One of the striking aspects about religion in the US is the number of churches, denominations and the high level of church attendance among the American populace. At a time when church attendance in the UK and parts of Europe is declining, it continues to remain relatively high in the US. About 40% of Americans attend church regularly and only 15% say that they never attend church at all – the remainder are less frequent attendees.

There was a Gallup poll conducted that identified the reason/reasons why Americans attend church and makes for interesting reading:

For spiritual growth and guidance 23%
Keeps me grounded/inspired 20%
It’s my faith 15%
To worship God 15%
The fellowship of other members/The community 13%
Believe in God/Believe in religion 12%
Brought up that way/A family value/Tradition 12%

Among the reasons cited above, as a regular church goer, if I had to select one reason I’d probably go with “keeps me grounded/inspired” though a couple of other reasons cited also play a role in why I go to church. If you care to comment on the reason/s why you go to church or other place of worship, please do so.

What is striking about Christianity in the US – when compared to other countries I have lived including India, Kenya and England – is the number of denominations that exist. There are, of course, major denominations such as the Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists and Presbyterians but there are also an amazing number of other denominations some of which are quite large such as the Mormons and the Evangelicals and numerous other small denominations that are relatively unknown. What one also tends to find is that among the smaller denominations there is much more of a tendency to believe that they are the only “true” church that interprets the Bible correctly and that the larger denominations are “not faithful” to the true Word.

All of this came to mind when I was following a series of angry exchanges between three individuals who all felt that their respective version of Christianity was the only “true” one. All three individuals cited numerical biblical verses to support their respective positions and each was quite blunt that the other two were condemned to damnation. The vituperative language used by the three – all of whom believed that they were assured of salvation – was quite unforgiving and uncharitable.

I don’t want to overstate the significance of the the exchanges between these three individuals but it is not unique because the evangelical/fundamentalist movement – which is the fastest growing segment of Christianity in the US and other parts of the world and especially Latin America – is quite candid in viewing much of the rest of Christendom as not being true to the Bible. Even within the evangelical movement there are denominations that believe that other evangelicals are not true to the word of God.

Anyway, as I followed the exchanges between these three professed Christians, I could not help recalling Gandhi’s comment about Christ and Christians. Gandhi said:

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

I know that there are differences among different Syrian Christian denominations in Kerala and sometimes these differences are manifested in acrimony and even occasional violence. To the best my limited knowledge, however, I am not aware that denominations among Syrian Christians, despite doctrinal differences, view one as being the only path to salvation to the exclusion of others.

6 Responses to “Christianity in America”

  1. Emmy says:

    It’s funny because I have two reasons I go to church. When I am at school, I go for the same reason as you, “keeps me grounded/inspired”. When I am at home though and go to the Jacobite church it ONLY for the “community” reason. I get very little out of it spiritually. I find it much more of a cultural experience rather than a spiritual one. This is okay with me though, I feel like it keeps me grounded in a way as well, just culture-wise.

    I find it interesting that when you ask a Christian in the U.S. what religion they are, they say their specific sect. Also Protestants consider Catholicism a complete different religion. I understand this mindset in Europe, but I don’t understand how it has transferred over and pervaded American culture. I love your quote from Gandhi and I completely agree :).

    As for your last paragraph…this is something that I have been trying to research for some time now. A few weeks ago I asked a mallu friend, who was going to an Episcopalian church and trying to convince me to go go there instead of the Cathedral like I usually do, if he was Orthodox. He said “No, my mom is Jacobite and my dad is Mar Thoma.” I have always thought that Jacobite, Mar Thoma, all these different branches all fell under the title Syrian Orthodox Christian. I ended up googling it. Needless to say, I’m still pretty confused and feel these splits are just an issue in rituals, traditions, and culture just like the reasons for most of the sects of Christianity.

    This is why non-denominational is probably the best way to go for me. All these different sects confuse and frustrate me and the fact that they don’t realize that they are all Christian at the end of the day is just tiring.

  2. TJ says:

    Although I gave my primary reason for going to church, I think the reality is that, for most people, it is a combination of factors and perhaps some reasons assume greater importance than others depending on what is going on in one’s own life. What I can say for sure is that the “social” aspect plays no role in why I go to church!:)

  3. saira says:

    My reason for going to church is it recharges my “spiritual battery”. I find that after going to church and having the opportunity to worship and hear a good sermon on God’s word, my tank is full. By the end of the week, after dealing with the stresses of my job and the balancing act at home, that tank is pretty close to empty. Even though I pray during the week, it still is not the same as my Sunday experience.

    And there is nothing social in it for me. As most of you know, it’s hard to be social when you’re with 12,000 of your closest friends :)…

  4. Peter says:

    I do not know if there’s one reason that can be ascribed to my going to church. The one that’s most practical and compelling is that over the years, I have been the designated driver of the family. So if my taking them to church will be of help to any one of them to get some kind of spiritual satisfaction, then I will gladly do it.

    As for personal spiritual fulfillment, it provides me a venue where, while the congregation attest their belief in God, I am able to pray uninterruptedly. I fully believe in the power of prayer.

  5. TJ says:

    Saira, I like your expression about recharging one’s “spiritual battery”. I think there is an element of the same thing for me though my life is less stressful than yours for sure!

    Peter, I too believe in the power of prayer – in fact, I have total faith that my prayers are almost invariably answered.

  6. saira says:

    I too believe in the power of prayer. Keep a log of prayer requests and those that are answered…you will be amazed!

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