"A New Religious America"
A review of Diana Eck's much-discussed book on pluralism
Mosques in Ohio, Hindu temples in Tennessee, Buddhist monasteries in Minnesota, Sikh gurdwaras in Maryland, Jains and Zoroastrians and Wiccans in Wyoming and Texas and Mississippi--that's the United Stares in the year 2001, "the most religiously diverse nation in the world," according to the book "A New Religious America" by Harvard professor Diana Eck. Not only is there more variety of spiritual beliefs in the United States today than in any other nation, Eck writes, there's more than in any nation at any time in history. The Founders dreamed of freedom of religion, and Americans are now exercising that freedom to an unprecedented degree.
But though minarets and golden domes may be going up in the suburbs, ours is still fundamentally a Christian nation. Eighty-two percent of Americans call themselves Christian, according to anApril 2001 Gallup poll
. That's down only a little from the 89% of Americans who told Gallup they were Christian when polling on this subject began in 1947. In the latest Gallup figures, a combined 10% chose all non-Christian spiritual categories--Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Earth-based, and the rest. That means Christians trump all over religious traditions more than eight-to-one.
And America's Christians are highly observant, with 57% attending services regularly (defined as once or more per month), versus just 10% regular attendance in the United Kingdom and 20% in Italy--home of the Vatican--or for that matter, 25% regular attendance of Jewish services in Israel.
In turn, owing to population increases, America today holds far more Christians than it did a generation ago: roughly 230 million followers of Jesus, versus roughly 130 million when the postwar era began. The growth in U.S. non-Christian belief may be important and interesting. The growth in U.S. Christian belief is spectacular.
Former Arkansas governor Kirk Fordice was excoriated in 1992 when he called America "a Christian nation." But as a simple factual statement, along the lines of calling the United States "a nation located in North America," America is Christian by history, culture, and most important, by the free choice of its citizens. If you don't view America through the lens of Christianity, you can't understand it.