November 25, 2010

PASS AUNT SUSAN THE STUFFING:

One nation, with Aunt Susan: How Americans turn religious diversity into a source of unity—for some (Lexington, Nov 25th 2010, The Economist)

AT A time when Americans are worried about their crippling political divisions, it is pleasing to report that two social scientists, Robert Putnam of Harvard University and David Campbell of the University of Notre Dame, have just written a book that examines a powerful source of American unity. Perhaps unexpectedly, the unifying force they focus on is religion.

America’s religiosity has been extensively documented and should surprise no one. It is, Sarah Palin said in her own new book this week, “a prayerful country”. More than eight out of ten Americans say they belong to a religion. More Americans than Iranians (four out of ten) say they attend a religious service nearly once a week or more. What is a surprise—or should be, when you think about it in the way Messrs Putnam and Campbell have—is that religion in America is not more divisive. They argue in “American Grace” (Simon & Schuster) that religion gives Americans a sort of “civic glue, uniting rather than dividing”. [...]

There are the protections of the constitution, of course. But the authors put much of it down to Aunt Susan. Such is America’s churning diversity that most Americans are intimately acquainted with people of other faiths. Aunt Susan may be a Methodist, and you a Jew, but you know that Aunt Susan deserves a place in heaven anyway. In fact, Susan does not have to be your aunt, because in addition to the Aunt Susan principle the authors have invented the My Friend Al principle. In this case you befriend Al because, say, of a shared interest in beekeeping, and later learn that he is an evangelical Christian. Having an evangelical Christian in your circle of friends makes you warmer than you were before to evangelical Christians. Not only that, befriending someone from another faith makes you warmer to other religions in general.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 25, 2010 8:34 AM
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