In the midst of a raging discussion about what it means to be American, it is worthwhile to reflect on the profound ambivalence of American civil religion — perhaps the most powerful force for creating a shared national identity.
In 1967, Robert N. Bellah’s seminal essay, “Civil Religion in America,” created a template for how both the right and the left defined civil religion to cultivate a sense of belonging, particularly in an era of turbulence. During this period of increasing polarization, Bellah’s words are more relevant than ever.
The Schwartzs seemed like any other Jewish family in Woodstock, N.Y. except for one thing: Mom and Dad were obviously white, and their daughter Lacey was obviously not.
That racial disconnect would be easier to fathom if Peggy and Robert Schwartz hadn't had everyone believing their dark-skinned daughter was the biological child of both parents.
It would take Little White Lie, the film an adult Lacey made about family secrets and religious identity, to unpack this mystery.
“I grew up in a world of synagogue, Hebrew school, bar mitzvahs,” Schwartz narrates over a home movie montage of Jewish holiday celebrations and her own bat mitzvah.
“So it never occurred to me that I was passing,” she continues.
“I wasn’t pretending to be something I wasn’t. I actually grew up believing I was white.”
Little White Lie, which has enjoyed success on the film festival circuit and will reach a larger audience when PBS’s Independent Lens airs it on March 23, revolves around a flabbergasting central question: How could this family pretend that she owed her complexion to the genes of dad’s darkest Italian ancestor?
Schwartz said she wants the film to model how people can face up to family secrets and move on with their lives. In her case, the secret was her mother’s affair with a black man.
I agree with Rev. Wallis — focusing on the common good is a good step toward answering the question of how to be on God's side, and solving many of our nation's greatest points of division. In a country as diverse as ours, however, it can be challenging to know what the common good actually is. As individual participants in society, we all come to the table with different ideological structures for framing our understanding of what is commonly good. Those structures are often built around religion, philosophy, and our beliefs and understandings about existence, mortality, and the cosmos. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that we live in, arguably, the most religiously diverse nation of all time.
Yes, Jesus has called me to love my neighbor as myself, but what does that really mean when my neighbor is Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, secular humanist, or Hindu?
Religion is often blamed for the world's greatest conflicts, and rightfully so. One doesn't have to look far to see conflict or violence that is linked to religious motivations or sentiments in some way (think the tragedy at the Boston Marathon or the Sikh man that was murdered shortly after 9/11 because he was wearing a turban). In a country that becomes more religiously diverse every day, it is easy to allow conflict to arise between different religious and non-religious groups. It is true, difference in religious and philosophical ideology can be a cause of great division. But what if I told you it doesn't have to be that way?
More than 15 percent of the U.S. population now lives in poverty -- the highest rate in 18 years, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released this morning.
Poverty has risen for the third consecutive year in a row, the new census figures show, with perhaps most distressing are the child poverty numbers, which rose from 20.7 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2010.
"The results aren't good," the Rev. Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, the largest network of progressive Christians in the United States focused on the biblical call to social justice, said upon reviewing the census report today.
Deep down I don't believe in the separation of church and state. Oh, I am against the idea of a state church or giving political preference to one religious sect or another, but it's the idea that somehow people can divorce their religious identity from their political identity that I just can't accept. That either our religion or our politics mean so little to us that we could restrict them to compartmentalized spheres in our lives seems absurd to me. I know people attempt to do it all the time, believing in the modern myth that an individual can assume an objective stance in this world, but reality is a lot more complex than that.
In the wake of the tragic bombing in Norway this past weekend, we are left with an unsettling picture of the state of anti-Islamic sentiments in the United States. There were broad attempts to blame the bombings on Islamic terrorism before all of the facts of the attack were out, and even after the attacker became known as Anders Behring Breivik, a self-proclaimed Christian extremist, the discussion focused on Breivik's statement that he was responding to the threat Muslims pose in Europe.
I am ready to give thanks. Last year, I joined my family for Thanksgiving but when the food was served, I could only watch. Early in November of 2009, I had an attack of pancreatitis. Later, I learned it was probably due to a gallstone, but at the time it was a mystery. My diet throughout November was mostly liquids, then I progressed to soft bland food in December. But due to complications from a medical procedure, things got worse. From mid-December 2009 to the end of June 2010, I received most of my nutrition through a bag. It was pumped directly into my blood stream from 12 to 24 hours every day.