Friday, January 21, 2011

The American ideal: Lukewarm religion?

Something that I enjoy in writing a blog is hearing other people's perspectives on things that I'm interested in. For example, awhile ago I posted a list of religious countries, and I got this comment:

"As a Brit living in the U.S., I find the religious angle the hardest thing to deal with. It is pretty much social and employment suicide to admit to being an atheist in these parts. There may be freedom of religion but there is no freedom from religion."

As an Evangelical Christian, I'm aware of the pressure in my workplace and in social situations to be discreet about my religion. As Stephen Carter wrote in his book The Culture of Disbelief, religion is expected to be like a hobby--fine if you do it at home, but you should bring it to others too much.

However, it seems that a similar dynamic works with atheism--that atheists feel pressure to keep mum about their beliefs.

I wonder, then, if the American ideal of religion is not take it too seriously. So, if you're a believer, try not to overdo it. If you don't believe, don't be too strident about it. Be lukewarm, and you'll fit in.

(For a biblical perspective on this, see Revelation 3:16).

What do you think?


peterhwang said...

That's an interesting post, and a topic I struggle with. I don't think being discreet about one's religious beliefs is necessarily a result of a lukewarm faith. Discretion is perhaps part of what it takes for all of us, religious or not, to live peaceably with everyone else.

Broach the topic where it might be appropriate and you'll likely touch on some uncomfortable nerves. I find that in spite of an outward discretion, people hold on to their beliefs very strongly, especially religious ones.

Also, I think a Christian can embody certain values at the workplace or the public domain without having to be so "in your face" about it.

Brad Wright said...

You're right, Peter, about the value of not being in people's face with religion. Certain we can go too far the other direction.

What I was getting at is normal enthusiasm and interest levels. So, when I got back from vacation, I told lots of people excitedly about it. If I had done the same with, say, a great worship service or a prayer time, it would have felt really awkward.

The norms for when it's appropriate to talk about religion are stricter than the norms for many other topics.

peterhwang said...

Brad, I agree with your statement about norms for religion being stricter. I guess your original post was more about a general religious 'lukewarmness' of the country as a whole (and that being the norm), rather than the substance of individuals' faiths that can appear lukewarm especially in the workplace.

Maybe the reality of the lukewarmness speaks to a functional disconnect we experience about the necessity of one's religious convictions in doing our work.

Mark said...

In your rush to consider Revelation 3:16 don't ignore Psalm 46:10

Are you possibly confusing "lukewarm faith" with quite faith?

It seems to me that today's modern Christian thinks that God wants them to be noisy and flail about trumpeting their faith at the top of their lungs. I believe that Christians can best show their faith by how they live their lives and not by what comes out of their mouths.

buddyglass said...

With respect to people taking offense to atheism, I think many believers feel that when someone admits to being an atheist it means that person automatically thinks they're deluded and/or ignorant and/or all-around bad for society in general. Essentially every admitted atheist get treated as if he were Dawkins or Hitchens, just like non-believers often treat every believer as if he were Pat Robertson or James Dobson.

To say one is an atheist (as opposed to just saying "I don't know if there's a God" or "I'm not sure what I think about God") implies a certain militancy (perhaps unjustifiably) and I think that's what believers react negatively to.

Basically nobody wants to feel as if one of their coworkers disapproves of them as a person, thinks they're dumb, or thinks they're generally evil and have a detrimental effect on the world around them. That's why "lukewarm" folks react negatively to "atheists" just as they do to "strong evangelicals". In both cases they assume (often wrongly, but often correctly) that the person in question is tacitly judging them.

Shane said...

Jerry Coyne blogs about Greta Christina's experience among the "liberal" Christian element (would this be what you call "lukewarm"), and I find that I agree with Greta's experience in some cases.

One problem here is that, as an atheist, I have no problem with people having beliefs about certain truth claims, but as a scientist I very much insist that truth claims should be open to analysis. That causes some ructions, even among the "Lukewarm" brigade, because if you take something like the alleged resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, there are many people who believe (and insist!) that that *actually happened*. Now, that is a truth claim, and it's fairly interesting, so atheists are perfectly *entitled* to ask for some evidence. And what we get in return is various bits of pointless drivel from the likes of Strobel or Habermas or Craig, presenting an *excuse* instead of evidence. Excuses for why the evidence is not there, and "inferences to best explanation" that are every bit as valid when applied to Jack and the Beanstalk.

I think atheists have every right to be annoyed by this sort of cheap response.

But returning to the point, I have no problem with people being open about their beliefs (or their faith - whatever we want to call it), but if you're open about it, you have to be open to it being dissected, analysed or ridiculed. You can't wear religion (or atheism for that matter) on your sleeve and expect it to be given a free ride in an armoured tank through the marketplace of ideas.

[Interesting blog btw - thanks!]