Asian American Faith and the Problem With “No Religion”

In a previous post I shared the current prevalence of Christianity among Asian Americans. Based on three different surveys, each with different drawbacks, less than half of all adult Asian Americans are not Christian. To some of my Korean Christian second-generation friends, this may or may not be surprising. In fact they would raise concern that I am perhaps overstating the figures because the “true” Christian is one who is active in his or her faith. From their perspective there is little difference between someone who affiliates as a Christian but never attends a worship service, or someone who does not mention any religious affiliation at all.

Sociologists of religion distinguish between those who say that they have no religion and those who are not religiously active; the former is described as (lack of) affiliation, and the latter is (lack of) behavior. Let’s start with affiliation and in an upcoming blog we’ll take a look at behavior. So what’s the percentage of Asian Americans who say they have “no religion?”

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Does God Use Natural Disasters to Guide American Politics?

In recent weeks, I have written about my discomfort with people aligning religion with a particular party and the costs that it might impose. Today I examine what I view as an unhelpful instance of a bringing religion into a political debate.  I use this not to critique the candidate who said it, but rather to examine its underlying logic.

In August, Republican candidate Michele Bachmann told an audience in Florida that God had sent deadly tornadoes and earthquakes in recent weeks to indicate his displeasure with the high levels of federal spending. She said:

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people, because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet, and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”

(Bachmann later claimed that she was joking, but having listened to her statement a couple of times, I’m not so sure.)

Whereas most religion-politics linkages take the form of “we’re on God’s side”, this takes it one step further and says “God is on our side.”

I’m quite comfortable with the idea of God communicating directly with people, but as I understand scripture [Read more...]

Civil Religion in America Then and Now

Yesterday, I discussed with my class Robert Bellah’s famous 1967 essay entitled “Civil Religion in America.” In a time when news commentators and some scholars express concern that there is too much religion in American politics, Bellah’s essay reminds us that religion has always been part of American politics and national discourse.

Referring to John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Presidential Inaugural speech, Bellah remarked that President Kennedy referred to God three times in that famous speech. Bellah then asks, “Considering the separation of church and state, how is a president justified in using the word ‘God’ at all? The answer is that the separation of church and state has not denied the political realm a religious dimension. Although matters of personal religious belief, worship, and association are considered to be strictly private affairs, there are, at the same time, certain common elements of religious orientation that the great majority of Americans share. These have played a crucial role in the development of American institutions and still provide a religious dimension for the whole fabric of American life, including the political sphere. This public religious dimension is expressed in a set of beliefs, symbols, and rituals that I am calling American civil religion.”

Before watching President Kennedy’s speech, which I suggest you do, my students wondered [Read more...]

Why pastors should plagiarize in their sermons

I’ve been thinking about the differences between classroom teaching and pulpit preaching.

When I teach, I use the work of many scholars to help students understand the material, with proper citation of course.  Yes, I give my own ideas and analyses (and probably more than I need), but the the core of my material is the work of others.  If I had to present *only* my own ideas, the class would be about an hour or two long, and then I’d have to call it for the semester.

In contrast, there seems to be a norm among pastors that all sermons have to be original in idea and expression. The problem is that this is very hard to do; I know I couldn’t produce an original, useful 20-30 talk every week.  So, a lot of sermons aren’t really that good.

This leads me to wonder why pastors do not [Read more...]

Whatever Happened to “Unequally Yoked”?

My research team and I are waist-deep in interviews of twenty-somethings for my next book project. Among the 90-some interviews we’ve conducted are about 15 (so far) with evangelicals. Between what they’re telling us and my own listening and reading, I’m detecting a subtle—yet significant—shift in how evangelicals talk about ideal mating scenarios. When I was a younger man, Christians of all stripes were counseled pretty straightforwardly to avoid marrying an unbeliever—that is, someone who didn’t share the basics of Christian doctrine. The logic, of course, is that the unbelieving spouse would foster the same in you and your (future) children, and that that would be a bad outcome. The advice arose, I presume, as an extension of 2 Corinthians 6:14, which itself need not be interpreted as applying primarily to marriage, but it often has been.

But that’s not what I’m hearing today from evangelical quarters. At some point this advice seems to have morphed into a much higher bar for an optimal mate, which seems (to me, at least) a problem, since fewer Americans are marrying today than ever before. When demand (for marriage) drops, I’m not sure restricting supply is the smart thing to do.

The narrative we heard from several respondents—and I myself heard it back when I briefly dabbled with the Baptists before swimming the Tiber—goes something like this: [Read more...]