There was a time in history where religion was viewed as so sacred and holy that questions such as, “Is God really real?” could be seen as a crime. Faith used to be extremely emphasized in lifestyles and governments, passing down traditions over the decades. However, such a way of life began to change during the 18th century. The Enlightenment, a political movement against outside authority—in this case, religion—sparked a new way of thinking in society (Peters Anthropology…). The Enlightenment was the catalyst that changed how people viewed religion and questions deemed blasphemous became the very questions many individuals wanted to continue contemplating. From this way of thinking, the idea of the anthropology of individual autonomy was created, which called for human independence (Peters Anthropology…). Sacredness began to move from faith to personal choices (Peters Migration…). In the 21st century, religion became less relevant in our society due to the increasing emphasis on individual autonomy, however, religion should remain relevant in society to promote awareness about other faiths, allow a better understanding of different religions to eliminate fear and misconceptions, and encourage hospitality in the world.
When the pilgrims first came from England and settled in their colonies, they formed intolerant theocracies of one religion. In these areas, one’s religion was outwardly expressed in the same ways a sports fan would express their love for a certain team. Religion dictated these people’s lives; however, the anthropology of individual autonomy is now the main focus of society. This idea leads to a decreased emphasis on religion because it was viewed as constraining, but the lack of awareness about religion in society will only lead to the formation of misconceptions. America is full of a variety of people with a variety of backgrounds and has found a way to allow religious freedom to all, but also force these freedoms to be expressed moderately at the same time. Even the most faithful created two sides of themselves to fit in society: a public side and a private side where their faith lies.
These public and private sides were created due to the shift that occurred to society. Intolerance towards religion has been publicly abolished, however, pluralism became wildly accepted due to its emphasis on open-mindedness and tolerance. Many believed that the tolerance of other religions, which allowed them to be practiced in America, would not impede on anyone’s rights. From the outside, it looked like all religions were accepted in America. However, pluralism conceals itself behind this image, when in reality it only created indifference towards one another (Conway 173). A pluralistic society does allow different religions to be practiced but does not encourage it to be expressed publicly. People are taught to ignore other faiths and to conceal it within designated areas. It begs the question of whether or not the people are truly able to freely practice their religion in society when there is a stigma when doing it publicly. By normalizing the concept of religion in society it will create an atmosphere that is welcoming and accepting.
Pluralism caused religion to be less relevant in our society, but the Chambonnais’ stories showed the public how moving from tolerance to hospitality towards religions can lead to proper communication about different faiths among people. The Chambonnais emphasized hospitality as they accepted refugees into their homes, a virtue that is rooted in compassion and calls people to respect one another (Conway 171.) They not only accepted the various faiths these refugees had, but they also engaged in conversations with them about faith because they could see that at the core of their differences, they were still similar. Hospitality creates a comfortable environment that encourages people to merge their public and private sides of their lives. Once religion is seen as typical in society, people will not fear to express their faith in public. Religion should matter in society because people should feel comfortable with conversations revolving around different faiths: “Tolerance offers no reason for attending to the other, taking the other seriously, or welcoming the other into our community” (Conway 173). When religion becomes more than something that is tolerated, a respectful type of dialogue can pave a path towards eliminating misconceptions that arise from the lack of communication and understanding between faiths.
Another example of hospitality can be found in the New York Times article “Muslims From Abroad Are Thriving in Catholic Colleges” by Richard Pérez-peña, which discussed why many Muslims chose to go to Catholic universities. One student said, “they prefer a place where talk of religious beliefs and adherence to a religious code are accepted and even encouraged” and with that statement, one can see that two religions can respect one another even when they are expressed publicly together. If faith mattered more in society, such an environment could provide people with a clearer understanding of each other’s beliefs, reducing religious turmoil between those with religion and without. Regardless of religious background, many religions do share a moral foundation where everyone could relate to. Allowing religion to be expressed publicly can increase awareness and acceptance, healthily spark debates as people become more accustomed to the idea of multiple religions and learn how to communicate about it properly.
However, society has yet to offer such an environment to the people. Religion became less relevant in society due to the “migration of the holy” which caused people to see materialistic items as more sacred than faith itself (Peters Migration…). By doing so, it pushed religion to an area of lesser importance, but due to this, teenagers have created their faith that blended elements of religion and individual autonomy. As seen on page 42 of Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton teenagers described their own religion called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” where God was seen as someone who created the universe and left it alone, only to come back when the inhabitants of the universe needed Him. Here, religion shaped and molded into something else, but society is framed in a way that does not allow the idea of autonomy and faith to coexists. Many believe traditions are constraining, but traditions themselves are already very fluid. When faith is not relevant or accepted as the “norm” in society, these traditions will continue to change and inevitably may no longer exist anymore.
Furthermore, the lack of “normality” of religious expression in society, has led to a misconception that religion and violence are interconnected, when ironically, most faiths do not support any violence. The media represents religion in such a way that it makes faith a precursor for violence. However, in an article called “The Root of Evil: Does Religion Promote Violence?” by William T. Cavanaugh it said, “the idea that religion causes violence, in other words, can be used to blind us in the West to our forms of fanaticism and violence.” The tendency to separate life into “religious and secular spheres” has made violence for religion appalling, but violence for one’s country acceptable (Cavanaugh The Root…). The misrepresentation of religion in the media created a negative image and makes religions people seem irrational or radical. If more representation of religions were done in a positive image, more people would not be dejected by the idea of conversating with a religious person and try to understand their beliefs.
While some do use religion in a way to justify their horrific acts, the media’s choice to always cover the radical actions of religious people created a negative image that made all religious people seem fanatical. The New Yorker article “Sacred and Profane” by Malcolm Gladwell provided an example of how if religion was not immediately debased as irrational thinking, the FBI could use the Bible as a tactic to persuade David Koresh. These believers were deemed as irrational due to how extreme they expressed their religion. Their private religious life was becoming their public life, something unusual in America. Although these people were not innocent, the FBI should have at least tried to understand their religion and create some sort of understanding to work upon to reduce the number of causalities. Like the article said, “…if someone comes with a messaged based on the Bible, instead of trying to fight it, instead of trying to put it down or trying to prove it wrong, we should study the bible to perceive whether the message is true” (Gladwell 1). If religion was expressed publicly in a more accepting way, it could be that fewer people would feel the desire to express their faith in such extreme ways. Misconceptions have driven people to hide their beliefs out of fear from judgment. Religion should matter in society to clear the misconceptions society has made about people with faith.
In conclusion, religion was made less relevant in society in the replacement of individual autonomy when it should matter to teach people respect and acceptance. Many religious traditions do support individualism, so the two can coexist in society. When people’s religious beliefs are forced to be hidden away, other people in society will not learn about these faiths properly, leading to misconceptions and stereotypes. Having a private side for religion suppresses the believer’s emotions and can lead to groups demanding change in violent ways. The intolerant theocracies made in the past should not return, but a step towards a hospitable society should be made. Faith is supposed to matter in society to foster a nation that supports people of all backgrounds. It matters that religion is relevant in society because religion will not disappear. There will be those who will believe in something so great that they make their life revolve around it and if the idea of faith is normalized in society it takes humans a step closer learning how to respect the many differences found in the world.