Religion might be considered as a means or method of expressing ones belief in and devotion to a being or entity that transcends the human individual. The idea of an American religion is sustainable to a certain degree, as historically the nation has been subject to the developing influence of certain traditional religious groups.
However, because of the splintering of religion as well as the desire to keep the nation free from religious tyranny, it has also been apparent that the United States exists without any governing or unifying religious requirement. Furthermore, if one considers religion to be expressed through belief in and devotion to a particular being, entity, or idea, then the United States might be seen to be populated by a group of persons who devote themselves to several different ideologies, so that no single American religion exists.
Yet despite these dissenting views, when one judges by the underlying sentiments of the majority of the nation toward non-Protestant religions, as well as the existence of elected or appointed officials of the Protestant arm of Christianity in governmental positions, it might be said that the overarching religion of the United States is in fact Protestant Christianity. The United States was first populated in the seventeenth century by Pilgrims and Puritans who sought liberation from tyrannical oppression specifically through the freedom to practice their non-conformist Protestant religion (Seelye, 58).
These persons sought to build a community based on the religious practices they desired the freedom to perform. The fact that these advocates of the Christian religion were founders of the American nation gives credence to the idea that the American religion is steeped in Christianity. Certainly, the laws that govern the society are based on many laws advocated by the religion. The actions of the American settlers during and subsequent to the time of the Pilgrims also point toward Protestant and Non-Conformist Christianity being the religion of the United States.
Expansion was often effected through the missionary efforts of Americans, who acted in the name of Christianity as well as of the United States. Other factors that lead to the idea of Protestantism as being the religion of America are the prevailing fear and distrust of Catholicism that has existed within the country throughout its years (Carty, 11). This fear has been seen in several areas, but is markedly represented in the sentiments surrounding the election to the U. S. presidency of John F. Kennedy (11).
This president was known to be a Catholic, and during his candidacy, his affiliation with that religion was widely considered a significant barrier to his election. Father Thurston Davis, editor-in-chief of the Jesuit magazine America, made a telling comment concerning JFK and the religious sentiments of the general American population. He said Kennedy had been found to conduct himself “more or less as almost any Catholic President might have been expected to conduct himself in a land largely dominated by a strong residual Protestant tradition” (“Catholic view,” 1962).
Other politicians and leaders, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, have been known to oppose American governmental support of Catholic schools (Carty, 69), and this too gives the impression that Protestantism might be considered America’s religion. It is also possible to oppose the idea of Christianity or any other religion as being the religion of the American state. It has been argued that the United States constitution forbids the imposition of religion of any sort upon an individual residing in the country (Young).
Therefore, no form of religion should, according to the American constitution, be required in schools, courts, or any other governmentally run or chartered institution. This gives the impression that the United States has no particular religion, as this separation of church and state was mandated in an effort to preserve the practice of all varieties of religion within the country. However, one may still counteract this idea of America’s not entertaining Christianity as its state religion when one considers the continued existence of chaplains in Congress and in the military.
This points to the existence of a double standard, and hints that although America pretends to be welcoming of all religions and partial to none, a strong undercurrent of devotion to the peculiarly Protestant brand of Christianity still exists within the country. According to John Young in his essay entitled “Why Does Congress Still Have a Chaplain,” James Madison “had warned way back when that Catholics and other non-Protestants had virtually no chance of serving in such a capacity. Since then, only two Catholics have been House chaplain. No Jews. No Hindus. No Muslims. No Buddhists. No surprise.
” Young expresses the idea that since so many Americans are at least nominally or traditionally affiliated to Protestant organizations, the existence of any chaplain in the U. S. Congress would lead to the appointment of mainly the religious representatives of Protestant Christianity to fill that position. Since this has proven to be the case, one might argue that despite opinions to the contrary, the official American religion is in fact Protestant Christianity. The separation of church and state, which is considered to be advocated by the United States Constitution, points toward America’s having no official religion.
The fact that prayer and Bible reading is now restricted within schools and other governmental institutions would give the impression that Christianity is certainly not the religion of choice for most Americans. Yet, America was founded by a group of people whose main reason for crossing the Atlantic was to garner the freedom to practice their Protestant religion. Furthermore, the existence of strong anti-Catholic sentiments throughout the country and the continued existence chaplain positions in governmental bodies defies this idea. This points instead to the presence of a deeply Protestant tradition to which most Americans adhere.
References Carty, T. A Catholic in the White House? Religion, politics, and John. F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. New York: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2004. “Catholic view of JFK. ” Time (in partnership with CNN). 19 January 1962. 29 April 2007. http://www. time. com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,895853,00. html Seelye, John. Memory’s Nation: The Place of Plymouth Rock. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. Young, John. “Why Does Congress Still Have a Chaplain. ” Sun Networks. December 1999. 29 April 2007. http://www. sunnetworks. net/~ggarman/young. htm
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