West Virginia (Part 3): Religiosity in the US

I always thought of Europe as a deeply religious place. Protestantism began in Germany and Catholicism started in Italy. (Kinda.)

There are numerous wars rooted in deep religiosity throughout history, from which the remnant effects exists today. All three Abrahamic religions share history on the continent, as well as loads of others for various reasons.

When one visits Europe, they tend to gasp in awe at cathedrals and inspect dates on centuries-old chapels.

A few years ago on study abroad in the French capital, the University of Chicago provided its students (including myself) a language partner doubling as a cultural guide. Mostly progressive, informed Parisians, they engaged in numerous conversations with us on virtually any topic.

Intense American Christian doctrine popped up once in passing.

French views on us

Americans contend our nation is built on the separation of church and state. In 1776, in a relative sense, this was mostly true. Immigrants were free to practice religion and the government ostensibly didn’t interfere.

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century and we are slightly backwards-looking in this regard.

If you have separation of church and state, why do presidents place their hand on the Bible when sworn in?

Very good question, indeed. We claim it’s mostly out of tradition, but this is precisely the point. Some may claim that it isn’t necessary, but check out the fierce claims that Obama never did so. We don’t have to, but basically you must for fear of not being American enough. That’s precisely the point.

Why do you need to swear on a bible in a court of law?

Same caveats apply from above.

Why do you pledge allegiance to a piece of fabric and invoke God daily in schools?

Again, you don’t have to, but when I was a kid, teachers borderline pressured you into reciting it. If you didn’t you were singled out each and every morning, but being called out by name and told to remain silent then.

Why do presidents name drop the Lord in every speech?

Because they wouldn’t be American enough…. Okay the point is clear.

jesus 2
Jesus Banner attached to a smart car

Noticing Religiosity Everywhere in the US

This isn’t a problem in and of itself; Americans would just do better to acknowledge reality. We like to project onto other countries. Often those projections apply to our own people.

I began to notice in the US moments of religiosity everywhere: TV, radio, billboards, ads. Christianity is everywhere. I just want to highlight the many moments I’ve noticed it.

  • Hartford, CT can be a super Christian place. There’s a huge Hispanic population, and Catholicism is likely to follow. All over the city you see billboards hanging, urging drivers to think whether they’ll end up in heaven or hell. Spanish sermons abound the FM stations.
  • Flipping through channels, you will learn pastors preaching live. You will hear gospel music on at least three stations that come in clearly.
  • I recently saw a smart car with a bootleg plank of wood on serving as an ad for God.
  • I hear loads about Jehovah’s witnesses more than I ever had as a child. I was recently approached in my car. “It seems you love reading since you just returned library books. Can I interest you in reading on the Lord, our savior?”

Christianity as it Applies to West Virginia

Most of these observations come from the North, where we don’t usually associate such piety. Driving through the south, there is one marker more obvious than any other: roadside crosses.

I noticed loads of crosses dotting the interstates, both big and small. Some lead to churches and some had accompanying billboards.

There were Baptist churches in every town center. In true Protestant fashion, all eschewed the ostentation of their Catholic brethren, and fit neatly in American hill town architecture.

While church attendance is dropping in the northeast, it appears to still be doing well even as far north as West Virginia really is.

This is to say nothing ill of the community. Happiness and overall well being seem to be much higher in places with stronger ties to a church, or a sense of religious belonging. In many places, the churches do wonder to help communities with various projects and keep together the social fabric.

The purpose was simply to point out the strong religious nature of the US vis-à-vis Europe or even the American North.

Let me know what you think in the comments below, whether you agree or disagree!

This is a multi-part series on a road trip to West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. Check out the other pieces here.

Like what you’re reading on the US? Check out some other related articles in: The US Chronicles!!


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