19Jan 2022 by
Please spend at least 60 minutes reading and responding to the following passage, adapted from Shadi Hamids America Without God, with respect to the questions below. Your essay should be thoughtful and should engage directly with the passage. Make sure you are as specific as possible with how you are reading the passage, and use quotations.
The United States had long been a holdout among Western democracies, uniquely and perhaps even suspiciously devout. From 1937 to 1998, church membership remained relatively constant, hovering at about 70 percent. Then something happened. Over the past two decades, that number has dropped to less than 50 percent, the sharpest recorded decline in American history. Meanwhile, the nonesatheists, agnostics, and those claiming no religionhave grown rapidly and today represent a quarter of the population.
But if secularists hoped that declining religiosity would make for more rational politics, drained of faiths inflaming passions, they are likely disappointed. As Christianitys hold, in particular, has weakened, ideological intensity and fragmentation have risen. American faith, it turns out, is as fervent as ever; its just that what was once religious belief has now been channeled into political belief. Political debates over what America is supposed to mean have taken on the character of theological disputations. This is what religion without religion looks like.
Not so long ago, I could comfort American audiences with a contrast: Whereas in the Middle East, politics is war by other meansand sometimes is literal warpolitics in America was less existentially fraught. During the Arab Spring, in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, debates werent about health care or taxesthey were, with sometimes frightening intensity, about foundational questions: What does it mean to be a nation? What is the purpose of the state? What is the role of religion in public life? American politics in the Obama years had its moments of fermentthe Tea Party and tan suitsbut was still relatively boring.
We didnt realize how lucky we were. Since the end of the Obama era, debates over what it means to be American have become suffused with a fervor that would be unimaginable in debates over, say, Belgian-ness or the meaning of Sweden. Its rare to hear someone accused of being un-Swedish or un-Britishbut un-American is a common slur, slung by both left and right against the other. Being called un-American is like being called un-Christian or un-Islamic, a charge akin to heresy.
Questions for Writing
Hamid writes, This is what religion without religion looks like, suggesting that religion can have several meanings. What, according to Hamid, are these various meanings? How does he use these meanings to suggest that the United States is currently experiencing religion without religion?
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