Roman Catholicism and the American Way of Life

By Thomas T. McAvoy | Go to book overview

THOMAS T. McAvoy, C.S.C


Introductory Essay

There is perhaps no element in the culture of the American immigrant about which he has been more sensitive than his religious belief. The importance of this religious sensitivity is perpetuated because in America this religious faith is the one point on which the immigrant cannot be disturbed. There have, of course, been many immigrants who have come to this country in a spirit of rebellion against a religion which had been imposed on them by force in the countries of their origin, but in a sense that rebellion too is an element of religion. Strangely the cause of this religious sensitiveness lies in the almost universal rule that prior to modern times religion was considered a part of government in the sense of a part of the national faith. A religion was maintained if not imposed as part of the public life of most countries from which the American immigrants came. The fact that the United States, while in practice a religious nation, maintained no religion as part of the national life was the most important factor in any discussion of the relation between religion and the immigrant in this country. The second factor in any discussion of the religious life of the immigrant, one which is very much forgotten, is that for practical purposes all the present residents of the United States, except the American Indians, are immigrants either in their own persons or in those of their ancestors, one or several generations back.

Of these two factors governing the religious life of the immigrant, freedom from religious oppression is perhaps the most fundamental in American life, because it is freedom, whether political, religious, social, or economic, that has been the greatest boon offered to the immigrant, at least since the formation of the Constitution. But outside of the Fourth of July orations and occasional appeals in court to the Constitution in individual cases, no one regards this American freedom as

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