The enormous role played by religion in the U.S. is certainly nothing new. In fact, religion has been a major component of the American cultural landscape since the very beginning of the republic.
Many of the early people who came here were very devoutly religious and in fact came for religious purposes, wanted to set up religious colonies that would be governed by theistic rules and by the clergy and the church would be right at the center of the community. Others of the people who came here either wanted diversity and freedom or wanted to be shed of religion thank you very much and came because they thought they would achieve a kind of freedom from all of those religious constraints. So we've kind of gone back and forth. The 1950s were a real all time high of people affiliating with religious communities, attending on a regular basis in large measure because we had an all time high of families with young children. And over the course of American history there's been a very strong kind of cultural norm that has said if you're a family and you've got young children that's the time in your life when if your ever going to affiliate, you better do it now.
Someone said that American religion is a mile wide and an inch thick and I think that pretty well sums it up. We know that a lot of people take their religion fairly easily. It doesn't lead them to live their lives a different way or they go to religious services once a month or once every three months instead of every weekend.
Few would dispute the notion that the practice of religion in the United States has varied over time but its impact and influence have never wavered.
Certainly one of the striking things about American life of the last half century has been the persistence of religion. The extent to which if you look at what people say they believe and you look about the reports on their behavior they are as religiously involved as their grandfathers were--...