"A New Religious America"

A review of Diana Eck's much-discussed book on pluralism

BY: Gregg Easterbrook

 

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That America could become so religiously diverse, while remaining basically Christian, might have pleased the Founders enormously. Most of the Founders presumed the United States would be Christian, and George Washington even said that Christianity would be essential to the new nation's moral character. But the Founders were also disgusted by the spiritual strife that had marred so much of Europe's past, and by the notion of state-mandated religion.

One Nation, Under God

  • Read an excerpt of Diana Eck's new book.

  • In an interview, Diana Eck says we are a Christian nation no longer.

  • Another view: Despite pluralism, Rick Rood says, there is still just one way to God.

  • Explore the website of Eck's Pluralism Project.
  • When they spoke of freedom of religion, what the Founders had first in mind was the freedom to choose among Christian denominations; or to choose to reject Christianity, and believe nothing. Thomas Jefferson, when he wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom--which he called a more important achievement than the Declaration of Independence--did not have Jainism in mind.

    But the fact that it's worked out that America, conceived as a Christian society, has opened its door to virtually all of the world's non-Christian faiths is totally consistent with the American concept of religious freedom. Arriving here 200 years ago, new Americans wanted the right to practice whichever Christian view they embraced, without encountering the prejudice or state interference directed against them in their native lands. Today many Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and others arriving in the United States seek the same thing--the freedom to worship as they choose, a freedom their native countries may deny. No American Christian who claims the right of religious freedom can begrudge the same right to the plural beliefs of others. That this so far hasn't been a problem--diverse faiths are blooming in the United States with comparatively few instances of intolerance--is testament to the fact that the majority of Americans mean what they say about the right to determine your own faith. Who can doubt that American beliefs are so robust exactly because no one can tell an American what to believe?

    But while we celebrate, as we should, the growth of non-Judeo-Christian faiths and the nation's ability to accommodate them, let's not lose sight of the center. America is "a Christian nation," by numbers, by observance, by authenticity of belief. Christian views should not have anything to do with government, of course, nor ever be used against non-Christians. But if you had to choose one salient thing about United States spiritual culture, it would not be the growth of plural forms. It would be the strong, solid, and serious Christian majority.

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