What makes America unique is religious freedom. There’s been no comparison in human history. Our Founding Fathers made this clear and simple: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the exercise thereof. This rule of law, guaranteed by the First Amendment in the nation’s Bill of Rights, has stood the test of time.
But there’s a caveat, a critical one. Freedom only works if most Americans respect their fellow Americans. Of course, no one always perfectly honors and respects all people or their rights because there are no such things as perfect people. There has never been such. There are pseudo-idealists, but none has succeeded, and most have left a living hell on earth in their wake.
As James Madison wrote, “If men were angels, no laws would be necessary.” It’s why we have laws in the first place. Our nation continues to improve them, albeit imperfectly. Yet diehards still yearn for a perfect world. But a static world ends up being nothing more than a boring one. Instead, the world is in need of creative solutions.
Religion has always played a role in moral development. The difference today is our hyper-global presence. The world is integrated in ways that were never imagined before. Culture, concepts of transcendence, demographics, sociopolitical movements, politics, and economics find themselves in constant challenge. Religion is rarely isolated from any of these factors.
In a 2021 Pew Research Center survey, 63% of Americans identified as Christians. Fifty years ago, it was 90%. Much has changed in American religion since then. In fact, the same survey reported that the Christian majority in the United States will drop below 50% by 2070. Population increases have altered our nation’s demographics.
Furthermore, religion has been fraught with controversy since before the hunter gatherers. What’s unique is the diversity and rapid change that characterize the world today. The culture wars have taken over with a vengeance. It’s little surprise, then, that our social, political and economic structures have dramatically shifted.
A little history is helpful. When I was born in 1938, the population of America was about 129 million compared to today’s 332 million. At the time, the world population was almost 2 billion people. Today, it’s more than four times that. Few have caught up to these changes. We have yet to comprehend their ramifications.
Numerous religious bodies as well as non-religious organizations have become more open and helpful in aiding humanity. Collaboration, regardless of religious affiliations, is a new hallmark. Working together is more productive than hate. These are some of the advantages of this global world, hardly perfect but improving.
The population explosion also has expanded the number of other religious groups: Muslim, Hindu, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and a myriad of others. That’s good news. But there is an underlying spiritual disorder that haunts our psyche. Many young people think of worship activities as a social concept instead of a formal religious practice. Regardless, improving health, hunger, water quality, education, pollution, and global warming certainly energizes many youth.
Today, no one can know everything. The complexity is overwhelming. More than ever, there is a need for cooperation and collaboration. The same is true for our political and religious institutions. Those who work collaboratively make for a better world.
On the other hand, evil is a hard reality. Today’s challenges are mind-numbing. The world confronts stark realities of exploitation, destruction, abuse, killing, and starvation, to mention a few. But it is much worse today. We sit on the cornerstones of nuclear destruction and biological holocausts. Who wants to ponder such things?
In the end, we are responsible for what we do. Faith still holds many strands together. And we hope that conscience will guide us wisely in our sojourn.