Sunday, June 3, 2012

The US Is a Christian Country -- Or Is It?

How Christian Is The USA – Really?

The United States has always had a time-honored tradition of being a Christian nation. In fact, our founding fathers from George Washington on down were overwhelmingly Christian. Our great country was founded on religious freedom by the early Pilgrims, who were escaping religious persecution by the church of England. Ever since then, the tradition of Christianity (regardless of whether you belong to a church denomination or not) has been passed down through the generations until modern times. This has continued up until the present generation. Within the last generation or so, particularly within the last 10 or 20 years, there has been a noticeable drop in church attendance throughout North America and Europe. People have been wandering away from their faith in droves. Churches are losing members at about the same rate in which they are gaining new ones, the end result being what amounts to a revolving door of membership and participation. I have been aware of this for some time and it really bothers me, and so I have been contemplating the reasons for this diminishing of faith within the church.

A journalist once asked Mahatma Gandhi what he thought of Western civilization. He answered: "It's a good idea. They ought to try it". Similarly, we might urge followers of world religions: "Some nice moral principles. You ought to live them." Reliable polls tell us that America is the most religious nation in the industrialized world. More that 90 percent of our population say they believe in God, and that they pray regularly. In his New Testament Epistle, James expressed the Christian view that "faith without works is dead." Similarly, Judaism calls for "mitzvahs" -- good deeds. And Islam requires acts of charity. How do these sentiments translate into action? Let's look at our national religious behavior report card.

We are a religious nation, and yet: America is the world's richest nation. Yet the Census Bureau reports that 54 million Americans live in poverty. That includes one in four children.

We are a religious nation, and yet: The U.S. poverty rate is the third worst among developed nations according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Demographers say that the poverty rate will rise this year from 15 percent to 21 percent which will be the highest percentage since the government began calculating poverty figures in 1959. Forty million American are on food stamps (the highest ever) and the number is expected to rise to forty nine million by the end of 2012.

We are a religious nation, and yet: According to the Census Bureau, 19 million people lived in working-poor families in 2008. The 2010 census showed a much higher figure approaching 24%. The Feeding America network reports that only 36 percent of their client households have one or more adults working.

We are a religious nation, and yet: The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates that 700,000 to 2 million people are homeless on any given night. Here in Atlanta where I reside, estimates of the homeless population on any given night range from 10,000-30,000 people. Also, a new class has emerged in America: the working homeless. The current minimum wage of $7.25 hourly is insufficient income to rent an apartment, let alone buy a house.

We are a religious nation, and yet: The elderly, the poor and others on fixed incomes are often forced to choose between food and medicine. Speaking as a retired technology professional and an Internet pastor, this is a social outrage and an economic injustice that I have personally experienced. If you are not out in the streets protesting about this, you should be because you could be next. I used to think that something like that would never happen to me, either. I found out the hard way that I was wrong. Don't make the same mistake I did.

We are a religious nation, and yet: 50.2 million Americans, including 17.2 million children, experienced hunger or the risk of hunger in 2009. That's 14.7 percent of all households. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, hunger in American households has nearly doubled in the last five years. As I write this in mid-2012, this number has swelled to at least 54-56 million, and the number of underfed kids is approaching 20%. In the richest country in the world, this is inexcusable! We have to do something, and by writing this I'm trying to help accomplish exactly that.

We are a religious nation, and yet: American restaurants throw away more than 6000 tons of food every day and grocery stores discard an estimated thirty million pounds of food daily. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Loss Project estimates that Americans throw out 25.9 million tons of food each year. More disturbing: a University of Arizona study reports that 40 to 50 percent of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten. America's wastefulness is downright sinful, there is no better word to describe it.

We are a religious nation, and yet: The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn't provide healthcare for all its citizens. So-called “Obamacare” promises to correct much of that but it is under assault and could be repealed or cut way back. That could return us to the 2005 Census Bureau figures that showed 46.5 million Americans, including 12 million children, with no health insurance .

We are a religious nation, and yet: We have the best medical technology and treatment capability in the world. Yet the United States ranks 37th for health system performance by the World Health Organization.

We are a religious nation, and yet: The latest report on life expectancy shows a slight drop in the United States that will place us even lower than the current ranking of 49th among nations of the world – a lower life expectancy than many less developed countries. A Columbia University study attributes our decline from 11th place in 1950 to the much lower present ranking to our inadequate profit-driven healthcare system.

We are a religious nation, and yet: The current minimum wage of $7.25 hourly, which was raised from $5.15 four years ago, still keeps families hovering at or below the poverty line. France, Ireland, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, England, the Isle of Man, and many other nations have a higher minimum wage than we do.

We are a religious nation, and yet: The latest census figures show the gap between rich and poor widening to the largest margin ever. The top 20 percent of workers earning more than $100,000 a year received 49.4.percent of all income compared with the 3.4 percent earned by the bottom 20 percent.. The richest 1 percent pockets more than 20 percent of total income which is greater than the total amount earned by the bottom 50 percent. Economic inequality – not just in the US but globally – is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off, and when it does, the greed-based capitalist economic system we are currently stuck with will have to submit to a complete make-over or face extinction.

We are a religious nation, and yet: The wealthiest segment of the population is fighting tooth and nail for lower tax rates and other tax breaks while joblessness, poverty, crime, homelessness and hunger are rampant in America.

We are a religious nation, and yet: In 1994 a million innocents were slaughtered in Rwanda. We watched and did nothing. Similarly, we did little to stop the genocide in Darfur. Further slaughter is now ongoing in Syria and Greece while the world watches and does nothing. Will the U.S. intervene on humanitarian grounds? History does not suggest a positive answer.

We are a religious nation, and yet: There are at least 59 holocaust museums in the United States dedicated to raising awareness of the Nazi genocide and to help prevent similar horrors from happening again. Add to that the numerous holocaust museums and memorials around the world. Yet genocides, mass murders, and other atrocities such as the sex slave trade persist. Who is listening, who is learning? Who is acting?

We are a religious nation, and yet: Americans make up 5 percent of the world population and produces 25 percent of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, which are raising the earth's temperature ("greenhouse effect") to dangerous levels.

We are a religious nation, and yet: Fossil fuel consumption is destroying the planet, but we refuse to develop a "Manhattan Project" for alternative energy.

We are a religious nation, and yet: Scientists warn that the environmental doomsday clock is ticking. The icebergs are breaking away and melting before our eyes, revealing islands we never saw before. We watch and debate but do too little to preserve the environment for ourselves and future generations. In our hubris we forget that we are guests on a tiny rock floating--in an infinite universe of rocks-- that uniquely supports life in a delicate balance of natural and mysterious forces.

We are a religious nation, and yet: Smoking continues to compromise the health of more than 20 percent of our population who still smoke. The Surgeon General tells us that smoking, in addition to contributing to a number of cancers, increases the risk of almost every known disease. The American Lung Association reports that each day nearly 6,000 children under 18 years of age start smoking. But we refuse to put an end to smoking. At the same time, cannabis is still illegal while having been proved to be harmless.

We are a religious nation, and yet: Leaders of some of our biggest corporations, as well as prominent investment advisers (men and women of "faith"), have cheated, deceived and destroyed their companies and clients, ruining the lives and futures of untold numbers of individuals and families.

We are a religious nation, and yet: We have the largest prison population in the world. Currently more than 2.7 million people are incarcerated; and 1 in every 18 adults is in prison, on parole or probation adding up to a total of 9.3 million. The U.S has a greater prison population (in percentage of population) than a number of countries that we consider in violation of human rights.

We are a religious nation, and yet: According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, world military spending for 2009 reached $1.531 trillion, a six percent increase over 2008 and a forty-nine percent increase over the year 2000. The United States accounted for forty-six percent of the total world military expenditure ($661 billion). China was a distant second accounting for 6.6. percent followed by France's 4.2 percent, the UK's 3.8 percent and Russia's 3.5 percent. The proposed U.S. military budget for 2012 is $750 billion. Nice job, Washington!

What is religion? Organized religion is a multi-billion-dollar business disguised as a honeycomb of non-profits (actually, more like a hornet's nest). On the other hand, followers of Jesus – who Himself was crucified mainly because he preached against organized government and organized religion – exercise the very essence of true Spirituality by showing love, caring, serving, giving, sharing, oneness, brother and sisterhood, compassion, empathy and selflessness. Summed up: "Love thy neighbor as thyself." I'm so glad that we are a religious nation.

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