Friday, January 2, 2009

Foreigners Recognize the Value of Religion in America

Roger Lundin wrote a book called "There Before Us: Religion, Literature, and Culture from Emerson to Wendell Berry," which offers some perspectives on our past. The book recounts a visit to the U.S. by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824-25. He was concerned because on a Sunday he had been invited to two different services, one Congregationalist and one Episcopalian. He decided to attend both services because he didn't want to offend either group.

On pages 1-2 Mr. Lundin says, "A foreigner surveys the American religious scene and marvels at the combination of religious toleration with religious zeal. The citizens are so pious that an invitation to church is their highest sign of respect, yet so little given to bigotry that they happily share Lafayette between them and shake hands at the conclusion of the second service. Had Americans really managed to tame the religious passions that had to often laid Europe to waste without falling to religious skepticism?"

Then in describing the experience of two other Frenchmen's trip to the USA a few years later, the author says, "Americans agreed, first of all, that religious faith was essential in a Republic. A trustee of the College of New Jersey, the Rev. James Richards, told them that he regarded 'the maintenance of the religious spirit' as one of the country's 'greatest political interests,' since no nation could be moral if it was not religious."

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