A godless country

One of my former history professors and I were chatting about my future in academia during one of the coffee breaks at the conference today. He asked where I was from in the States and said, ‘Oh yes, San Antonio. The Riverwalk. I’ve been there.’ Everyone who’s visited San Antonio has. I told him that the Riverwalk had been expanded, mentioning offhand that my church used to be at the end of the Riverwalk but isn’t anymore.

‘Americans take religion much more seriously than we do,’ he said. ‘I expect that Americans find Britain to be a very godless country.’

Occasionally I speak my observations even when doing so is treading onto dangerous ground—hoping that objective truth will save me, and if not, the stereotype of the ignorant (and/or arrogant) American. I said, ‘I wonder if it has something to do with Britain having a state church. When you have to choose to have a church, you take it more seriously.’

‘Yes. It is a classic example for not to have an established religion,’ he answered.

It was time to go back into the conference room then, so I didn’t have a chance to remind him that freedom from a state church was one of the foremost reasons people crossed the terrible, wide sea to a new world.

As for whether I find it ‘very godless’—I suspect Britain is no more and no less godless than the U.S., or any other country on this earth.

4 thoughts on “A godless country

  1. Megan says:

    Reasonable observations, and I agree. One of the more confusing parts of returning to my own country is the mix of joy and frustration regarding religion and church here.


  2. Jody+ says:

    I think there is truth to the idea that non-establishment encourages a lively place for faith in the public square.

    At the same time, I’m not certain the civil religion of the US as found in our politics is preferable–at least the established Church in England (and I imagine the Church of Scotland) speaks from a specifically Christian point of view, whereas civil religion in the US basically consists of politicians making a show of their “private” adherence to a particular faith, and then spending a lot of time explaining why those beliefs won’t affect they way they govern one bit.

    And of course, freedom of religion is an important American value, but we should be careful of buying into our foundational myths too much–after all, many of those folks who came to the US search for “freedom of religion” actually just meant the freedom to establish *their* religion as opposed to one they disagreed with. In one sense the Pilgrims were simply nostalgic for Cromwell and just re-established their brand of faith in New England.


    • Chera says:

      Good points, Jody. Thank you for making me clarify myself. 🙂 By wanting to say that many of the colonists came for freedom of religion, I meant that it is because we have that foundational myth that “Americans take religion seriously”. People went to America for so many reasons (and not all noble ones, either); and the Pilgrims certainly weren’t much better than their secular counterparts when it comes to their relations with the Native Americans.

      Personally, I’m quite displeased with how people (politicians or otherwise) parade or manipulate “faith” for their own agendas, without actually living out what they claim to believe. I think it’s more that the institution of religion is taken seriously, and not putting its teachings into practice. I’m definitely no saint in this regard, but I do hope that trying counts…


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