I decided from the very beginning that during the three months I'm on sabbatical, I will not go to church. I've never done that for more than a couple of Sundays in my whole life. Ever. And it worried me.
If there are so many churches here, why does America look so unlike the Kingdom of God? Why are we strangers to our neighbors? Why do we have homeless poor among us? Why do sweatshops produce the majority of our goods?
This was radical stuff in pre-Civil War America. Emerson was essentially turning religion 180 degrees on its axis. Instead of a deity presiding over creation from somewhere up there, divinity was here, there and everywhere.
The first casualty of a hate crime in post-9/11 America was a Sikh-American named Balbir Singh Sodhi. According to official reports, his murderer said he killed Sodhi because "he was dark-skinned, bearded, and wore a turban."
I am a religious person. I believe in God, the Bible is a core touchstone of my life, and I strive to live my life in accordance with the Bible's precepts, commandments and values. I am also a left-wing, liberal, scientifically minded Jewish woman.
How people celebrate their birthdays tells us much about them. This is true not only of individuals, but even more so of countries. So, as we celebrate the 236th anniversary of our founding, it's an appropriate time to reflect.
It's not uncommon for kids to ask their parents about "that thing" on my head. In most instances, the parents look at me uncomfortably, embarrassed that I might be offended in some way. But recently I had the most amazing experience.
Believe it or not, this is a more complicated question than one might imagine. The United States has always been home to a multitude of faith traditions and, indeed, was imagined from the beginning to be a religious haven.
Religion is a low priority among voters this year, especially when compared with the economy. And both candidates are acting in ways that will make 2012 the most secular presidential campaign in years.
The American experience with war acts like a civil religion -- a way for Americans to affirm and assess national ideals for which generations have been called to give their last full measure of devotion. It is a glorious, dangerous, heroic, terrifying cross to bear.
In the religious landscape, one of the most interesting changes in our society is the growing number of "Nones" -- people who are unaffiliated religiously but may still believe in a God. Two books I've read recently are emblematic of this.