Since its inception, the United States has demonstrated a culture of religious diversity, pluralism, and tolerance. This paper examines the extent to which a non-Christian tradition has been developing in the United States.
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In recent years, specific global phenomena such as secularization, immigration, and technology have continued to transform the religious landscape of the United States to one that is pluralistic, wherein Christianity is one religion amongst many.
The Development of a Non-Christian Tradition in the United States
Religious practice in the United States has been synonymous with religious tolerance since the founding fathers decreed so in the First Amendment with the words, “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (“Bill of Rights”, n.d.).
More recently, according to Salem (2010), the United States has demonstrated that it “has a culture of pluralism because…it has been the setting for a multitude of responses to religious diversity. Most of these responses reflect attempts on the part of Americans at redefining their religious…unity…in light of the changing face of the American people” (Salem 2010).
Steinfels (2009) notes that globally, the United States continues to rank not only as one of the more consciously Christian Westernized countries, but also as a country more concerned with religion in general, especially when compared to European nations (Steinfels 2009). “Nearly 6 out of 10 Americans pray one or more times each day; high percentages report feeling close to God, experiencing God’s presence or guidance on most days.
Faith in God, they say, is “very important” in their lives” (Steinfels 2009). This paper examines the extent to which a non-Christian tradition has been developing in the United States. In recent years, specific global phenomena such as secularization, immigration, and technology have continued to transform the religious landscape of the United States to one that is pluralistic, wherein Christianity is one religion amongst many.
Secularization has wrought sweeping changes in the United States in recent years, and created not only an increasingly non-Christian environment, but one that is also decidedly non-religious.
In his article Globally, Religion Defies Easily Identified Patterns, Steinfels (2009) analyzed the finding of a report conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center which suggests that the number of Americans who distance themselves from any religious affiliation is on the rise (Steinfels 2009). “Those who do belong are less likely to say they are strong members.
Regular attendance at religious services has declined, and the numbers never worshiping have increased” (Steinfels 2009). Overall, the report found that the “tilt of religious change in the United States over the last half century has clearly been in the secular direction” (Steinfels 2009).
General interest in religion itself is ebbing, according to Steinfels, and thanks to “more modernization in general and…more education in particular, religious beliefs and behaviors across countries do tend to decline” (Steinfels 2009).
Given that “modernization is…linked to scientific knowledge and progress…college-educated workers, scientists, engineers and physicians are less likely to believe firmly in God, believe in an afterlife, pray daily and attend religious services weekly” (Steinfels 2009). With secularization on the rise, the non-Christian tradition in the United States also grows.
Nowhere is the growing secularism of the United States more apparent than during the Christmas holidays. Grossman (2010) understands that “Christmas is no longer about baby Jesus and the sheep. It’s solstice with friends, Saturnalia at the office party. At Thanksgiving, you say grace, but at Christmas, you take a break and you go on vacation. It’s been downgraded on the religion calendar” (Grossman 2010).
Secularism erodes the boundaries between faiths, and promotes an environment of tolerance for non-Christian faiths, albeit via growing religious indifference. A 2008 survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life “found that 52 percent of American Christians say at least some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life.
The…survey found 62 percent of people who follow non-Christian religions still celebrate Christmas, along with 89 percent of people who say they’re agnostic or have no religious identity and 55 percent of atheists” (Grossman 2010)
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Immigration continues to develop the non-Christian tradition in the United States. Salem (2010) understands that immigration, specifically that of practicing Muslims into the fabric of the United States religious culture, supports “religious pluralism in the [United States]…post 9/11…[and]…America’s religious identity as the Muslim moment in the long-standing pilgrimage in American religious history towards participatory pluralism” (Salem 2010).
The United States resembles more and more a country of immigrants (Salem 2010). This influx of non-Christian religions through immigration expands the experience of all religious peoples in the United States and promotes awareness and understanding of one another (Salem 2010).
Technology is a major contributor to the development of a non-Christian tradition in the United States. Practicing Hindus, Zoroastrians, Muslims, Buddhists and Taoists gain access to each other online, and via the numerous technological networks which maintain contact between non-Christians living in the United States and their home religions.
Fletcher (2008) highlights the fact that “religion and culture are not contained in the bounded landscape of nations, but they flow, change, and take influence from encounters with other forms of religion and culture in a dynamic setting” (Fletcher 2008).
Technology maintains a non-Christian tradition in the United States as it provides religious affirmation, and allows non-Christians to experience their home religions continuously, in their daily lives. As Fletcher notes, “Indians resident in the U.S. can tune in to Indian TV news, alternate with an American show, and tune back to Indian satellite programs, and in India foreign broadcasts are more widely available….
Many Turks abroad lead multicultural lives, tune to Turkish, German, and other European broadcasts. They follow Turkish news, music, and shows and choose between Hollywood, Bollywood, or Cairo films…. Migrant remittances are major revenue flows for the Philippines, Mexico, Pakistan, India and so on. Irish and Scottish politicians canvas expatriates overseas, and Mexican politicians campaign among Mexicans living in the U.S.
Transnational relations are no longer simply two-way between country of origin and migration but across diasporic settlements in multiple continents” (Fletcher 2008). Technology essentially allows non-Christians to transplant their native religions to United States soil electronically.
Similarly, in the article Religious Pluralism and the Coincidence of Opposites, Delio (2009) points to the “awareness of other religions [that] has largely expanded through the development of technology” (Delio 2009). An additional result of the increased awareness presents as the development of a “global consciousness,” which subsumes all religions and transcends national borders (Delio 2009).
The “tribe is no longer the local community but the global community that can now be accessed immediately via television, Internet, satellite communication, and travel. Technology has fundamentally altered our view of the world and ourselves in the world” (Delio 2009).
The most exciting element wrought by the emergence of technology in the arena of religion is that “[f]or the first time since the appearance of human life on our planet…all of the tribes, all of the nations, all of the religions are beginning to share a common history” (Delio 2009).
What this means for the United States is that Christianity now becomes one religion among many, and while this may mean it loses some of its dominance on home soil, it can also mean that it expands its presence globally. Delio (2009) speaks of this phenomenon as “an interrelatedness of religious centers of consciousness” (Delio 2009).
The essential nature of technology, especially when speaking of the online community, is pluralistic. There is room for everyone online. Delio (2009) understands that the inherent pluralism of technology encourages “an awareness of religious diversity [that] has reached a new level of convergence” (Delio 2009).
This convergence of culture and religion goes beyond tolerance; it promotes cross cultural engagement between Christians and non-Christians in the United States (Delio 2009). This engagement transcends simple lip service to diversity, and creates “the energetic engagement with diversity.
Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is…an achievement. …[P]luralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference” (Delio 2009).
In conclusion, the pluralism encouraged by the founding fathers in the First Amendment has come to fruition in the United States as a result of three important factors: secularization, which is a global phenomena and not exclusive to the United States, however largely responsible for the budding of the non-Christian tradition through increased religious apathy.
Immigration continues to attract non-Christians to the United States, and technology allows them to continue to practice their home religions while residing in the United States. Technology has the added affect of transmitting and imparting its essential pluralistic quality on to many different religions which now call the United States home.
Archives.gov, n.d. Constitution of the United States: The Bill of Rights. Archives.gov. Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/
Delio, I. (2009). Religious pluralism and the coincidence of opposites. Theological Studies 70 (4), 822-845.
Fletcher, J.H. (2008). Religious pluralism in an era of globalization: the making of modern religious identity. Theological Studies 69 (2), 394-412.
Grossman, C.L. (2010, Dec. 21). Survey: For many, Jesus isn’t the reason for the season. USA Today.
Salem, H. (2010). A golden opportunity: religious pluralism and American Muslims strategies of integration in the US after 9/11, 2001. Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies 9 (27), 246-261.
Steinfels, P. (2009, October 23). Globally, religion defies easily identified patterns. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/