Religion in the United States

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. – First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

Many of the refugees and immigrants who have built the United States of America were fleeing religious conflict, and our Founding Fathers wanted no part of established religion. Ironically, in the 227 years since that amendment was made to the Constitution, we have become one of the most religious nations on earth. The critical difference is that there is no established religion, no religion legislated to take official precedence and to benefit from tax revenues.

The majority of Americans are some variety of Christian. According to the Pew Forum, here’s the breakdown:

  • 25.4% of households identify as Evangelical Christians
  • 22.8% are Unafflilated (includes Atheists, Agnostics, and “nothing”)
  • 20.8% of households identify as Catholic
  • 14.7% identify as Mainline Protestant
  • 6.5% identify as Historically Black Protestant
  • 1.9% identify as Jewish
  • 1.6% identify as Mormon
  • 1.0% identify as Unitarians or other liberal faiths
  • 0.9% identify as Muslim
  • 0.8% identify as Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • 0.7% identify as Buddhist
  • 0.7% identify as Hindu
  • 0.6%, when asked, respond that they “don’t know.”
  • 0.5% identify as Orthodox Christians
  • 0.4% identify as “Other Christian”
  • 0.4% identify as “New Age” including Pagan or Wiccan
  • 0.3% identify as “Other World Religions”
  • 0.3% identify as following Native American religions


I confess that I find demographic information fascinating. I got all this information from a graphic on the Pew Forum website, but instead of arranging it by belief group, I’ve listed the groups by size. Some items that interest me:

  • Jews are definitely a minority. However, there are many religious groups even smaller than ours.
  • If we sometimes feel vulnerable, how must the people in even smaller groups feel?
  • Does the Jewish community have a responsibility to make sure that those “more minor” voices are heard in national discussions?
  • Do we have a responsibility to make sure that smaller groups are protected from persecution?
  • If we took an intersectional look at this list in terms of power and audible voices in the national discussion, how would it change? How do race, class, and similar factors intersect with religion?

What do you think? What does this list say to you?


Speechless, and a Modest Proposal

Cover of "The Shootist"
Cover of The Shootist

I’ve been trying to think what to write in the face of events in Newtown, CT.  Words fail me. I remember being the age of those children; I remember having children that age. First graders are among the most innocent creatures on earth – in many ways they are humanity at its sweetest. I just have no words for their murders.

What I do have is some thoughts about the pattern of murder/suicide that repeats and repeats across America. When it’s “just” a man murdering his girlfriend or wife and then shooting himself, it barely rates a mention on the news, so accustomed have we become to this pattern.

Here’s my proposal: let’s quit referring to these guys as “shooters” or “gunmen.” Both of those words call up images of the Old West and of John Wayne.  One almost gets the feeling, from those words, that it’s just the manly thing to do.  News flash: there is nothing “manly” about killing the people you love or other helpless souls and then sidestepping consequences by shooting yourself, too. It’s an act of either supreme insanity or cowardice, or both.

So let’s call them what they are: cowards.  No more news reports about “the shooter” please: refer to him as the coward who shot himself when he heard the cops coming. Refer to them as “criminals.”

I believe we need to take a hard look at gun laws, and a hard look at the resources available to the mentally ill, but in the meantime, let’s call this what it is: a criminal act, a cowardly act. Such an act is not romantic and it does not “send a message.” Yes, we will remember – because we refuse to forget the victims, but let’s assure future perpetrators that we will remember them only with disgust.

May the souls of all those injured in this and every other act of gun violence this week be comforted in the arms of God, and in the love of friends and family.