Roman Catholicism and the American Way of Life

By Thomas T. McAvoy | Go to book overview

WILL HERBERG*


I. Religion and Culture in Present-Day America

I

Whatever may be true about the religious situation, it certainly cannot be doubted that religion is enjoying a boom of unprecedented proportions in America today. Well over 95 per cent of the American people identify themselves religiously, as Protestants, Catholics, or Jews -- an incredibly high figure by all available standards of comparison. The proportion of Americans who are church members -- that is, actually on the rolls of the churches -- has nearly doubled in the past half century; in the last twenty years indeed, church membership has been increasing twice as fast as population. Church and synagogue attendance is rising rapidly, Sunday school enrollment is rising even more rapidly, and religious giving has reached a formidable figure, even allowing for the inflationary devaluation of the dollar. Interest in religion and religious thinking is widespread on all cultural levels. Whatever the criterion of religiousness we take -- and by religiousness I mean the "externals" of religion, using this term in a neutral sense, without prejudice -- we cannot escape the conclusion that we are today witnessing an upsurge of religion without precedent in recent times.

But it is a curious kind of religion. The very same people who are so unanimous in identifying themselves religiously, who are joining churches at an accelerating rate, and who take it for granted that religion is a "very important" thing, do not hesitate to acknowledge

____________________
*
Dr. Will Herberg is Professor of Judaic Studies and Social Philosophy at Drew University. He is the author of Judaism and Modern Man: An Interpretation of Jewish Religion ( 1951) and Protestant-Catholic-Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology ( 1955), as well as editor of The Writings of Martin Buber ( 1956).

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