i9&os, Governor Winthrop's evocative phrase became the centerpiece ot President Ronald Reagan's struggle to rid the world of godless communism (and win evangelicals to the Republican Party).

Well into that decade, most American intellectuals remained convinced that religion was collapsing under the weight of modernity or at least was retreating meekly to the private sphere—convinced, in other words, that religion played no more important a role in the life of the nation than it did in their own lives. These intellectuals were wrong. Faith may be fading in the ivory tower and among other partisans of what sociologist Peter Berger has termed "Eurosecularity," but it is vibrant in virtually every other quarter of the United States. Faith remains so vibrant, in fact, that any attempt to understand the nation without understanding its believers is bound to fail. If you want to know what moves America, you need to know what moves Americans. And here a prime mover is God in many guises, religion in its many manifestations.

The First Amendment, of course, prohibits the federal government from establishing religion but says nothing about religious groups consecrating . . .

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