Define “Religious”

“Americans–at least American Protestants–are not, in fact, very religious. True, the great majority believes in God. Most say that religion is important to their lives. Compared with citizens of other highly industrialized countries, American Protestants go to church with astonishing regularity. Nonetheless, if being religious means an understanding of creed, a confessional loyalty that clearly separates worldly purposes from worship, and a refusal to try to make God’s power ‘relevant,’ then most American Protestants have merely confused the sacred with their well-known devotion to practical results” (R. Laurence Moore in the Foreword of D.G. Hart’s The Lost Soul of American Protestantism [Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002] ix).

16 thoughts on “Define “Religious”

  1. It seems that saying I am religious, simply means that I believe in religion. Not that I necessarily believe in any particular notion of God.

    The question, really, is not if I am religious.

    The question is, what do I worship?

    Do I worship God, money, trees, power, intellect, myself?

  2. We’ve been slamming on ourselves pretty hard lately.

    Lot’s of articles out lately about how bad things are, how wrong the religious movements are going, how dejected we get when things don’t appear to be headed the right direction.

    I’m thinking that things may not really be that bad.

    Just the fact that the discussions are taking place indicates a renewed focus on these issues, and an effort to focus on the right things.

    These quotes seem very relevant to me today:

    “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18.

    “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.

  3. Undoubtedly, Americans are quite religious, but religiousity itself has no inherit standing before God. So, I can grant the above statement’s factuality, I can’t grant that it is of any value.

    On the outright negative side, teaching that characterize most Protestantism in America include 1)lack of real presence 2) lack of efficacious baptisms 3) lack of infant and young children baptisms 4) lack of connection or recognition of the history of our religion 5) emphasis on what the individual does in response to God’s work, rather than emphasis on God’s work itself.

    This collection does not make us look as good as the simple “religiousness” statistics indicate.

  4. Very true David.

    Much easier to build a congregation if you don’t commit on any of the contentious issues.

    Just leave it up to the individual to decide for themselves… {sigh}

  5. Well, this is purely an outsider view (not exactly, though…) but I think you can not stress too much how specific American evangelical religiosity is. For me, it is a unique phenomenon, shaped by history and sociology (THAT is not a problem). Among its main weaknesses, I would list individualism, disconnection with the past (no catholicity), pragmaticism (not a good thing in my eyes).
    Another thing intrigues me: given the strengh and the wealth of American churches, how can we explain that America has not produced more original contributions to the field of theology? Of course, there are Lutherans, Reformed, Episcopalians…but those guys have strong European roots.
    There is a very specific American religiosity, I am not sure there is an American theology per se.

  6. The “Judeo-Christian” perspective is an American phenomenon. Mostly by accident though. But different that historical European perspectives of Judaism and Christianity. Not sure that is the issue here though.

    Rugged individualism is an American trademark (not just US, but most all of North American) that is very much reflected in the churches. Everyone is free to believe whatever they want, which can lead many to take liberties with church doctrine and general theology. The American contribution really, is that you don’t have to pick between the top three religions, you can make up your own any time you want… but then, I’m not sure this is really a good thing.

  7. Of course there is a strong American theology… In fact, there are several: Mormonism, Pentecostalism, Neo-evangelicalism, and others. All made with pride in the USA. Actually, if something is “religious” and “invented in America” isn’t it by definition either schismatic or heretical?

    Contra Mundum

  8. In many respects, Yes, Contra. And one of the reasons we see American Catholics and American Evangelicals falling on the same side of many debates.

    There are Protestants here {me among them} coming to the realization that we often have more in common with our Catholic brothers and sisters than with our fellow Protestants.

  9. Good point about the American contributions (sic) to religion (Pentecostalism, Mormonism and I’ll add American-style evangelicalism).

    Lutherans do share more with Roman Catholic and Orthodox brethren than with most protestants in the US. In fact, I think it was Walther that said that someone who is a confessional Lutheran will be accused of being too Catholic.

    As for our theology, where it probably has the most in common is that what God does is more important in both groups than how we respond to it. That’s a gross generalization, but how a denomination approaches that question is pretty indicative of where they are theologically.

  10. “Lutherans do share more with Roman Catholic and Orthodox brethren than with most protestants in the US. In fact, I think it was Walther that said that someone who is a confessional Lutheran will be accused of being too Catholic”

    The only reason for this is that American Evangelicalism is utterly alien with (and hostile to) the truly Catholic spirit of the magisterial Reformation.

  11. Wish we had time to explore this thread in more detail. Especially the concept of being hostile to the true spirit of the Reformation.

    But looks like this thread will bump off the page soon. Anyone know a good forum we could move this too, or is already discussing it?

  12. That could be neat, indeed. I think that all the debate around Noll’s recent book on the “end of the Reformation” has not answered a question of primary importance: can Evangelicalism be seen as a legitimate heir of Classic Protestantsim in the first place?

  13. In my region of the country the use of the term “Evangelical” is become a distinction reflecting focus on Biblical Christianity. As opposed to Protestantism, which has come to reflect a wide range of incongruous theologies.

    What Jean-Martin eloquently describes as the “truly Catholic spirit of the magisterial Reformation”, is a different way of describing this same “Evangelical” ideal. It’s not that we want to be new legitimate heirs, but rather “refocus” on classical Christianity in the mold of the Apostles.

    This is, BTW, very much what Martin Luther was striving for. And the main purpose for writing the Book of Concord by his immediate peers.

    Furthermore, indirectly, we reflect in our discussion the influences of Secular ideals on the church. Secular America has learned that pursuing a secular agenda through politics can’t work when the majority of the populace votes on religious ideology as much as on political ideology.

    What this has resulted in is for the secular agenda to focus on the churches instead of politics. People literally joining protestant churches for the sole distinct purpose of changing the doctrine of that church group to embrace secular thought. And I submit that it is this “secularizing” of protestant doctrine that Europeans see as a form of “neo-evangelicalism”.

    Anyone grasp the Irony here?

    We have the secular world striving for separation of church and state. But to do so they must first change and subvert the churches to fall in line with their secular ideology. And this is reflected in many of our so-called Protestant movements. (But, definitely NOT Evangelical, nor even Biblical.) Very sneaky, don’t you think?

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