This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, May 20, 1992

May 20, 1992 - Religion

The cultural bedrock of these United States is the First Amendment to the Constitution, which begins, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

It is from this Amendment, the first of our original "Bill of Rights," that we get the doctrine of the separation of church and state. And it is because of this doctrine that our public schools (which are themselves a part of U.S. government since the 1850s), cannot formally endorse any religious faith.

The dangers of a state religion are obvious -- one need only point to the Spanish Inquisition. Or consider Iran after the fall of the Shah. Remember Salmon Rushdie, still in hiding.

The search for religious freedom had a lot to do with the European colonization of this continent. The Puritans, for instance, came to America to flee the persecution they suffered under the state-supported Anglican church.

While there are many compelling reasons to support the separation of church and state, it seems to me that one result of this separation has been our appalling and mounting ignorance about faiths around the world--and even within our own nation. Religious beliefs are often a significant force behind political, cultural, and social events.

I'm not suggesting that our public schools should teach religion. (On the other hand, comparative religion as an academic subject isn't a bad idea.) What I am suggesting is that perhaps the public library can be of service. We can't TEACH religions, but we can sure make it easier to find out more about them.

How much do YOU know about the world's faiths?

Here are some numbers: according to the 1990 Encyclopedia Brittanica Book of the Year, Christians comprise 33.3% percent of the world's population.

Of that group, Roman Catholics are the largest constituency. They make up 18.8 percent of the world's population all by themselves. On the other hand, the Catholics count infants as members. Most Protestant groups (who account for 6.9 percent of the world's people) only count their members from the age of 13 or older.

The Christian groups also include Orthodox, Anglicans, and Other.

The next largest block of religionists is the Muslims, who comprise 17.7 percent of the world's population.

The third largest group (16.4%) are people who describe themselves as "nonreligious."

The fourth largest group (13.3%) is the Hindus. They are followed by the Buddhists (5.7%), the atheists (4.4%), Chinese folk religionists (3.4%), New Religionists (2.6%), and tribal religionists (1.7%).

The Sikhs, Jews, Shamanists, Confucians, Bahai's, Jains, and Shintoists account for less than .3 percent each, and another .3% covers all the other religions.

Now I don't know about you, but I don't have a clue what a New Religionist is. And despite a fair amount of reading about world religions, I find myself a little hazy about what the Sikhs believe, and how that differs from the Jains.

It seems as if the problem -- how to understand the religious beliefs of a people and the effect of those beliefs on history -- should get simpler when you look at just the religions practiced in the USA. But there are hundreds of organized faiths around the country, including the Christadelphians, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Friends, Jehovah's Witnesses, two branches of Mormonism, three branches of Judaism, nine branches of Lutheranism, numerous rivulets of Baptists, not to mention the Pentecostals, the Swedenborgians, the Unitarians, and many, many others.

What ARE the differences among all these religions and their denominations? What part do they play in our past and our present?

I'm investigating the possibility of a lecture series, sponsored by the library, that would provide a forum to responsible spokespeople for various branches of world faiths, with a particular focus on the similarities and differences of Judeo-Christian faiths practiced around the country.

If you'd be interested in such a series, let me know. If there's enough interest, we'll try to pull something together for this summer. I'd also appreciate the names of any especially knowledgeable people you know to be good lecturers.

Naturally, I have a particular interest in your recommendations for any book titles you might know about that provide factual, reasonably even-handed overviews of the beliefs of a particular faith. Do recognize that the library can't buy everything about just one religion or denomination. There's a lot of ground to cover, and a limited number of dollars.

Please feel free to call me (at 688-8752), or send me a letter (to 961 S. Plum Creek Blvd., Castle Rock, 80104) with your comments.

No comments:

Post a Comment