Tocqueville ascribed it partly to the power of free choice. Freedom strengthens conviction. People are more dedicated to those things that they choose. Conversely, restricting people tends to yield lackluster results. Consider the fall of communism. Or the uniquely secular populace in modern-day Israel, a country originally formed out of devotion to one religion.
It frames men, but religion is also framed by men. History has revealed a constant give-and-take; at times man bends to suit religion, at times religion bends to suit man. It changes with the scenery, like a chameleon.
It’s no surprise then that Christianity was different in America. Noted Tocqueville, it became more practical. Clergy tended to highlight the importance of rewards in the present life rather than in the afterlife. It changed some.
In some sense, it adopted scare tactics, ranging from fire-and-brimstone speeches of the 18th century to Hell Houses of today (haunted houses depicting the consequences of sins like abortion and suicide on the afterlife).
In some sense, it became subliminal. %92 of people believe in God, but visions of him vary, ranging from all-powerful to impersonal to not quite sure.
In some sense, it became more tolerable. Theoretically religions are mutually exclusive of each other, but this breaks down when surrounded by neighbors and friends of different faith.
In another way, it became more divisive, a part of personal identity to separate one from others.
Most of all though, it mirrored politics. Wrote Tocqueville, “religion itself holds sway [in America] much less as a doctrine of revelation than as a commonly received opinion.” This underlies the maxim of never discussing politics and religion at the dinner table – it speaks to an interesting similarity between religion and politics in a democracy.
Although separated legally, religion and politics share cores of beliefs, values, and opinions held intimate by many.
Original sin. Faith. Guilt and redemption. Ritual. Community. The apocalypse.
These all extend beyond aspects Christianity, they stir the soul on some level.
Today, they’ve arisen as cornerstones of environmentalism, a movement that relies more heavily on Christian-like dogma than science. Conservatives have Catholicism and liberal’s have environmentalism.
Per environmentalism, areas of Alaska are considered holy and untouchable; while industrial actions previously taken by America are deemed unfit for third world economic development. Its plethora of apocalyptic visions far preceded the current global warming frenzy, covering food availability, population growth, and even water.
Paul Ehrlich and Al Gore stand out as pure modern-day fire
and brimstone visionaries. In 1969, Ehrlich predicted that:
"By 1985 enough millions will have died to reduce the earth's population to some acceptable level, like 1.5 billion people." Two decades later he revealed his true unscientific feelings: "We've already had too much economic growth in the United States. Economic growth in rich countries like ours is the disease, not the cure." Al Gore's current rhetoric needs to be interpreted as part of the same tradition - not so much a scientific prediction as scare tactics, similar to worrying little kids about hell, and a dislike of economic growth.
Environmentalism's more superficial parallels to Catholicism include Earth Day, its day of worship, and a heavy reliance on symbols. Yet at their cores, both are fueled by an essential distrust of human nature and ego.
The chameleon – dragging on belly through its habitat – is a an apt analogy. And religion, or whatever my underlie it, is strongly present in America.
Media (in order of appearance)
Photo (1) Toppledominos; (2) Creation of the Sun and Moon, face detail of God, by Michelangelo, completed on the Sistine Chapel cieling, 1512; (3) Portrait of John Edwards, famous for his fire & brimstone speech, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, delivered 07/08/1741; (4) Photo of Paul Ehrlich;(5) Photo of Al Gore , 2007; (6) Recycle by Nick Palmer, 7/27/2006; (7) Eath Day symbol of greek letter theta, commonly believed to represent death.
Video (1) Power of color change - Chameleon, by Chuihx, 10/26/2007; (2) Trailer for Hell House, documentary, 2001 ; (3) Trailer for An Inconvenient Truth, documentary about global warming, 2006; (4) Colour-changing Chameleon, 05/23/06, by Daydreamer123
- Democracy's reflection of man
- The government, the economy, & Mr. Market
- Opinions are easy