Time for a Museum of American Religion; Faith Deserves Its Own Historical Repository on the Mall
Byline: Chris Stevenson, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
In 1995, my high school geometry class in south-central Montana was scheduled to learn about the ubiquitous ratio pi. Hoping to broaden their mathematical outlook, I told the students to bring in a Bible the following day, if they had one, and we would see that the author of 1 Kings gives us an early value of pi by using the measured circumference and diameter of Israel's molten sea, or baptismal font (which they calculated to be three - accurate if not precise). The students were both unified and somewhat militant in their cry: We can't bring the Bible to school. That's unconstitutional. What about the separation of church and state? In case you think this is too far removed from us in time, I gave my two children attending our local public high school the same scenario just the other day and heard almost the exact same response.
We are all familiar, and most of us even are comfortable, with this avoidance of faith at school, work and play. However, because most of us still believe religion is indispensable to the country, we've also hoped that our public square, void of religious talk and behavior, would be easily compensated by private worship that would give us robust religious understanding and pious behavior. But, as religious and cultural experts tell us and our everyday observations confirm, this hasn't worked out. For example, more and more Americans find it difficult to marry and then remain married, a religious act with powerful social consequences. It also would be hard to argue that America's religious majority can remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Nonetheless, America continues to be unique among developed countries in having a robust and peaceful religious landscape. Yet the forces and movements that make it easier to disregard and even forget America's religious self, such as secularism, materialism, evangelical atheism and even religious extremism, continue to grow and prosper. It appears that the time has come to establish and maintain a National Museum of American Religion on the Mall, which would continuously invite Americans to explore the role religion has played and does play in shaping the social, political and cultural lives of Americans and thus America itself.
Seen as unfortunate and often embarrassing by nonbelievers and as gratifying and often provident by believers, religion has been a viscerally powerful force in American history. …