You’re a Merry Man, Charlie Brown
The 50-year-old Christmas TV tradition endures because Chuck knows the reason for the season.
Dec. 20, 2015 4:11 p.m. ET
Every year millions tune in to “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” a 50-year-old TV special that shows its age. The animation looks rudimentary by Pixar standards. The voice acting, performed by real children, isn’t exactly a Shakespearean triumph. So what makes this “Peanuts” television special, in a word, special? It’s that Charlie Brown knows what Christmas is all about.
The creator of “Peanuts,” Charles Schulz, was surprised by the opportunity to make a TV special at all. In 1963 San Francisco producer Lee Mendelson made a documentary about Schulz’s cartooning, but it failed to sell. Two years later, however, advertising giant McCann Erickson called Mr. Mendelson, inquiring about the possibility of an animated Christmas program for its client, Coca-Cola.
In a mere handful of months, Schulz, Mr. Mendelson and director Bill Melendez pulled the show together. To elevate it to fit the paradoxical sophistication of “Peanuts,” they scrapped the traditional laugh track and opted for a jazz score. To maintain the strip’s ethos of authenticity, they had children voice the characters and brought in a choir from a local church. Schulz insisted that they include a passage of scripture—Linus’s recitation of the Gospel of Luke. When his creative partners voiced concern that broaching religion might be risky, Schulz responded simply: “If we don’t do it, who will?”
The trio showed their completed reel to CBS network executives just shy of the scheduled airdate. The execs hated it. “The Bible thing scares us,” they said, as Mr. Mendelson later recalled. They complained about the music and plodding animation. Lucky for Chuck, it was too late to change the programming schedule.
The show was met with wild adoration. More than 15 million viewers tuned in, and it won an Emmy for children’s programming in 1966, beating out Walt Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color.” Many of those who sent letters to Schulz and Coca-Cola said that the Biblical content, rare on television even then, resonated. “I am encouraged,” one read, “to see a national company willing to sponsor not only an excellent production but also a Christian one.”
Re-aired every year since—more than any Christmas special save “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which debuted a year earlier—the show pushed Schulz’s strip to fresh heights. CBS ordered more specials, including a Halloween tale that also still runs. The shows became an entry point as the changing newspaper industry strove to bring new readers to its funny pages. They drove the “Peanuts” licensing operation, now owned 80% by New York-based Iconix and 20% by the Schulz family.
Half a century later, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is far more than a quaint historical artifact. The slow and yet sublime story proves that purposeful characters and a simple aesthetic can beat fancy computer algorithms. The annual spiritual validation on mainstream television is a breath of fresh air. Free from gross humor or double-entendres, the show is a reminder that Hollywood need not reach to the lowest common denominator. A lonely kid who hears deep truths and is comforted by flawed but well-meaning friends is enough.
In the first of this year’s two broadcasts, seven million viewers tuned in to see old Chuck struggle with the meaning of the season. It is a struggle, at once simple and complex, that the studios thought would result in failure. The viewers continue to say otherwise.
Mr. Lind is the author of “A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles M. Schulz” (University Press of Mississippi, 2015).
Nov. 24, 2015 6:01 p.m. ET
The story of how the Pilgrims arrived at our shores on the Mayflower—and how a friendly Patuxet native named Squanto showed them how to plant corn, using fish as fertilizer—is well-known. But Squanto’s full story is not, as National Geographic’s new Thanksgiving miniseries, “Saints & Strangers,” shows. That might be because some details of Squanto’s life are in dispute. The important ones are not, however. His story is astonishing, even raising profound questions about God’s role in American history.
Every Thanksgiving we remember that, to escape religious persecution, the Pilgrims sailed to the New World, landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620. But numerous trading ships had visited the area earlier. Around 1608 an English ship dropped anchor off the coast of what is today Plymouth, Mass., ostensibly to trade metal goods for the natives’ beads and pelts. The friendly Patuxets received the crew but soon discovered their dark intentions. A number of the braves were brutally captured, taken to Spain and sold into slavery.
One of them, a young man named Tisquantum, or Squanto, was bought by a group of Catholic friars, who evidently treated him well and freed him, even allowing him to dream of somehow returning to the New World, an almost unimaginable thought at the time. Around 1612, Squanto made his way to London, where he stayed with a man namedJohn Slany and learned his ways and language. In 1618, a ship was found, and in return for serving as an interpreter, Squanto would be given one-way passage back to the New World.
After spending a winter in Newfoundland, the ship made its way down the coast of Maine and Cape Cod, where Squanto at last reached his own shore. After 10 years, Squanto returned to the village where he had been born. But when he arrived, to his unfathomable disappointment, there was no one to greet him. What had happened?
It seems that since he had been away, nearly every member of the Patuxets had perished from disease, perhaps smallpox, brought by European ships. Had Squanto not been kidnapped, he would almost surely have died. But perhaps he didn’t feel lucky to have been spared. Surely, he must have wondered how his extraordinary efforts could amount to this. At first he wandered to another Wampanoag tribe, but they weren’t his people. He was a man without a family or tribe, and eventually lived alone in the woods.
But his story didn’t end there. In the bleak November of 1620, the Mayflower passengers, unable to navigate south to the warmer land of Virginia, decided to settle at Plymouth, the very spot where Squanto had grown up. They had come in search of religious freedom, hoping to found a colony based on Christian principles.
Their journey was very difficult, and their celebrated landing on the frigid shores of Plymouth proved even more so. Forced to sleep in miserably wet and cold conditions, many of them fell gravely ill. Half of them died during that terrible winter. One can imagine how they must have wept and wondered how the God they trusted and followed could lead them to this agonizing pass. They seriously considered returning to Europe.
But one day during that spring of 1621, a Wampanoag walked out of the woods to greet them. Somehow he spoke perfect English. In fact, he had lived in London more recently than they had. And if that weren’t strange enough, he had grown up on the exact land where they had settled.
Because of this, he knew everything about how to survive there; not only how to plant corn and squash, but how to find fish and lobsters and eels and much else. The lone Patuxet survivor had nowhere to go, so the Pilgrims adopted him as one of their own and he lived with them on the land of his childhood.
No one disputes that Squanto’s advent among the Pilgrims changed everything, making it possible for them to stay and thrive. Squanto even helped broker a peace with the local tribes, one that lasted 50 years, a staggering accomplishment considering the troubles settlers would face later.
So the question is: Can all of this have been sheer happenstance, as most versions of the story would have us believe? The Pilgrims hardly thought so. To them, Squanto was a living answer to their tearful prayers, an outrageous miracle of God. Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford declared in his journal that Squanto “became a special instrument sent of God” who didn’t leave them “till he died.”
Indeed, when Squanto died from a mysterious disease in 1622, Bradford wrote that he wanted “the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen’s God in heaven.” And Squanto bequeathed his possessions to the Pilgrims “as remembrances of his love.”
These are historical facts. May we be forgiven for interpreting them as the answered prayers of a suffering people, and a warm touch at the cold dawn of our history of an Almighty Hand?
Mr. Metaxas is the author of “Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life” (Dutton Adult, 2014).
By WILLIAM A. GALSTON
Feb. 24, 2015 6:46 p.m. ET
‘I do not believe that the president loves America,” former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said last week. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me.”
If love for Rudy Giuliani were a true test of love for this country, a rapidly declining share of Americans would pass. Nonetheless, in the least artful and most irresponsible way possible, Mr. Giuliani managed to raise a genuinely significant question: What does it mean to love one’s country?
This much is clear: It doesn’t mean never criticizing one’s country. We all know the ending of U.S. naval hero Stephen Decatur ’s famous toast in 1816: “Our country, right or wrong.” But we often overlook the obvious: Decatur was acknowledging that his beloved country from time to time might be in the wrong. In the 1870s, Sen. Carl Schurz spelled out the full meaning of Decatur’s words: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” To set one’s country right, one must state the wrong—and then act to correct it.
As is often the case, Edmund Burke said it best: “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” To the extent that our country’s beauty is flawed, we strengthen that love by working to remove its blemishes.
Love of country does require partiality, however. It would be more than odd for parents to say that they love their children but love their neighbor’s children just as much. Either they are not telling the truth, or the emotion they feel for their children is not love as ordinarily understood. In the same way, we do not love our country if we care about it neither more nor less than other countries.
It is in this context that the running debate about American “exceptionalism” should be placed. If our country doesn’t stand above others, the proponents of the exceptionalist thesis ask, then how can we set it above others in our affections?
But transpose this seemingly plausible claim to the family. Does this special love we feel for our own children depend on their superiority to other children? Must they be smarter, better looking, more accomplished, or of better character than others for us to love them above all others?
Of course not. We love them as we do because they are ours. We have a unique bond with them. In most cases they are literally flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood. When children are adopted, parents declare their intention to create through commitment the bonds of nature.
To be sure, it is hard to prevent love from shading over into a kind of boastfulness. Parents brag about their children—pardonably, at least within limits. Citizens inevitably move from love of country because it is their own to assertions of national superiority. Sometimes these claims are warranted. But beyond their due bounds, they become arrogant and dangerous.
In the Bible, God warns his chosen people through the prophet Amos not to expect special treatment: “To me, O Israelites, you are just like the Ethiopians, declares the Lord. True, I brought Israel up from the land of Egypt; but also the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir.” By the same token, no one is exempt from judgment—or punishment. Israel surely was not.
The Hebrew prophets are the classic examples of what the political theorist Michael Walzer calls “connected criticism.” This is criticism from inside a tradition, not outside, moved not by malice but by special affection for the object of criticism. Its objective is Burke’s: to make a lovely country lovelier still. In that spirit, Martin Luther King Jr. appealed to Americans not to live up to others’ standards, but to their own, set forth in the Declaration of Independence and nourished by the Bible. In that same spirit, on the first day of his presidency, Bill Clinton declared his conviction that “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”
Presidents cannot be prophets. If they err, it must be on their country’s side. Still, America’s leaders on occasion have underscored the country’s misdeeds. Five years after Congress passed a bill declaring the treatment of Japanese during World War II to have been a “fundamental injustice,” President Clinton in 1993 issued a formal apology on behalf of the American people. That act did not weaken the country; it strengthened it.
And let us not forget: As the Civil War moved toward its conclusion, America’s greatest president delivered America’s greatest speech, daring to ask whether that bloody fratricidal struggle represented God’s judgment on our country—North and South alike—for the sin of slavery. In so doing, President Lincoln set in motion a process that, however delayed, eventually made America a fairer and stronger nation.
So let us consign Rudy Giuliani’s remarks to their richly deserved oblivion and get on with the serious business of improving our country.
While I serve in elective office, I am keenly aware that the most serious problems facing our country today are not purely political, or even mostly political. I would argue that what is ailing our country is profoundly moral in nature and, as such, necessitates a spiritual antidote. It demands, in the words of Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, speaking of the American church he beheld in the 19th century, “pulpits aflame with righteousness.”
What better place to start in reflecting on the spiritual and moral health of our nation than with the first of the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
According to the Bible, the Israelites were given the Ten Commandments after God delivered them from bondage in Egypt. They were not arbitrary laws to restrict or punish the Jewish people, rather they were intended to remind those freed from captivity of God’s demonstrable power and abounding love. This is perhaps most true of the first commandment in which God tells his people that he alone is worthy of their love, honor and ultimately worship.
When the prophet Moses, revered in the traditions of the three Abrahamic faiths, descends from the mountaintop, tablets in hand, he finds the Israelites worshipping a golden calf. Hard to envision today perhaps, but the temptations toward various forms of idolatry are no less real and arguably more sinister as they increasingly become the cultural norm. Think of the scourges of pornography, gambling, unbridled materialism, lust for power and drug abuse to name a few, and the broken lives they leave in their wake.
Today in America we bear witness to an insidious relativism that teaches that concepts of right and wrong are old-fashioned, antiquated and even judgmental. Vices are elevated. Virtues are mocked. Faith is squeezed out of the public square. Our culture is coarsened as a result.
These seemingly intangible realities have profound implications. Consider the following: In court case after court case the ability to display the Ten Commandments is debated and in some instances threatened. Such cases have more than symbolic relevance; they are a bellwether of sorts. But perhaps more significant is the reality that the display of the Ten Commandments is hardly as significant as the truths they contain: truths which beginning with the First Commandment to worship none but our Creator are under assault not just in courtrooms but in our culture.
Much has been written about the demise of American exceptionalism. But I believe that just as significant is the extraction of the hand of Providence from our shared national narrative.
Any faithful student of American history should be able to point to countless examples when a simple turn of events would have resulted in a drastically different outcome — an outcome which threatened the very future of this “shining city on a hill.” This is perhaps no more true than at our founding when a hearty band of patriots defied all odds and defeated the mighty British Empire.
George Washington himself famously said, “The Hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”
Indeed, whether hailing from the Judeo-Christian tradition or some other tradition altogether, every American who enjoys the fruits of liberty ought to contemplate the “Hand of Providence” in so richly blessing this unlikely venture in self-governance.
Such contemplation can’t but result in gratitude, which is itself at the heart of worship.
Rep. Frank Wolf is in his 17th term in Congress. He represents a part of Virginia just across the river from Washington, D.C. He is the co-chairman of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, which advocates for the voiceless around the globe and is often called the “conscience” of the House. He is retiring at the end of this Congress.
Read more at http://national.deseretnews.com/article/1295/Frank-Wolf-First-Commandment-shows-shining-example-of-American-exceptionalism.html#EUhPKgcyDv2duhF0.99
The commentary below was taken with permission, from the Newsroom website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/relevance-religion).
COMMENTARY — 25 JULY 2013The Relevance of Religion
SALT LAKE CITY — “Over the long haul, religious faith has proven itself the most powerful and enduring force in human history.” R. R. Reno
Resilience amid Change
How relevant is religion? It’s a question each new generation asks itself. As times change, new circumstances present new challenges and possibilities. And yet, through it all, this immemorial longing we call religion continues on.
In the 1960s, sociologists came to a consensus that religion was fading. As knowledge and freedom increased, they theorized, so modern society would outgrow religion. Thirty years later, however, that hypothesis was reversed. One of these sociologists, Peter Berger, explained the miscalculation this way: “Religion has not been declining. On the contrary, in much of the world there has been a veritable explosion of religious faith.” He concluded that just because the world is becoming more modern doesn’t necessarily mean it is becoming less religious. Religion, it can be said, is just as relevant now as it has ever been.
The value of religion speaks less through sermons and more through the soup kitchens, hospitals, schools and countless other humanitarian works it nurtures. Simply put, religion builds social capital. Research shows that more than 90 percent of those who attend weekly worship services donate to charity, and nearly 70 percent volunteer for charitable causes. Such giving also benefits the giver. According to the landmark study American Grace, “the correlation between religiosity and life satisfaction is powerful and robust.”
Religiosity, however, does not remain static. It might surge in one part of the world and decline in another. In America, for example, religion is in a state of flux. The number of those who claim no religious affiliation nearly doubled from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008. Now that number has crept to nearly 20 percent. And among those under 30 years old, disaffiliation jumps to 32 percent.
In many ways religion finds itself on the margins of society, where one’s beliefs and values may be expressed privately but are often dismissed publicly. Conflicts sometimes arise when religious organizations or individuals share their views of right and wrong in the public sphere. Tension can be seen, for example, in rules banning religious clubs from college campuses or in regulations curbing the conscience of health care practitioners. Public figures and regular citizens often hesitate to articulate their religious values to avoid controversy.
This separation of religion from public life is a feature of what is often called secularism. Philosopher Charles Taylor describes the current environment as a shift “from a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others.” Meanwhile, the broader questions of religion get lost in narrow cultural divisions. What does religion mean in the actual lives of people? What role does religion play in forming communities? And how do religious beliefs address life’s most difficult problems? Such matters cannot be reduced to mere politics; they are perennial concerns, deeply interwoven in humanity’s rich fabric.
The Good of Religion
Human beings are religious by nature. They seek a higher purpose outside themselves. Whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or other, religion offers a framework by which people find meaning, belonging and identity. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has written, religion gives us “a feeling of participating in something vast and consequential.” And this feeling tends to flow into civic interactions. American Grace found that religious observance is linked to higher civic involvement, connected to trust and correlated with the neighborly virtues of charitable giving, volunteerism and altruism. Churches of all kinds bring communities together and provide a space and setting for individuals to serve people they otherwise would not. According to Rabbi Sacks, religion “remains the most powerful community builder the world has known.”
Religion and the search for transcendence are integral to the human experience. Though they take many forms, religious beliefs help us make sense of life’s mysteries and provide answers to deep philosophical challenges. Professor Brian Leiter, who normally disagrees with privileging religion in public life, concedes that faiths “render intelligible and tolerable the basic existential facts about human life, such as suffering and death.”
Religion and secularism, though, do not always have to be at odds. Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive. Each can benefit from the other. The encounter between the two can be a productive tension that provides opportunities to learn, not contradictions to avoid. Mormons, for example, believe that "the glory of God is intelligence." People of faith reject the notion that religious faith and practice are devoid of rational thought. Science can explain much of the human experience, but without faith we lack ultimate meaning.
Modernity in Fragments
With its teeming plurality of choices and possibilities, our modern world presents unique challenges to religion. Endless philosophies, ideologies and truth claims clamor for attention, magnified by instantaneous media. Globalization pushes peoples and cultures together. Different religions and worldviews interact and collide. Personal preferences alone become a guide in dealing with moral dilemmas. In this flux individuals can feel isolated and become disconnected from their communities.
Modernity, therefore, is not just one thing; it is a commotion of many things. But it can tend toward fragmentation. In this competition of choices, according to Charles Taylor, living a religious life can be “an embattled option,” making it “hard to sustain one’s faith.” In such an atmosphere, he continues, many will “feel bound to give [their faith] up, even though they mourn its loss.” In much the same spirit, novelist Marilynne Robinson laments how the religious self is often reduced to “a sort of cultural residue needing to be swept away.”
Even so, during the millennia of human existence nothing has been able to replace religion. Skeptics have misread and underestimated the religious impulse in the human spirit. It is part of who we are, and it won’t go away. Secular thinker Terry Eagleton describes the situation over the past century this way: “Culture made a bid for power, a bid as it were to oust God, to oust theology and religion. … But it didn’t work.”
Religion’s Place in the Whole
People of faith have cause to believe not only in the good of their own religion but also in the good of religion in general. The conclusion of William James is fitting: “The highest flights of charity, devotion, trust, patience, bravery to which the wings of human nature have spread themselves, have been flown for religious ideals.” Religion can also be a powerful source of ethical reflection and orientation toward the moral.
The roots of religion are so deeply planted in the values of society that to pull them up would unsettle the whole. Virtually all of us, believers or not, practice values laden with religious meaning. Our modern aspirations toward human rights and humanitarian aid, for example, have long religious pedigrees. Religion’s reservoir of moral ideas spills over for everyone to drink. Reflecting on what they called “the lessons of history,” scholars Will and Ariel Durant asserted, “There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.”
All societies have some moral basis, whether derived from religion, philosophy, custom or any number of sources. Religious values should not be dismissed from the public square any more than the vast array of other positive values. Prominent thinker on religion and society Jurgen Habermas wrote that among the modern societies of today, “only those that are able to introduce into the secular domain the essential contents of their religious traditions which point beyond the merely human realm will also be able to rescue the substance of the human.”
Religion is worth upholding and honoring in our society. It has both tremendous capacity andresponsibility to lift individuals, support communities and uphold the dignity of all God’s children. Faith and society, therefore, are intertwined in important ways. As Christian Pastor Rick Warren has affirmed, “A truly free society protects all faiths, and true faith protects a free society.” With mutual respect and civility we can all live, even flourish, with our deepest differences. As long as we continue to seek meaning, purpose and community, religion will remain not only relevant but an essential part of what it means to be human.
 R. R. Reno, “Religion and Public Life in America,” Imprimis, Apr. 2013.
 Peter Berger, “Secularization Falsified,” First Things, Feb. 2008.
 Arthur C. Brooks, “Religious Faith and Charitable Giving,” Policy Review, Oct. 2003. Similar statistics are found in the “Faith Matters Survey 2006,” as cited in American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.
 Robert A. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us(New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010), 491.
 Barry A. Kosmin, Ariela Keysar, “American Religious Identification Survey,” 2008, 3.
 Cary Funk, Greg Smith, Pew Research Center, “’Nones’ on the Rise: One in Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation,” Oct. 9, 2012. It is worth noting here that though religious unaffiliation is not the same as irreligion — two-thirds of the people in this group say they still believe in God — it does indicate a diminished confidence in churches and religious institutions.
 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007), 3.
 Jonathan Sacks, The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning (New York: Schocken Books, 2011), 101.
 Robert A. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us(New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).
 Jonathan Sacks, “The Moral Animal,” New York Times, Dec. 23, 2012.
 Brian Leiter, Why Tolerate Religion? (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2012), 52.
 Doctrine & Covenants 93:36
 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007), 3.
 Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2011).
 Terry Eagleton, Intelligence Squared, “Terry Eagleton in Conversation with Roger Scruton,” Sept. 13, 2012.
 William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: The Modern Library, 1902), 254.
 Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 51.
 Jurgen Habermas, et al, An Awareness of What Is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age (Malden, Massachusetts: Polity Press, 2010), 5.
 Rick Warren, “A truly free society protects all faiths, and true faith protects a free society.” (#NationalDayofPrayer), May 2, 2013, 8:05 p.m. Tweet.
BY: Rodney Stark
Is America losing its faith in religion? The answer would seem to be yes, judging by polls and news stories lately. Gallup announced in May that 77% of Americans believe that religion is losing its "influence on American life." Reporting online about the Gallup results, The Blaze said the poll "suggests that America's slide toward secularism continues to gain steam."
In March at the Faith Angle Forum in South Beach, Fla., a paper by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life was presented bearing the title "The Decline of Institutional Religion." The presentation followed up on Pew research that gained wide publicity last fall indicating that the fastest-growing "religious" group in America is made up of those who say they have no religion.
According to Pew, 8% of Americans in 1990 gave their religious preference as "none." By 2007, that response had nearly doubled to 15%, and in 2012 the "no religion" response had climbed to 20%. Earlier this year, an analysis of the General Social Survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago tracked a similar trend, also citing the 20% no-religion response.
Many interpret the numbers to mean that America is heading down the secular road. In a survey published this month by the Pew Research Center, 48% of Americans say the growing number of "people who are not religious" is a bad thing for American society (and only 11% say it is a good thing).
But I disagree with the notion that the U.S. is heading toward becoming as unchurched as much of Europe. One reason is that saying you have "no religion" is not the same as disbelieving in God. Many people who say they have no religion are simply saying they have no official religious affiliation. They may actually have strong personal beliefs. The increase in the "no religion" group may also be an illusion caused by the rising nonresponse rate to survey studies.
Consider: The proportion of Americans who claim to be atheists has not increased even slightly since Gallup first asked about belief in God in 1944. Back then, 4% said they did not believe in God, and 3% or 4% give that answer today.
Most of those Americans who are reported as having no religion are not unreligious but only unaffiliated, and some of them even attend church. They do not belong to any specific denomination, but probably most of them would agree that they are Christians, had they been directly asked that question.
A far more important indicator, as many recent studies—including the Baylor National Religion Surveys—have found, is that those who say they have no religion are surprisingly religious. Most say they pray, and a third even report having had a religious experience. Half of these respondents who would be considered by survey takers to have "no religion" believe in angels.
So even if the proportion of Americans with no professed religion is rising, that does not translate into an increase in irreligiousness. But it may well be that the proportion of nonreligious Americans is not even increasing, and remains far smaller than recent surveys reveal.
When I was a young sociologist at Berkeley's Survey Research Center, it was assumed that any survey that failed to interview at least 85% of those originally drawn into the sample was not to be trusted. Those who refused to take part in the survey or could not be reached were known to be different from those who did take part. Consequently, studies were expected to report their completion rates.
Today, even the most reputable studies seldom reach more than a third of those initially selected to be surveyed and, probably for that reason, completion rates are now rarely reported. The Pew Forum researchers are to be commended for reporting their actual completion rates, which by 2012 had fallen to 9%.
Given all of this, only one thing is really certain: Those who take part in any survey are not a random selection of the population. They also tend to be less educated and less affluent. Contrary to the common wisdom, research has long demonstrated that this demographic group is the one least likely to belong to a church.
As the less-affluent and less-educated have made up a bigger share of those surveyed, so has the number of those who report having no religion. That would help explain why, during this whole era of supposed decline, Baylor surveys find that the overall rate of membership in local religious congregations has remained stable at about 70%. Hard to write a headline about the lack of change. Sometimes, though, no news really is good news.
Mr. Stark, co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, is the author of "The Triumph of Christianity" (HarperCollins, 2012).
A version of this article appeared July 4, 2013, on page A9 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Myth of Unreligious America.
Yesterday was Sunday, and I have been thinking why a person of faith might be a better American this week than he or she otherwise would be, because of it....
The article below seemed to fit within this question:
Was the American Revolution a holy war?
By James P. Byrd, Published: July 5, 2013, The Washington Post
James P. Byrd is an associate dean at Vanderbilt University and the author of “Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution.”
Holy war can seem like something that happened long ago or that happens far away — the Crusades of medieval Europe, for example, or jihadists fighting secular forces today. But since their country’s founding, Americans have often thought of their wars as sacred, even when the primary objectives have been political.
This began with the American Revolution. When colonists declared their independence on July 4, 1776, religious conviction inspired them. Because they believed that their cause had divine support, many patriots’ ardor was both political and religious. They saw the conflict as a just, secular war, but they fought it with religious resolve, believing that God endorsed the cause. As Connecticut minister Samuel Sherwood preached in 1776: “God Almighty, with all the powers of heaven, are on our side. Great numbers of angels, no doubt, are encamping round our coast, for our defense and protection.”
Several founding fathers were more theologically liberal than the typical evangelical Protestant of their day. Still, few were anti-religious, and the nation’s architects often stated that religion supported virtue, which was essential to patriotism. “A true patriot must be a religious man,” wrote Abigail Adams, wife of America’s second president.
George Washington believed so strongly in the religious case for patriotism that he demanded chaplains for the Continental Army. He appealed to the Continental Congress for higher pay for chaplains, and when one chaplain impressed the general, Washington went to great lengths to retain him.
That chaplain was Abiel Leonard of Woodstock, Conn. Washington wrote letters to the governor of Connecticut and to Leonard’s church, hoping they would support the pastor’s extended service in the Army. In his letter to the governor, Washington wrote that Leonard had proved to be “a warm and steady friend to his country and taken great pains to animate the soldiers, and impress them with a knowledge of the important rights we are contending for.”
For Washington, chaplains not only supplied moral guidance but appealed for God’s support in battle, which was vital. He believed that the war’s outcome rested in God’s hands, and he ordered his soldiers to attend “divine service, to implore the blessings of heaven upon the means used for our safety and defense.”
We cannot fully understand the revolution without recognizing such appeals for God’s favor on the battlefield. Both the founders and ministers understood these ideas because they knew scripture, one of the major sources of American patriotism. Colonists fought the Revolutionary War in a society in which the Bible was the most read, most owned and most respected book. John Adams once told Thomas Jefferson, “The Bible is the best book in the world.” Perhaps more important, Adams also called the Bible the world’s “most Republican book” — scripture inspired morality, but it also fueled patriotism.
Even those colonists who normally had no use for the Bible found it helpful during the revolution. Thomas Paine would attack Christianity and call the Old Testament “a history of wickedness,” more appropriately judged “the word of a demon than the word of God.” But he did not publish these radical statements until after the revolution. In 1776, Paine quoted scripture like a revival preacher. His “Common Sense,” the most influential patriotic pamphlet of the revolution, had the feel of a sermon, deploying the King James Bible against King George’s tyranny. Scripture, Paine argued, clearly revealed God’s “protest against monarchial government.”
Paine knew that “Common Sense” had to make biblical sense. He relied especially on 1 Samuel 8, which tells of the Israelites asking for a king. In that passage, God relents and gives them King Saul, but the prophet Samuel warns that their demand signals their rejection of God. Accordingly, Paine asserted that “monarchy is ranked in scripture as one of the sins” of the Israelites that would later bring curses from God; if Americans would obey God, therefore, they must reject British monarchy. The war for independence was a sacred duty.
The views of the founders notwithstanding, ministers translated the revolution’s meaning to colonists who knew much more about the Bible than political theory. Revolutionary War sermons were convincing because they spoke in ubiquitous stories and images from scripture.
Patriotic ministers did not shy away from biblical violence. They embraced it, almost celebrated it, even in its most graphic forms. For example, they cited the story of Deborah in Judges 5, about God’s condemnation of those who refused to fight his enemies. This text also includes the heroic story of Jael, a tent-dwelling woman who assassinated a Canaanite general by driving a tent peg through his skull. Ministers often quoted this story with an equally gruesome curse from the prophet Jeremiah: “Cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood.”
There were hundreds such sermons — tools for combating the chronic problems of soldier recruitment and morale. In one example, Israel Evans, a favorite chaplain of Washington, praised fallen patriots as “martyrs for the cause of freedom” and called on the remaining troops to “finish the glorious work of liberty! Arise, and lead on your brother soldiers to dreadful deeds of death and slaughter, until the ruthless hand of Britain shall no more disturb the peace of men.”
Likewise, preachers often called patriotic service in war a sacred virtue. As Massachusetts Congregationalist Eli Forbes proclaimed, not every “good Christian is of consequence a good soldier,” but one could not be a good soldier without “the principle and practice of Christianity.” Peter Thacher of Malden, Mass., insisted that “we are fighting . . . for our religion, that religion which the word of God hath instituted and appointed.” So Thacher charged patriots to “fight to the last drop of your blood in this glorious cause.”
Talk of glorious causes has persisted from the revolution through the war on terror. Some Americans think of the United States as “God’s New Israel,” a nation on a divine mission, its wars blessed by God. Sometimes rhetoric makes this view obvious: Soon after Sept. 11, 2001, for example, the White House apologized after President George W. Bush used the word “crusade” to describe the battle against terrorism.
But references to religion can be subtler, or even obligatory, in political speeches. Consider President Obama’s July 4 speech from last year, in which he praised military sacrifices and ended with: “God bless you. God bless your families. And God bless these United States of America.”
We pass over such niceties as commonplace, almost dutiful, in political speech, but they are religious statements. Their roots go back to the revolution, when colonists — from evangelical preachers to founders such as Washington — asked for God’s blessing. Whatever century it is, our leaders often include some suggestion of the same biblical themes that filled revolutionary-era sermons, including sacrifice, courage for the fight and appeals for God’s providential blessings on America.
We are, it seems, one nation under God after all.
By Krissah Thompson, Published: April 10
They are all in their 80s now — these former POWs during the Korean War.
One recalls in rapid-fire bursts how Father Emil Kapaun sneaked out of the barracks at night, risking his life to bring back morsels of food for his fellow prisoners.
Another remembers seeing the young American priest use a rock and a piece of metal to form a pan and then collect water to wash the hands and faces of the wounded.
A third chokes up when he tells of being injured and having an enemy soldier standing over him, rifle pointed; Kapaun walked up, pushed aside the muzzle and carried off the wounded man.
The military chaplain did not carry a gun or grenades. He did not storm hills or take beaches. He picked lice off of men too weak to do it themselves and stole grain from the Korean and Chinese guards who took the American soldiers as prisoners of war in late 1950.
Kapaun did not survive the prisoner camps, dying in Pyoktong in 1951. The man originally from tiny Pilsen, Kan., has been declared a “servant of God” — often a precursor to sainthood in the Catholic Church. And on Thursday, President Obama will posthumously award Kapaun a Medal of Honor. On hand will be Mike Dowe, 85; Robert Wood, 86; and Herbert Miller, 86.
“People had lost a great deal of their civility,” Wood says of life in the POW compound. “We were stacking the bodies outside where they were frozen like cordwood and here is this one man — in all of this chaos — who has kept . . . principles.”
Kapaun (pronounced Ka-PAWN) was so beloved that U.S. prisoners of war who knew him began calling for him to receive the military’s highest honor on the day they were released from their North Korean POW camp 60 years ago.
“The first prisoners out of that camp are carrying a wooden crucifix, and they tell the story at length,” says Roy Wenzel, a reporter at the Wichita Eagle who wrote an eight-part series and a book about Kapaun. “He was internationally famous and made the front page of newspapers.”
But Kapaun’s story soon faded from all but the memories of the men whom he served and the small church in rural Kansas that he had pastored.
“POWs come and tell stories of him,” said Father John Hotze, who serves in Wichita, an hour south of Kapaun’s home town. “They talked about how they would never have been able to survive had it not been for Father Kapaun, who gave them hope and the courage to live.”
In the heart of the battle
In the memories of his comrades, the chaplain is stuck in time, 34 years old and slight, with an angular chin that jutted out from the helmet he wore pushed down over his ears. At the sound of gunfire, GIs saw Kapaun heading in the direction of front-line troops in the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, on an old bicycle, his only form of transportation after his Jeep was lost.
He spoke with a Midwestern lilt and shared the lessons he learned on the 80-acre central Kansas farm where he was raised in a community of Czech immigrants. Family members recall a story Kapaun’s mother loved to tell involving her son, an old bonnet and a cow. It was usually her chore to milk the family’s only cow — but on this day it fell to young Emil. The cow kicked and fidgeted and wouldn’t let him get near. That is, until Emil went back into the farmhouse and put on one of his mother’s bonnets and a dress. He walked back to the barn, mimicking his mother’s walk. The cow obliged, and the chore got done.
Kapaun grew up to be a quiet man and was ordained a priest when he was 24.
Soon after the news broke in the summer of 1950 that North Korea had invaded the Republic of Korea, Kapaun was among the 300,000 U.S. servicemen called to war. He was initially sent to the fighting on the Pusan perimeter and marched north with the troops, celebrating Mass from the hood of his Jeep.
Two months after the war began, Kapaun was awarded a Bronze Star for running through enemy fire to drag wounded soldiers to safety. It was a brutal conflict with little information getting through to troops on the ground, some of whom did not know that the Chinese military had entered the war alongside North Korea.
“The Army was in terrible shape,” Wood said. “Our weapons didn’t work. Our men weren’t physically conditioned. We had malaria and dysentery. Father Kapaun was a constant example.”
On the front lines, the priest would “drop in a shallow hole beside a nervous rifleman, crack a joke or two, hand him a peach, say a little prayer with him and move on to the next hole,” Dowe recalled.
On Nov. 2, 1950, the 8th Cavalry was encircled by Chinese and North Korean troops at Unsan. The men had thought they would be home by Christmas. They did not have winter clothes, Wood said. Now they were prisoners.
On that day, Kapaun performed an act of heroism commemorated in a bronze sculpture that stands in front of the church in Pilsen. The other man in the statue, which depicts Kapaun helping a wounded soldier, is Herbert Miller.
Miller, a platoon leader, found himself standing under a small bridge in a dry creek encircled by enemy troops on a dark night.
“You could reach right out and touch them. The bullets was flying,” Miller recalled in an interview. “I moved 30 feet and I got hit with a hand grenade.”
The blast broke Miller’s ankle; he lay in the ditch until daylight, unable to escape. When he saw enemy troops coming up the nearby mountain, he tried to hide by pulling the body of a Korean soldier on top of him. But he was spotted and soon found himself being held at gunpoint.
“About that time, I saw this soldier coming across the road. He pushed that man’s rifle aside and he picked me up,” Miller said.
For a time, Kapaun carried Miller on his back.
That was the first time he met Kapaun. Both men began what would become known as the Tiger Death March, a trek of more than 80 miles to the North Korean POW camp.
‘The good thief’
Entering the camp in winter, when temperatures dipped below freezing, was brutal, Dowe, Miller and Wood recall. Each day, the men were fed a few grams of cracked grain that looked like birdseed. The soldiers were packed into such small quarters that they had to sleep on their sides so that everyone could lie down. There was more room by spring because so many did not survive the winter.
“We were at the point where if you decided you weren’t going to hack it anymore, the guys would say, ‘Don’t bother me in the morning.’ And you’d go to wake them up in the morning and they were dead,” Wood said. “You get your body reduced to a certain level and it doesn’t take much to snuff out the spark.”
Kapaun pressed on, trading his watch for a blanket, which he cut up to make socks for men whose feet were freezing. He told jokes and said prayers and gave his food away.
He earned the wartime nickname “the good thief” because of his ability to steal food for atrophic soldiers after he and others were captured.
“It was obvious, Father said, that we must either steal food or slowly starve. . . . So, standing before us all, he said a prayer to St. Dismas, the Good Thief, who was crucified at the right hand of Jesus, asking for his aid,” Dowe wrote in the Saturday Evening Post 59 years ago. “I’ll never doubt the power of prayer again. Father, it seemed, could not fail.”
Kapaun took ill himself, recovering from bouts of sickness before getting weak again. The camp guards noticed and ordered the chaplain to an isolated room they called “the hospital.” The U.S. servicemen called it the dying room.
“They said in no uncertain terms he was going,” Wood said, recalling the protests from the POWs. “They wanted volunteers to carry him up there. I was one of those who carried him up there.”
Unable to walk, Kapaun reassured the soldiers that he was going to a better place. Wood remembers that the priest then turned to the guards and said, “Forgive them, oh Lord, for they know not what they do.”
Kapaun died days later, on May 23, 1951, at age 35, one of the more than 40,000 U.S. servicemen who died or were declared missing in what some came to call “the Forgotten War.”
Emil Kapaun’s nephew Ray Kapaun, 56, will accept the Medal of Honor on his uncle’s behalf. Ray has heard about the push to have his uncle awarded the medal since he was a child. It was in the past few years that the military’s leadership investigated the stories told by surviving POWs. Typically, medals must be awarded within two years of the acts of valor, but lawmakers from Kansas shepherded legislation that waived that requirement.
“It has taken a long time, but the flame of the Korean War just can’t be extinguished, and this is an outstanding example of that,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), one of the lawmakers involved in the decades-long effort. Obama, who has relatives from Kansas, signed the legislation this year.
Ray Kapaun has watched aged men’s eyes fill with tears as they spoke of his uncle’s role in their lives. Ray’s middle name is Emil, and he sometimes wonders whether he’s worthy of it.
“I look at my life and then you look and see what Father Emil did by just being who he was,” Kapaun said. “The reality of it is so hard to put your hands around, just hard to describe.”
Chris Stevenson investigates the indispensability of faith to the American experiment in self-governance.