Type: Research Essays
Sample donated: Deborah Jackson
Last updated: September 28, 2019
In the past fewdecades America’s religious identity has been a point of discussion. Aspolitics and cultural issues become more deeply rooted in religiousaffiliation, society seeks to understand what religious identity captures the Americantradition. Many people claim the United States personifies many differentreligious identities, but some claim it embodies just one. Although I believethat the United States, in its current state, embodies a mosaic of religiousidentities that come together to make it diverse and productive. Through anexamination of the origins of America and the impact of the settler’s religionon national identity while also looking at the influence of immigration andintegration on American religious identity, it become obvious that while theUnited States could claim to be rooted in Christian ideals, its identity as anation and civil religion has shifted to become more inclusive. The United Statesposses a history similar to many other nations, one initiated from a beliefsystem of a single origin.
In the seventeenth century different factions ofBritish citizens felt oppressed for their religious beliefs. Whether it wasdisagreement of theology or hopes of reform, the rooted ideals of these groupswere not recognized because they stood in contrast to the cardinal beliefsystem of the nation, chief of these groups were English Protestants. The hopebrought on by the concept of the New World led the Protestants to call it theirnew home. As the Library of Congressputs it, “Beginning in 1630 as many as 20,000 Puritans emigrated to Americafrom England to gain the liberty to worship God as they chose. Most settled inNew England, but some went as far as the West Indies” (Foster, Taylor,Boecklin, Tanner, & Luyken 1998).
The New World, more specifically NewEngland, embodied a potential productive home for the religious beliefs thatwere discounted in most all of British society, and because of this, a majorityof the inhabitants of early America were Protestant. This Protestant traditioncan easily be seen infiltrating and penetrating every aspect of those early societies.Protestantism exemplifieda unifying factor within these New World societies.
This core system of beliefsoffered a standardized platform of moral attributes and societal interaction forvery one to follow, in fact these societies were coined “Bible Commonwealths”.Facing History and Ourselves expands on this nickname with, “The New Englandcolonies have often been called “Bible Commonwealths” because theysought the guidance of the scriptures in regulating all aspects of the lives oftheir citizens. Scripture was cited as authority for many criminal statutes” (Foster,Taylor, Boecklin, Tanner, & Luyken 1998). Protestantism was no longer justthe reason that caused them to leave the chains of forced religious adherencein Britain, but a dictation of their way of life. In fact, those that livedwithin most of the American colonies were forced to participate in thisprotestant tradition. Schools were run in accordance to Protestant beliefs,governments were mandated by Protestant ideals, and society symbolicallyadhered to the stories put forth by Protestant scriptures. Facing History andOurselves speaks of another example, “Laws mandated that everyone attend ahouse of worship and pay taxes that funded the salaries of ministers.
Eight ofthe thirteen British colonies had official, or “established,” churches, and inthose colonies dissenters who sought to practice or proselytize a differentversion of Christianity or a non-Christian faith were sometimes persecuted”(Religion in Colonial America). Thesefew examples prove the deep integration of Protestantism in early Americanhistory—an integration that is not easily shed. This Americanidentity forged by Protestantism in early American society stands as a chiefsource of proof for those that claim that the United States is soley a”Christian Nation”. American modern “Civil Religion” which Albanese defines as,”a religious system that has existed alongside the churches, with a theology(creed), an ethnic (code), and a set of rituals and other identifiable symbols (cultures)related to the state” also engages a lot of concepts taken from the Protestant tradition(Albanese 2013).
For instance, the holiday Christmas is greatly celebrated inevery state within America. Its original purpose stems from the celebration ofthe Christian savior, Jesus, and his birth. Christians see the holiday as anembodiment of their salvation, and while a lot of America don’t participate inthe holiday for that reason, it still remains as one of the most celebrateddays in America. Therefore with the history of America being so deeply rootedin Protestant ideals, and our “Civil Religion” containing aspects of theChristian religion it is easy to see why people perceive America to be a”Christian Nation”. Although, I counter that with the influx of immigration andthus more incoming religions, America has evolved to become more than just a”Christian Nation”.
America has becomeone of the number one destinations for immigration. A pew research study statedthat, “nearly 59 million immigrants have arrived in the United States, pushingthe country’s foreign-born share to a near record 14%” (“Modern Immigration”2015). That stat expresses the new people that have sought to call America homesince 1965.
The year 1965 is important because of the Hart-Cellar ImmigrationAct passed in that year, which sought to eliminate religious discrimination.Sociology of Religion expands on the effects of this Act by stating it wouldresult in, ” the abolition of the country-of-origin quotas established in 1924,and the dramatic increase in immigration visas provided to people from Asia andLatin America, in particular, significantly alter the racial and ethnicbackground of immigrants” (Dillon 2004). This Act began to tear down thetraditional social construct in America that had existed since the colonialera. It represented a turn for equality—a future America, embodying more idealsthan just those that showed up on their shore three centuries past.
Dilloncontinues to detail the change this Act brought with, “Along with increaseddiversity in national origins, the new immigrants are creating greaterreligious diversity in the United States as they transplant their home countryreligions into their new neighborhoods” (Dillon 2004). Because fourteen percentof the US population is now foreign born with their own set of beliefs andcultural standards, it makes sense that the religious diversity in the US willcontinue to increase thus detracting and reducing the proof behind the claimthat America is soley a “Christian Nation”. This alteration of American identity can be seen with the way American”Civil Religion” has altered to become more inclusive. Using the previousprotestant answer of Christmas, an argument can be made that the holiday seasonhas become less based off of the biblical Christian ideals and more considerateof other religious traditions. One hundred years ago, the Christmas seasonwould have been just that, Christmas, the terms “Happy Holidays” would not haveexisted in excess if it weren’t for the inclusivity society has sought due toan influx of different beliefs. Also more time than ever, it seems as ifsociety is giving more weight to religious holidays that fall within the same parametersas Christmas such as Hanukah.
No longer is the month of December soley aboutthe Nativity scene, Carols, and “Merry Christmas”, but the celebration offriendship and family. Within the pastcentury, American identity has greatly changed. With the settlers of the UScoming with the mentality to establish a nation of Protestant, Christianvalues, American society became a factory of the Protestant tradition. Theearly colonies and states were saturated with Christian values whether it wastheir education system, government, etc.
Thus resulting in a history heavilyladen with Christian values and a rooted Protestant “Civil Religion”. Althoughwith the influx of immigration and inclusivity brought on by the Hart-CellarImmigration Act, this Christian American mentality began to alter. Whenexamining the impact of the settler’s religion on national identity while alsolooking at the influence of immigration and integration on American religiousidentity, its obvious that while the United States could claim to be rooted inChristian ideals, its identity as a nation and civil religion has shifted tobecome more inclusive.