As we know, religious practice and affiliation has greatly declined but more importantly, religious practice and belief have changed in the U.S.. These trends can be observed and identified in the Pew Research Center’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.
For example, one trend that was identified is that belief in god has wavered: according to a Gallup survey, in 1966, 98% of Americans said they believed in God, and when Pew Research surveyed Americans in 2014, the number had dropped to 89%.
Another trend is that overall Christianity has declined and new groups have emerged. In 1948, Gallup found that about 91% of Americans identified as Christian, and in 2014, that number fell to 70.6%. Nearly one in three Americans under 35 today are religiously unaffiliated, as a whole, these “nones” make up the second largest religious group in the U.S., after evangelical Protestants.
In addition, although religious practice has declined, spirituality appears to be stronger than ever. The term “spiritual but not religious” has emerged in recent years to describe how more and more Americans identify. Even among the “nones” and there are those who say religion is important; spiritual sentiment is strong and growing. According to Pew Research, between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of atheists who said they felt a deep sense of wonder about the universe on a weekly basis rose a full 17 points from 37 to 54%.
Lastly, there has been a slow, but steady rise in non-Christian faiths in the U.S.. Pew Research predicts that by 2050, Muslims will surpass Jews as the second largest organized religious group after Christians and that Hindus will rise from 0.7% to 1.2% of the U.S. population in 2050.
In class this week, we discussed several forms of organized religion, one of these ways being “charismatic” organization. As we know, in the United States, there has been a decline in the number of people who attend organized religions services over the past few years. Speaking from personal experience, I would have to say that this phenomenon could be attributed to the lack of entertainment that church provides for younger generations, and sometimes even older ones.
Growing up, I remember going to church and my parents always walking up to the pastor and thanking him for his beautiful sermon. Eventually that pastor left our church (for reasons unknown) and we got a new one, who my parents weren’t so fond of, he was older, slower and not as entertaining; he had no charisma. My family, along with many others, actually stopped going to mass because he was that boring. When presented with the idea of a charismatic polity on class, I realized that, for my family, church isn’t about the story that is being told, but rather, HOW it is being told and the emotions that the speaker evokes from their audience.
It is interesting to see this pattern repeated over and over again throughout the US. In Lakewood Church, Texas, Lakewood Church, one of the flagships of the megachurch phenomenon in America, more than 40,000 member each week attend service, and yet when asked what denomination it belongs to, the typical answer would be “none”. There is a uniquely American quality to the new post-religion spirituality that is emerging in the US. The Big Round Church that is replacing America’s Little White Churches incorporates Christian themes into a consumer-oriented experience and the authority of religious denominations is being replaced by the magnetism of a charismatic pastor.
At Harvard University, a graduate from 2007 named Sheehan D. Scarborough, recently took control of the LGBTQ student life office. He believes that one’s sexuality does not effect or relate to religion. He believes that one should not be prioritized more than the other when walking into church or the club. Scarborough had a very religious and strict upbringing and was not allowed to do a number of things. He struggled with his own sexuality and how to live with knowing that his decisions were against the Bible. Harvard’s faith groups are now very open to discussion about sexuality and it’s place in religion. Scarborough aims for positive conversations and outcomes for students who may be struggling with this internal struggle.
This past week, everyone shared their congregational visit stories and how different they were. I thought it was interesting that some churches were involved with the LGBTQ community and one pastor even had a lesbian pastor! The view that anything other than heterosexuality is wrong is something that is starting to evolve. I think it’s a good thing that the world and this generation are beginning to mix the two, because ultimately it’ll bring religious and non-religious people closer.
This last week we discussed the difference between an official religion and unofficial religions and thought about my past with religion. All my life I’ve been a Christian and have been told that my religion is what will get me into Heaven as long as I followed the rules. I’m pretty sure I am apart of an official religion, because we have a specific place to praise, worship, and practice and have an official book to get our scriptures from. I have friends that say they practice religion, but do not go to church. They believe in the religion, but they do not really participate in it. Does that mean that they are apart of an official or unofficial religion if they practice on their own terms? People also have the option to view church from home from the television or on the radio. I for one, have listened to church on the radio and have watched it on television. I didn’t feel as much of a connection when I did this instead going to church, because I was able to go on my cellular device and was able to walk away from it at any time. I think this new generation isn’t as connected to religion as they are able to be, because they have alternate ways to go to/view church. I think this makes it easier for people to be apart of an unofficial religion.
Reading this article, “How Islam Took Root in One of South America’s Most Violent Cities”, reminded me of all the ways in which religion can bring people together and also empower them in some ways. The people of Buenaventura, Columbia live in a city in which there is much violence, crime, and poverty. In the 1960s Islam was first brought to this community by Esteban Mustafa Melendez, and African-American sailor who taught about the Nation of Islam. To the people of this city, “The Nation of Islam offered an alternative identity and it was a way to fight back against the situation of structural racial discrimination in the port.” 90 percent of the population was Afro-Columbian and to them the message of black power and self-esteem united them in a time that was fraught with racism and violence.
The people who joined the small Muslim community learned to read Arabic, read the Qu’ran, and looked to Saudi Arabia for guidance on Sunni and Shia interpretations. The community that started off small quickly took off in the 1979 following the Islamic Revolution. A community center that doubled as a mosque was built as well as a school that integrates Spanish and Arabic songs praising Allah. portraits of Malcolm X and the Ayatollah Khamenei are hung on the walls and the people greet each other with ““Salaam alekum” and then switching back to Spanish.
This is an amazing example to me of how religion can take root in a community and bring people together as well as provide a means for self-empowerment and a haven from the violence that surrounds their daily lives. This community is also an example of how religious organizations can interact with their social environments and embed itself into the culture of a people. In McGuire Chapter 6, she talks about social cohesion in society and how religion is the expression of social forces and social ideals. The people in this community wanted to change the rhetoric of how they view themselves and strove towards ideals that were accomplished partially through the adoption of Islam.
How Islam Took Root in Buenaventura (Link)
Terrorism has slowly become a huge danger and fear that has spread across our world. Countries are beginning to not trust each other and begin to think that when another person is affiliated with another religion, they could possibly be in danger. In early December 2016, Slovakia passed a law that will effectively ban Islam from becoming a religion that people can practice in that country. By banning the Islamic religion, Slovakia hopes to get rid of any Muslims that are currently living in Europe and could potentially become a threat. The Parliament in Slovakia adopted a bill which needs a religion to have at least 50,000 members to qualify for the religion to be noticed and be able to have its own legislature. When the bill was passed there was only 2,000 supporters in Slovakia according to the last census and hardly any mosques. It is a little disrespectful to stereotype people and their actions based off of their religion and what they believe in. But if a religion does believe in things that could possibly be harmful to others, I understand why a country like Slovakia would take these actions.