Religion and the American identity
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2012 08:10
For as long as America has been a republic, religion has been a significant part of the fabric of this nation. Despite what many will ardently argue, this country and religion have walked hand-in-hand since its inception.
However, this has been a very two-sided coin.
Religious institutions have produced some of the most charitable acts ever known to man, yet they have also been the cause of some of the most deplorable acts in human history.
In this country, the most dominant religious institutions by far are Christian ones, whether Protestant or Catholic.
For the longest time, these two sects of Christianity have been bitter rivals, stemming from the Protestant Reformation in Europe.
The work ethic of the first Protestants who came to this nation is undeniably significant in the formation of America. During the late 19th and early 20th century, many Catholics from various countries flocked to America’s shores, and their mark on this country is, likewise, undeniable.
Many of these immigrants were treated with disdain, because they did not worship in the same way Protestants do.
We must also remember that many Jews came to America during this time. Their treatment was the same as, if not worst, than Catholics.
The worst treatment of all, though, was towards African-Americans. Long before the Catholic and Jewish masses flocked to Ellis Island, African Americans came to these shores before America was even a country. They were brought via the Atlantic slave trade, and slave owners often used the Bible as an underlying reason to condone the subhuman treatment of African-Americans.
Over time they mostly conformed to the various Protestant sects of Christianity that existed in America at the time, namely Baptist and Methodist.
Even after slavery ended, despite being the same denomination as many whites, they were segregated and still told they were "separate but equal." This clearly wasn’t the case, and they lived under the heavy burden of Jim Crow laws that blatantly discriminated against them on the basis of their skin color.
One could also go on extensively about the treatment of Native Americans and women, too. Looking at the world today, this shows how much we have progressed as a nation.
It was a young Christian pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. who stood before a torn nation and boldly declared, "I have a dream!"
Could there truly be a better definition of a man who exemplified all that is truly good about religion than this man himself? I think not.
In today’s world, we see a rapidly changing dynamic. More and more individuals do not identify with any particular religion and simply see themselves as agnostic or atheists.
In the last 20 years, Muslims have increased a hundred fold in this country. Various other groups such as Buddhists and Hindus have become much more significant as well.
Now, these other religious and non-religious groups of people have played an increasingly bigger role in today’s society.
I strongly believe we, as a nation, must respect an individual’s right to his or her beliefs. We must treat people with the basic dignity all humans deserve, regardless of their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
The time will soon come when religion can longer be used as an excuse to deny someone the legal right to spend his or her life with the person they love.
I also believe, as time proceeds, Muslims in this country will increasingly become a significant part of the fabric of this nation. The tensions that exist today will fade into yesteryear as a thing of the past.
As they continue to assimilate in America, they will become a shining example of how the vast majority of Muslims here and abroad are not the radical extremists who seek to use religion as an excuse to inflict such deplorable acts across the globe.
Despite our many shortcomings, this is truly what makes us great as a nation. We have constantly overcome adversity and adjusted to the times to perfect the American experiment in democracy.
We can never change the past and the scars that remain, but we can continue to learn from it, and progress as a people and a nation