Monday, September 18, 2006

Is America too religious? It depends who you ask?

Europeans who are polled generally regard Americans as too religious, but is that such a bad thing?

Whilst far more Americans are practicing Christians, they are also aggressively tolerant of religious differences and of public displays of faith, which means that religious minorities feel a lot more at home. Europeans by contrast are pretty ambivalent towards Christianity, but it also colours their attitude towards organised religion altogether. Any tolerance towards religious minorities has more to do with paying lip service to multiculturalism than to any admiration of religion.

In America, faith based initiatives have become a major force in public life, and I don't just mean Bible thumping evangelists supporting Israel. It also means Christians fighting to protect the environment, Jews campaigning for action on Darfur, and Muslims providing essential social services in LA. It goes a long way towards explaining why Islamism hasn't taken off in the way it has in Europe. American Muslims may resent secular life but in the United States at least, there is a religious counter culture. In Europe by contrast, the Islamists are the counter culture.

The most peculiar thing about Europe's perception of Americans is that in countries like Pakistan, the public think the complete opposite, that Americans are too secular. It reminds me of Mark Steyn's comment about America and religion:
The fanatical Muslims despise America because it's all lapdancing and gay porn; the secular Europeans despise America because it's all born-again Christians hung up on abortion; the anti-Semites despise America because it's controlled by Jews. Too Jewish, too Christian, too Godless, America is also too isolationist, except when it's too imperialist.

Too Christian, too Godless, too isolationist, too imperialist, too seductive, too cretinous, America is George Orwell's Room 101: whatever your bugbear, you will find it therein - for the Continentals, excessive religiosity; for the Muslims, excessive decadence; for Harold Pinter, excessively bleeding rectums.