I believe that religion in the United States is diverse but not tolerant. Ever since this country was founded it had a mixed religious background. The founding fathers had a vision of a country where people could worship however they saw fit (or not at all), this is a freedom we still enjoy today. The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” While a majority of Americans identify as Christians, Christianity itself is a very broad, diverse category of religious beliefs. There are also many non-Christian religions practiced in the United States. This diversity comes from the fluid nature of religion; more specifically, from immigration.
When people move to the United States, they bring with them different cultures and religious traditions. In the first chapter of Diana Eck’s A New Religious America, she discusses at length the immigration of various religious traditions to the United States. She says: “Our religious traditions are dynamic not static, changing not fixed, more like rivers than monuments.” By this she means that as people move to and from the United States, and as older generations pass on and younger generations make their own interpretations of their faiths, the specific diverse blend of religions in America changes.
Throughout history, the United States has been a “safe haven” from the religious persecution experienced elsewhere. I believe we are fortunate to experience life without such religious pressures from our government, as religious persecution is still very much a problem in other countries. In true “melting-pot” fashion, we have moved forward from the few religions practiced in the thirteen colonies, to become a soup of countless religions, and as such, I believe this diversity should be celebrated.
Ironically, however, some religions require their believers to condemn others’ religious beliefs. Growing up, my best friend came from a very strict Fundamentalist Christian upbringing; mine was markedly less strict and arguably less Christian. Sometimes, we would talk about religion and she would cry because her mother told her that everyone who didn’t go to church was going to hell. She used to tell me how sad she was that I had to go to hell and beg me to go to church with her. I remember coming home from school and asking my mother if we were Christians and if we could be because my friends said it was important. These evangelical teachings are not aligned with religious pluralism. My mother told me that their religion is how they know to do the right things and that we knew right from wrong in a different way. If more children were raised with the idea that everyone follows their own path and their own morals, wouldn’t that be better?
If religious diversity is simply the presence of many different religions in the United States, than religious pluralism is the belief that all religious practices are equally valid. I see living in such diversity as an opportunity to practice pluralism.