Sunday, January 27, 2008

Where You Live, How You Worship

One of my favorite blogs is Strange Maps, which offers a very interesting way to look at the world through our various representations of it. Some are funny, some are downright fascinating, and all are at least worth looking at for the way in which they represent someone's attempt to describe the world around us in just two dimensions. Today, in post #237, is a map of the United States showing the distribution and relative dominance of the eight major Christian denominations in the United States. You should read the complete analysis for yourself and draw your own conclusions, but (of course) I have a few thoughts on it. First, here's the map itself:

And here's my take on it...

One of the things you often hear (especially in an election season, and in the context of the current international situation) is that the United States is a "Christian Nation." This map would seem to prove that graphically, but remember a couple of things.

First, this map shows only the eight major Christian denominations; Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and others aren't included in the depiction. Granted, the United States is a majority Christian nation, and you probably wouldn't find most of the other religions with enough of a regional majority to show on a map of this scale, but it's useful to remember that there are, in fact, other forms of worship out there.

Second, don't believe the old chestnut that the United States was established as a Christian nation. It wasn't. The Founders came from a Europe that had been wracked by centuries of religious wars, the terrors of the Spanish Inquisition, and the use of religion by rulers to enforce their will on their populations. They weren't having any of that. That's why the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution) includes - as the very first amendment, no less - these words: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Think about that for a minute. You could live in a paradise like Saudi Arabia, where it's illegal to show the least outward sign of any religion other than the Wahabi sect of Islam. You could live in a paradise like much of the Middle East, where it's illegal to build a church and where preachers endorse enlightened concepts like female genital mutilation, honor killings, and arranged marriages. The Founders weren't "Christians" according to our current understanding of the term...they believed in a God, yet they included these words in Article VI of the Constitution: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

That's worth thinking about at a time when candidates for office are routinely asked where they worship, if they believe in God, how they stand on issues like abortion, and so on. There's a reason the Founders wrote the Constitution the way they did...they'd seen what the heavy hand of oppressive religious belief could do, and didn't want to see it in the new nation they were trying to create. Any crackpot Muslim imam who wants to reduce women to fully-concealed objects walking three paces behind a man can set up a storefront mosque in this country and try to sell his medieval beliefs to those insecure enough to accept them...but you could be sentenced to death for trying to open a church in most of the Muslim world. And if you're a woman, heaven forbid you should be caught on a Saudi Arabian street wearing something pornographic like a short-sleeved blouse or a knee-length skirt.

Think about it.

Many Muslims in this country would like to see Islamic sharia law accepted alongside our state and federal laws, based on their belief that only God's law (as expressed in the Islamic legal code based on the Koran and the Sunnah (traditions of the time of Mohammed) should apply on earth. This is the law that gives you such punishments as cutting off the hands of thieves and stoning those guilty of adultery.

Think about it.

The United States was not established as a rigidly secular or godless nation, but one whose Founders recognized the dangers inherent in the legalized imposition of specific religious beliefs. The founders recognized the need for the nation to safeguard the rights of all people to worship God in their own way.

Unfortunately, to listen to many candidates for office, and to many of the people organizing political campaigns, the only part of the Constitution that matters is the Second Amendment, not the First.

Think about that as you go to your chosen house of worship today.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

Hmmm. So we're most Catholic and Baptist in this country.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Good thought. You may not know, but a new mosque is being built in Oxford, England and they are trying to get permission to announce over speakers times for prayers.

John said...

An interesting map. Most evangelicals (Baptists, Pentecostals, etc.)would not consider Mormons as Christians although most studies (like this one) do.

According to Barna surveys, Islam is growing at such a rate that if the current trend continues, Muslims will outnumber Christians in America by the year 2023.

Jessica said...

I have been taken back at the questions candidates have had to answer regarding their faiths. In fact, at times I have wondered: "Are we electing a pastor or the President of the United States of America?"

There is a film that just came out
titled: "Article VI: Faith. Politics. America." The film was directed by Bryan Hall and Jack Donaldson. It is an intense discussion of the role of faith in politics. The title is taken from Article Six of the United States Constitution: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

If you haven't seen the trailer I suggest you check it out:

(DVD's just went on sale as well.) Let me know what you think!

Bilbo said...

Jessica, thanks for your comment and for pointing out the "Article VI" film. I was unaware of it, and watched the trailer with interest...I will probably, in fact, order the full DVD, since it's not too expensive. I noted also on the film website you gave the URL to that there's a blog associated with the film...there's also some interesting commentary there. Thanks again for reading and commenting, and for pointing me to an interesting new source of information! Bilbo.

Jessica said...

No problem. If I hear about any free steamings online I will let you know! Have a good day.