Friday, January 14, 2005


We hear a lot in the mainstream media about how religious contemporary Americans are, a sentiment often backed up by polling numbers showing an unprecedented percentage of Americans who identify themselves with one religious organization or another (by comparison the fledgling Americans of 1776 were barely religious at all). But what does "religious" actually mean to those who identify themeslves as such? Here's a quote I came across in The New Yorker this week that's well worth pondering:

"The Davinci Code" [Dan Brown's mega-Bestselling book] is plain burn-at-the-stake blasphemous: its entire point is that Christianity as it is understood is a fraud put over by Constantine, and that Jesus, far from being divine, is a human being who fathered children. (The murder mystery [at the heart of the novel] rests on the premise that the Catholic Church, through the Opus Dei, sends out hit men to kill people who know the truth.) A cultural anthropologist, a hundred years from now, will doubtless find , in the unprecedented success of "The Da Vinci Code" during the time of a supposed religious revival, some clear sign that, in the Elvis mode, what a lot of Americans mean by spirituality is simply an immense openness to occult superstitions of all kinds. --Adam Gopnik

I would add to these "superstitions of all kinds" major and minor prejudices of all kinds entertained and validated under this same umbrella "religion." As I tried to explain in my piece on Jesus and Christianity, this doesn't mean that religion is of no value to democratic people, it just means that "religious" is a vague and not very helpful adjective, a catch-all term which people use, these days, to flatter whatever belief system they happen to hold.

It also may suggest that Christianity as a specific, complex system of belief is actually *waning* rather than growing. The number of Catholics I know who have read and loved the Da Vinci Code is extraordinary. At Christmas Mass this year, the priest mentioned that there were 17 million lapsed Catholics in the United States. As the church emptied out I couldn't help singing, in the melody of the old jingle, "Seventeen million strong, and growing!" I then endured an hour of freezing temperatures as more than a dozen Christians entering the next sheduled mass refused to help me jump my car (we'd left the lights on) despite the fact that my wife and two little girls were in it. I suppose a "religious" person could surmise that God was punishing me for my joke. Indeed, this was probably the easiest onclusion to draw.


Post a Comment

<< Home