One of the oldest, most divided and captivating human phenomena is religion. For many, it’s a way of justifying existence and inspiring creation. Religion drove the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome, plunged Europe into the middle ages, spurred the colonization of the new world and caused countless wars that drew the boundary lines of the world as we know them.
Religion has always been present in the conscience of America. A historically Christian country that revered church on Sunday, uses the word “God” in legal proceedings and swears its president into office with one hand on the Bible, America’s traditions and decision making have always included religion.
But recently, America has drifted away from its hyper-Christian roots. Recent supreme court decisions such as 2015’s ruling on gay marriage and Roe vs. Wade from the 1970s as well as broad pop-culture trends suggest that Americans are personally becoming less religious and that religion is not as involved as it used to be in making major governmental decisions.
My purpose in writing this blog is to explore religion/spirituality in America by examining its history, charting its decline, researching its influence and, most importantly and extensively, finding out what it means to the modern American or why it is relevant in our country today. Religious issues are more prevalent in national politics and daily life than ever, and I believe it’s time to focus specifically on the role religion plays in our daily life.
But first, I’d like to use my first post to describe a fairly controversial theory. I believe that America is in the midst of a second Renaissance, and that its movement away from religion in favor of secularism indicates that this is true.
The first, world-changing Renaissance occurred primarily between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. Ancient scholars such as Italy’s Petrarch rediscovered and translated classical texts from ancient Greece and Rome, providing a ‘rebirth of classical learning’ and exploration and breaking the feudal, progressive-stalling traditions of the middle ages. These findings and the subsequent scientific and academic advancement they inspired led to an increased awareness of the self and secular human individuality known as Humanism.
Humanism and religion didn’t mix well, and as the Catholic church lost power, secular pursuits such as art and science flourished. Brilliant minds such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci worked in the same epoch as world shakers like Galileo and Copernicus. Knowledge was accumulated gradually, the quality of life improved, and massive scientific advancements were made in medicine, astronomy, physics, biology and other fields. Martin Luther and his followers created an entirely new religion via the protestant reformation in the early 1500’s. And as peasants were released from their feudal bonds, new political systems emerged. More Renaissance info can be found here: (https://www.britannica.com/event/Renaissance#toc284230 )
But this progress would’ve been unattainable if the religious establishment that controlled Europe throughout the middle ages hadn’t been toppled through skepticism and the formation of new ideas. When religious influence declined, progress in the sciences and arts skyrocketed. Freedom from religious binding allowed the Renaissance to happen.
Theoretically, America now sits in a similar position to late-middle-ages Europe. We are in the process of political upheaval, religion is declining in importance for most Americans and the technological revolution is in full swing. Companies and brands like Google, Apple, Twitter and Amazon are changing our daily lives almost as drastically as the scholars and scientists of the Renaissance. Connectivity is constant and life is incredibly convenient.
The convenience-concerned aspects of these companies—two-day shipping, faster smartphones—have created a new sort of selfish Humanism. We are more focused on our own comfort and individuality than ever, and depend on technology more than any other society in history.
What allows us to do this? A shift in spirituality. These studies conducted by the Pew Research Center ( http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/01/21/americans-spirituality/ )
( http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/03/5-key-findings-about-religiosity-in-the-u-s-and-how-its-changing/ ) indicate that though a feeling of “spiritual peace” and universal curiosity is on the rise among Americans, traditional religious practice and adherence is declining. Theories abound as to why this is the case, from the selfishness of the modern youth to a larger demographic that considers themselves spiritual but not specifically religious.
What the decline in traditional religion may indicate is that our country is currently or about to undergo massive change through technological and cultural advancements, much like ancient Europe during the first Renaissance. If history is any indication, the decline in religious strictness indicates a period of growth.