The Pew Research Center in Washington D.C., which is a nonpartisan social science research organization, recently conducted a poll in the U.S. and Europe in response to widespread concerns about refugees worldwide. The primary topic of the poll was “What it takes to truly be one of us,” and explores the factors that people believe compose national identity. In addition to language, culture, and birthplace, the adherence to Christianity, or the lack of it, was deemed a major component by those evaluating national identity. In particular, in the United States the responses of Democrats and Republicans show that the more conservative GOP considers shared language, culture, and religion much more important than the Democrats polled, with a 22-point gap for both language and culture, and a 14-point gap for Christianity. Both parties considered all of these categories more important than birthplace. Overall, 32 percent of Americans polled responded that Christianity was an important part of American national identity, which was roughly equal to the percentage (31) of Americans polled who are unaffiliated with any religion and feel that it is not important to national identity. White evangelical protestants had a much higher positive response at 67 percent prioritizing religion, with mainline Protestants and Catholics at 29 and 27 percent respectively. There was also a significant gap when the age of the respondents was calculated, with 44 percent of those over 50 believing Christianity is necessary, and only 18 percent of those under 35. Correspondingly, 44 percent of those with only a high school education believe it is important to be Christian to be American, though only 19 percent of respondents with a college education agreed.
One of the great issues facing our country today is the sanctity of the concept of separation between church and state. Frighteningly, the political power of those who fight to call the United States a Christian nation has lingered past the time I would have expected when I was younger, when it seemed so obvious that logic and science were the right roads for humanity to follow. Although nearly a third of our citizens do not actively practice religion, the political zealousness of those who do practice more extreme versions of Christianity has given them a disproportionate say in the legislative history of our nation, and as we are seeing now, continues to threaten both physical and ideological freedoms as guaranteed in our Constitution. At this time, individuals who do not practice religion do not have the social and political cohesion necessary to become a political force to be reckoned with. There are many lay organizations that address various political issues in the United States; however, without the power of the Christian voting base, with a near-singular viewpoint often dispersed to voters directly from the pulpit, the power of these secular dissenting votes is lost in diffusion. A parallel can be drawn between nationalism and totemism as described by Emile Durkheim: The U.S. flag as totem, the bald eagle as totem animal, and the (white, male, and Christian) accepted members of the clan. As Durkheim states, “Because he is in moral harmony with his comrades, he has more confidence, courage, and boldness in action, just like the believer who thinks that he feels the regard of his god turned graciously toward him. It thus produces, as it were, a perpetual sustenance for our moral nature” (Durkheim 115). This sociological approach clarifies the power that deeply held religious beliefs can wield as a political weapon when in confluence with nationalism. Hopefully, as the statistics reflect here, as time goes on younger generations will base their patriotism on things other than their religious beliefs. Perhaps, the excesses of President Trump will be the motivating factor that finally causes non-religious citizens to stand up for the separation of church and state.
Durkheim, Emile. “The Social as Sacred.” Introducing Religion: Readings from the Classic Theorists, edited by Daniel L. Pals, Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 99-142.