American Religion is complicated because, like religion in any nation, it is so tied up in with everything else that goes into the making of a people. Historical events, developments in science, philosophy and theology, the ebb and flow of populations, developments in popular culture and a lot more than that all have their say in how we define religion and our own ways of expressing it.
The students in the class I’m auditing are among the brightest in the land. Graduate school is all but guaranteed to those who graduate from Whitman. What they are learning about American Religion from the Civil War to the Present is amazing. But I realize, as I sit in on their small group discussions, that brand new never encountered before information has to have some kind of context in which to settle or it makes no sense at all. In their cases, and in spite of their intellectual acumen, their context for understanding American religion tends to be whatever they were taught
by parents, Sunday school teachers or heard on the playground. You know what that means; their small group discussions of celebrated theologians and religious historians are understood dimly and in the context of simple, often terribly misinformed and sometimes bigoted learning of their childhoods.
I doubt that many of them will ever have another course in religion for the rest of their lives. But they are smart and inquisitive. They listen to each other and begin to test, question and challenge each other to reach beyond the ground from which they came to something deeper, more profound and maybe that’s enough to open a door to a vigorous faith journey in their adult years. It’s a start. Where do they go next? How will they find that place? What will attract them in? What will they learn there? Will that bring them into a closer relationship with God? With God in Christ Jesus? What role, what responsibility, lies with the clergy for all of that?
Lucy says that my posts are too much like lectures and it’s hard to know how to enter into the conversation with me. I guess that’s true. Maybe that’s just the way with old teachers. So what: wade in anyway.