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.