According to Stephen Prothero, America is both “deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion.” Personal belief in God remains high. Americans say that their convictions shape their public behaviors, and most support the idea of religious organizations participating in public policy issues. Yet surveys show that the majority of Americans cannot name even one of the four Gospels. Only one-third know that it was Jesus who delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and 10 percent think that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
Ever since the 1970s the theologies of distinctive groups of Christians have aroused much interest around the globe. Although such groups have long played vital roles in churches, it was once supposed that they had no theology.
A meteor from the universe of Wystan Hugh Auden flashed into the atmosphere of American culture in 1994 when “Funeral Blues,” a poem written in 1936, was recited in a eulogy scene in the movie Three Weddings and a Funeral.
Nostalgia is inherently selective. At some level we understand that the past we idealize has its flipside—that religious traditions in their heyday, for example, were perfunctory as well as inspiring, and that small-town life was oppressive as well as intimate.