FUNDAMENTALIST GOVERNMENT II
So here’s a fact appropriate for the day: Americans are three times as likely to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus (83 percent) as in evolution (28 percent).
So this day is an opportunity to look at perhaps the most fundamental divide between America and the rest of the industrialized world: faith. Religion remains central to American life, and is getting more so, in a way that is true of no other industrialized country, with the possible exception of South Korea.
Americans believe, 58 percent to 40 percent, that it is necessary to believe in God to be moral. In contrast, other developed countries overwhelmingly believe that it is not necessary. In France, only 13 percent agree with the U.S. view. (For details on the polls cited in this column, go to www.nytimes.com/kristofresponds.)
The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time. The percentage of Americans who believe in the Virgin Birth actually rose five points in the latest poll.
Yet despite the lack of scientific or historical evidence, and despite the doubts of Biblical scholars, America is so pious that not only do 91 percent of Christians say they believe in the Virgin Birth, but so do an astonishing 47 percent of U.S. non-Christians.
I’m not denigrating anyone’s beliefs. And I don’t pretend to know why America is so much more infused with religious faith than the rest of the world. But I do think that we’re in the middle of another religious Great Awakening, and that while this may bring spiritual comfort to many, it will also mean a growing polarization within our society.
I would note that Pat Buchanan made a similar observation 11 years ago. As I recall, his comments were not well received.
While this divergence, both between Americans and “Old Europeans” and between religious and secularist Americans, exists it doesn’t change the argument. Indeed, it strengthens my position: the will of the American people is obviously shaped through the lens of their spirituality. My secularist viewpoint puts me in a decided minority and thus unlikely to get my way on many issues. I shouldn’t be required to participate in or finance the spiritual beliefs of the majority but this doesn’t mean that the minority should therefore prevail on all issues simply because their spirituality lends passion to their policy preferences.
Update (1434): Donald Sensing has a couple of interesting takes on this piece as well, coming from the perspective of a Methodist theologian: Kristoff–religious bigot? (lots of links) and the Virgin birth.