Last week, I went to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, housed in the same building as the National Portrait Gallery—such great exhibits! As I was walking through the Folk Art exhibit on the first floor, I was struck by how many works were based on Scripture—I am including a few of my favorites in this post [OK—I know the dog with wings isn’t Bible-based; maybe a contemporary interpretation of a seraphim?!].
Anyway, looking at all the works of art got me thinking: if you are reading this blog, you probably know that I am preparing to go to four different countries for my sabbatical research in the spring [Israel, India, Japan, and Turkey], each of which is a non-Christian country, with for the most part only a small Christian population. Part of what I am eager to experience is just that—being in a country that has not been shaped and formed by Christianity.
Being at this exhibit reminded me of some conversations I have had with students this semester, about whether or not [and to what degree] the United States continues to be a “Christian nation.” I can’t help but feel like this is one of those questions that is answered very differently by Christians and non-Christians—in other words, insiders and outsiders. I know to many Christians, it feels like we live in a very “secular age,” to borrow a phrase from Charles Taylor: fewer people going to church, fewer people keeping the Sabbath, fewer people living out “Christian values,” fewer people with regard for the church and its role in society. However, I wonder if Jews feel the same way, for example. I can’t help but think that if you are not a Christian [not one of the cultural “insiders”], this country must still feel overwhelmingly Christian. I mean, I know Christmas has become very secularlized, but still: this very Christian holiday has taken over all of December–you certainly can’t avoid it. And, remember during the last presidential election, people who were opposed to President Obama worked very hard to paint him as a Muslim—as if that on its own would be enough to disqualify him from the presidency.
So, I am hoping that in my travels—being in countries that are explicitly NOT Christian—I might come back to this country with new eyes, perhaps seeing things anew I have come to take for granted; and even gaining fresh insight into the level of “Christian-ness” of the United States, and what that means for all of us in our shared life together.