Spirituality has many definitions for each individual. American beliefs and ideals have changed over the centuries from an initial system based on Deism and the church, to a more individual-focused system in which each individual pursues a means of improving and identifying themselves over a focus on the community as a whole.
American culture in its infancy followed the moral ideals of both Christianity and Deism, from the Founding Fathers, devout deists, to the early American settlers who, as Jonathan Winthrop said, strove to create “a city on a hill which will shine as an example of Protestantism to the world.” Winthrop was speaking of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first British colony in the Americas.
Definitions of ethics, morality and values continued to follow the lead of the Founding Fathers
until a certain man made a journey, which revolutionized scientific and philosophic theory in America. The man’s name was Charles Darwin, father of Evolution.
Darwin viewed himself as a theist early is his life and is quoted for saying he believed every word of the Bible. Later in his life Darwin recanted his views regarding God and claimed He was a ‘revengeful tyrant. “In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an Atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God,” Charles Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species.
Darwin’s theory of Evolution has created a shift in American thought on how the world came to exist and what the role of humans is in a world of constant mutations.
“I believe secularism, relativism, socialism and materialism have won the day in educational institutions of America,” stated Don Smith, retired senior pastor at Christ Community Church in Laguna Hills (CCCLH).
Two prominent professors at Oxford University, Richard Dawkins, Charles Semone Professor for the Understanding of Science, and John Lennox, a Fellow of Mathematics and Philosophy of Science, embody the current debate over spirituality with their opposing books, “The God Delusion” by Dawkins and “God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?” by Lennox. Science embodies the changing shift in American society, the two sides of Evolution and Creation, which vie for prominence in the minds of intellectuals and scientists in America.
“The truth is that American culture has been an example of rapid cultural change since the industrial revolution over 100 years ago,” Pastor Clark Brown, Cal State Monterey Bay (CSUMB) chaplain and pastor at St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Monterey, said.
Rev. Brown raises a relevant point in that America has often been labeled as a ‘Christian’ nation according to the Census Bureau. People often described themselves as Christians in past centuries, yet the Bureau did not take into account if all 76 percent who claimed to be Christians were genuinely practicing their faith or truly believed to begin with.
Many churches still hold to the role given to the earliest church in Jerusalem, to share the good news of Jesus Christ, that He died for all mankind to save them from eternal punishment for their sin, as described in John 3:16, Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23 of the Bible.
“The role of the church has continued to change over time as new ideals of self-awareness and improvement have taken the foreground in personal beliefs,” says Charles Moore, current senior pastor at CCCLH.
Other churches have adapted and conformed to current cultural trends, offering promises of instant prosperity to anyone who is a Christian as well as self-help techniques for people to find God in whichever way suits them.
The church is not the only institution facing change in light of altered cultural mindset. Redefining ethics also raises the issue of the role of parents in a shifting society. Parents and the church have traditionally been the foundation of American culture, with the church outlining and enforcing a moral code for society and parents being charged with teaching morals and ethical living to their children in order to help them positively contribute to society.
“We have accepted clearly immoral practices simply to keep our own hands clean and prevent ‘trouble’ by upholding Christian morality,” said Matthew Bryan, SBSC.
American culture overall has shifted to a system in which the individual and their journey to finding themselves has taken the foreground. Several students across campus expressed potential causes for this shift, ranging from the rise of the American Dream and pursuit of riches, to indifference about the church and its doctrine.
“The church has become something that Americans push off to the side,” Scott Mersino, sophomore, Psychology, said. The church and Christian values remain a prominent part of the history of the United States; and will continue to be a driving force in the future.