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WESTERN CULTURE AND SOCIETY: THE UNITED STATES OF
AMERICA (USA) -
Note: The information on this page is not
written by me - it is from the textbook and other websites.
RELIGION IN AMERICA:
The United States is
a country of many religions. The first words of the Bill of Rights to
the U.S. Constitution say: "Congress shall make no law respecting
the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof." Therefore, state does not establish, or endorse, or favor
a particular form of religion and citizens are free to practice the
religion they choose.
This tradition of
religious freedom runs deep in America. Many of this nation's early
settlers were religious communities fleeing persecution in Europe; they
were seeking a place where they could practice their own religion far
from the state-sanctioned religions of their native countries.
over 2000 different religious denominations, and in which more than 60
percent of the citizens can be found at least once a month in one of the
almost 500,000 churches, temples and mosques.
Islam is considered
one of the fastest-growing religions in the United States today. There
are over 1,200 mosques in the United States - more than 60 percent
founded in the last 20 years. The typical American mosque is ethnically
diverse; nearly 90 percent have some Asian, African-American, and Arab
Early in their
history, Americans rejected the concept of the established or
government-favored religion that had dominated, and divided, so many
One of the first
permanent settlements in what became the North American colonies was
founded by English Puritans, Calvinists who had been outsiders in their
homeland, where the Church of England was established. The Puritans
settled in Massachusetts, where they grew and prospered.
The state of Rhode
Island, is well known as a place where everyone enjoyed religious
freedom throughout history. Two other states originated as havens for
people being persecuted for their religious beliefs: Maryland as a
refuge for Catholics and Pennsylvania for the Society of Friends
(Quakers), a Protestant group whose members believe in plain living.
Even after the
adoption of the Constitution in 1787 and the Bill of Rights (which
includes the First Amendment) in 1791, Protestantism continued to enjoy
a favored status in some states.
Members of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) were jailed in the
19th century for practicing polygamy (subsequently the Mormon Church
withdrew its sanction of polygamy). More recently, parents have been
convicted of criminal negligence for refusing to obtain medical help for
their ailing children, who went on to die, even though the parents'
religious beliefs dictated that they refuse treatment because faith
would provide a cure.
Protestantism in the 19th century was allied with similar trends in
Europe, where scholars were reading and interpreting the Bible in a new
way. They questioned the validity of biblical miracles and traditional
beliefs about the authorship of biblical books. There was also the
challenge of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to contend with. If
human beings were descended from other animals, as most scientists came
to believe, then the story of Adam and Eve, the biblical first parents,
could not be literally true.
19th-century liberal Protestants from their 20th-century counterparts
was optimism about the human capacity for improvement. Some of the early
ministers believed that the church could accelerate progress by trying
to reform society. In the spirit of the gospels, they began to work on
behalf of the urban poor. Today's liberal clergymen -- not just
Protestants but Catholics and others, too -- may be less convinced that
progress is inevitable, but many of them have continued their efforts on
behalf of the poor by managing shelters for homeless people, feeding the
hungry, running day-care centers for children, and speaking out on
Christians favor an impassioned, participatory approach to religion, and
their services are often highly charged, with group singing and dramatic
sermons that evoke spirited responses from the congregation. The South,
in particular, became a bastion of this "old-time religion,"
and the conservative Baptist church is very influential in that region.
In recent decades some preachers have taken their ministry to
television, preaching as "televangelists" to large audiences.
The trend toward
removing religious teaching and practices from public schools has
prompted some parents to send their children to religious schools and
others to educate their children at home.
CATHOLICS AND RELIGIOUS
By the time of the
Civil War, over one million Irish Catholics had come to the United
States. In a majority Protestant country, they and Catholics of other
backgrounds were subjected to prejudice.
were never denied access to public schools or hospitals, beginning in
the 19th century they built institutions of their own, which met
accepted standards while observing the tenets of Catholic belief and
morality. On the other hand, the Catholic Church does not require its
members to go to church-run institutions. Many Catholic students attend
public schools and secular colleges. But Catholic schools still educate
many Catholic young people, as well as a growing number of
non-Catholics, whose parents are attracted by the discipline and quality
Like Catholics, Jews
were a small minority in the first years of the American republic. Until
the late 19th century, most Jews in America were of German origin.
Anti-Jewish prejudice was not a big problem before the Civil War. But
when Jews began coming to America in great numbers, anti-Jewish groups
children attended public schools and took religious instruction in
special Hebrew schools. The children of Jewish immigrants moved rapidly
into the professions and into American universities, where many became
To combat prejudice
and discrimination, Jews formed the B'nai Brith Anti-Defamation League,
which has played a major role in educating Americans about the injustice
of prejudice and making them aware of the rights, not only of Jews, but
of all minorities.
By the 1950s
Americans were described as coming in three basic varieties --
Protestant, Catholic, and Jew. The order reflects the numerical strength
of each group: In the 1990 census, Protestants of all denominations
numbered 140 million; Catholics, 62 million; and Jews, 5 million.
three-faith formula is obsolete. The Islamic faith also has 5 million,
Buddhism and Hinduism are growing with the arrival of immigrants from
countries where these are the majority religions. In some cases,
inner-city Christian churches whose congregations have moved to the
suburbs have sold their buildings to Buddhists, who have refitted them
to suit their practices.
America has been a
fertile ground for new religions. The Mormon and Christian Science
Churches are perhaps the best-known of the faiths that have sprung up on
American soil. Because of its tradition of noninterference in religious
matters, the United States has also provided a comfortable home for many
small sects from overseas. The Amish, for example, descendants of German
immigrants who reside mostly in Pennsylvania and neighboring states,
have lived simple lives, wearing plain clothes and shunning modern
technology, for generations.
Some small groups
are considered to be religious cults because they profess extremist
beliefs and tend to glorify a founding figure. As long as cults and
their members abide by the law, they are generally left alone. Religious
prejudice is rare in America, and interfaith meetings and cooperation
Most Americans think
religion is a personal matter not usually discussed in everyday
conversation. The vast majority practice their faith quietly in whatever
manner they choose -- as members of one of the traditional religious
denominations, as participants in nondenominational congregations, or as
individuals who join no organized group. However Americans choose to
exercise their faith, they are a spiritual people. Nine out of ten
Americans express some religious preference.
WHAT IS A CULT?
"cult" is used to describe certain religious groups outside of
the mainstream of Western religion. Social scientists divide religious
groups into three categories: churches, sects, and cults.
are the large denominations with an inclusive approach to life and
include such groups as the Roman Catholic Church, the United Methodist
Church, the American Baptist Church, the United Church of Christ and the
Protestant Episcopal Church.
are groups that have broken away from the main church. Sects follow the
same pattern as mainstream religion but are more strict in behavioral
demands placed upon members and emphasize their separation and
distinctiveness from the larger culture.
follow a very different religious structure. When social scientists
began their discussion of cults in the 1920s, they were aware of only a
few cult groups. A survey of religion in America (1949) listed
approach to cults would include every group which has departed from
orthodox Christianity (such as the Church of Christ, Scientist, the
Latter Day Saints, and the Jehovah's Witnesses) as well as those groups
which have never made any claim to be Christian.
More recently there
have been many debates on cults since the 1970s. The debates involved
speaking to parents of people who were concerned with changes in their
sons and daughters who had joined particular religious groups. These
"cults"--The Children of God, the Church of Armageddon, the
Unification Church, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness,
and the Church of Scientology--had, they claimed, radically altered the
personality of their children.
began to speak of "destructive cults," groups which hypnotized
or brainwashed recruits, destroyed their ability to make rational
judgments and turned them into slaves of the group's leader. Marcia
Rudin, a popular anti-cult writer, listed fourteen commonly accepted
characteristics of a cult:
Members swear total
allegiance to an all-powerful leader who they believe to be the Messiah.
Rational thought is
discouraged or forbidden.
The cult's recruitment
techniques are often deceptive.
The cult weakens the
follower psychologically by making him or her depend upon the group to
solve his or her problems.
The cults manipulate
guilt to their advantage.
The cult leader makes
all the career and life decision of the members.
Cults exist only for
their own material survival and make false promises to work to improve
Cult members often
work fulltime for the group for little or no pay.
Cult members are
isolated from the outside world and any reality testing it could provide.
Cults are antiwoman,
antichild, and antifamily.
Cults are apocalyptic
and believe themselves to be the remnant who will survive the
soon-approaching end of the world.
Many cults follow an
"ends justify the means" philosophy.
Cults, particularly in
regard to their finances, are shrouded in secrecy.
There is frequently an
aura of or potential for violence around cults.
reflects a great concern with approximately 15 groups, though as many as
75 to 100 have received passing mention. Only five groups--the
Unification Church, the Children of God, the Church of Scientology, the
International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and The Way
International--have received consistent coverage over the years of the
anti-cult movement's existence. Everyone who has looked at the cults
agrees that the number of alternative religious groups has grown
significantly during the twentieth century.
Only a few of the
older cults--the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints--have attained a broad membership throughout the
nation. Of those groups formed in the twentieth century, only a few,
such as the American Muslim Mission (found in 1930), can count their
membership in the tens of thousands. The more famous of the contemporary
cults, such as the Unification Church (with 5,000 to 7,000 members) or
the Hare Krishna (with approximately 2,500 initiated members), can count
their membership in the thousands.
immigration of Asians in the last half of the nineteenth century brought
the first Buddhist and Hindu teachers to the United States and
threatened many West Coast residents. California could have become like
Hawaii, which is one third Buddhist
religions also vary widely in their recruitment processes. Some,
particularly those with Evangelical Christian roots (and a few which are
Eastern, but reacting to Christian missionary activity) have an
aggressive program of membership enlistment. Most others rely upon the
distribution of literature or the sponsoring of introductory classes to
which a potential convert must make the initial effort and attend.
Life in a Cult -
Once a person joins a nonconventional religious group, he or she must
begin to adapt to group life. New recruits will go through a program of
education in group beliefs and practices.
Christianity has been the mainstream of religion in America. In its
attempts to be true to traditional Protestant Christian affirmations, it
has been among the most conservative of religious forces and has
commanded the largest segment of the religious public.
THE ANTI-CULT MOVEMENT:
The Problem of
Religion: During the 1970s several trends in American religion came
together. Since the American Revolution, this country has been shaken by
periods of social protest followed by national religious revivals in
which the entire population, regardless of religious affiliation, gave a
heightened attention to religious concerns. During such periods, new and
alternative religions have been born or given surges of growth while the
more traditional churches reaped the bulk of the harvest. Such a
national revival occurred in the early 1970s on the heels of the social
protests of the 1960s.
The first anticult
association was called the Parents' Committee to Free Our Children from
the Children of God (later shortened to "Free the Children of
God," and popularly called "FREECOG").
From its beginning,
the anticult movement focused upon a single problem, the distress of
parents whose young adult sons and daughters (to whom the literature
typically refers as "children" regardless of age) had
abandoned home, career, college, and a "normal" future for
membership in a demanding nonconventional religion (i.e., a cult).
movement can point to one clear success. In its first decade of activity
it has impressed upon the popular consciousness a negative image of
cults. The media gave the anti-cult movement widespread coverage in both
magazines and newspapers, which have featured accounts of life in and
out of the cults by former members.
CHURCH OF CHRIST,
Because of its
espousal of spiritual healing and its affirmation that Christian Science
is incompatible with reliance upon materia medica, the Church of Christ,
Scientist has been one of the most important of the nonconventional
religions in America as well as a matter of intense controversy from the
day of its founding.
The Church of
Christ, Scientist was founded by Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1919) who as a
young woman had been continually hobbled with poor health. In 1862 she
learned of Dr. Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a mental healer in Portland,
Maine. In October of that year she traveled to Portland and placed
herself under his care. She soon experienced some relief of her symptoms
which she ascribed to his efforts. She became his student and took the
opportunity, when offered, to pass them on to others.
THE CHURCH OF JESUS
CHRIST OF LATTER DAY SAINTS (MORMON):
The most successful
of the many groups which have been labeled "cult", the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has over two million members and
dominates the religious life of the Rocky Mountain area from Boise,
Idaho, to Phoenix, Arizona. Started in the early nineteenth century, it
has grown steadily worldwide.
The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter Day Saints, popularly called the Mormons, was founded
by Joseph Smith, Jr. (born December 23, 1805 in Sharon, Vermont). As a
youth, Smith had moved from Vermont to western New York, near the town
In 1839 the Mormons
established the community at Nauvoo, Illinois which soon grew into the
largest city in the state. A new temple was begun, and the Church
entered a growth phase. During this period the first of the European
mission efforts (later a major source of members) was launched.
They introduced the
practice of polygamy and began by setting an example for the other
Church leaders. The exact number of Smith's plural wives is still a
matter of conjecture (estimates range from 27 to 84), but there is
little doubt that polygamy caused immense problems for the Church.
In 1852 they
announced the practice of plural marriage as public doctrine and began a
battle with the United States government that was to last for the rest
of the century. In 1862 the first federal anti-polygamy bill was passed,
and efforts were increased to prevent its practice. These efforts were
strengthened in 1882 with the passage of the Edmunds Bill, which
disenfranchised all people living in polygamy, and the 5-member Utah
Commission established to enforce the provisions.
During the twentieth
century polygamy was eradicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints, but it continued in Mormon territory, especially in
Mexico where it was not illegal. A large Fundamentalist
(polygamy-practicing community) still exists in the Western United
States and Northern Mexico.
Members of the
church are expected to refrain from the use of tea, coffee, tobacco, and
are interested in you and your welfare. They want to be your friends and
to tell you more about themselves, their beliefs, their organization,
and how they feel about people and the world in which all of us live.
The name Jehovah
appears almost 7,000 times in the original Hebrew Scriptures. Most
Bibles do not show it as such but substitute "God" or
"Lord" for it.
In just a century
and a half the Seventh-day Adventist Church has grown from a handful of
individuals, who carefully studied the Bible in their search for truth,
to a world-wide community of over eight million members and millions of
others who regard the Adventist Church their spiritual home. The name
"Seventh-day Adventist" was chosen in 1860.
KU KLUX KLAN (KKK):
I have removed this section
after some complaints about the content - Regards, Paul.