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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

David Brooks: Religion in America

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To put it bluntly, my faith — personal and public — shapes what I think about, and what I do about, politics.

Over the past few decades, faith has become a more powerful influence on American society. More people place importance on their faith than on the weather or marriage. By every measure, it has increased. You can see the changes when looking at legislation. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which conservatives love to use to bash liberals, passed in only four states. Its base was a motley collection of local pastors, conservative think tanks and assorted conservative interest groups. Now it has a long bipartisan list of co-sponsors in the U.S. Senate.

I once was once bemoaning my city’s loss of its democratic soul. “The Greeks had an idea,” I said, “and Madison clung to it. We are far, far behind. We have nothing to teach anyone else.”

What’s striking to me about the modern attitude toward faith is that so many people have nowhere to turn for it. It is dramatically higher than I, myself, ever have experienced. It’s a helpful thing to have, but there’s something unnerving, too. I think you can become more intolerant and less generous when you begin to regard religious beliefs as little more than artifacts of self-conscious weakness. If we want more cooperation and less confrontation, the religion that emerges should be pluralistic.

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