Friday, March 18, 2011

Religion in America

Of developed, post-industrial nations, the US has an unusually high amount of religion, per capita and in terms of individuals' levels of devotion. I've heard a number of reasons this might be true, but this morning I heard one that seems pretty valid.

Religion in America is business.

We have no "national religion" here, and the sane among us would like to keep it that way. What we do have is carte blanche for businesses to do and to grow in any way they're able, and this presents an opportunity for entrepreneurs: figure out how to keep the pews filled.

Insert a Mark Twain quote here about all the people of the world united in worshiping money. Business is the American national religion, and vice-versa. In a way, churches are just about the only Main Street businesses left. Attempts have been made at Wal-Mart-style mega-houses of worship, but they largely haven't caught on. Who knows whether that's good or bad, but it's what the invisible hand of the market has determined.

Religious disagreements and intolerances are, in this society, less about traditional persecution and holy wars, and more akin to brand loyalty. I'm glad there are less western-society-on-western-society bloodbaths and flame-happy witch hunts these days, but just like its relationship with politics, religion's pairing with business seems only to distort and cheapen it. What Would Jesus Sell? Evidently, he's a key spokesperson for guns, homophobia, and censorship of evolution and climate science. It's a bit hard to imagine the pacifistic, middle-eastern Jewish philosopher sitting on the board of directors going over the return on investment of these branches.

Personally, I have neither business acumen nor religious faith, but it makes me glad to see either used to help others. My employer, Messaging Architects, just matched all of its employees' donations to help out in Japan. At the same time, I find very depressing the common power grabs and the systemic corruption and the excuses to be extremely crappy to one another. I guess the lessons are the same. Our religious and/or corporate collectives have their own agendas, and can be measured better by the quality, not the quantity, of people under their umbrellas.

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