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American Culture Examined Essay, Research Paper


In order to understand this immense country that we call America, we need to study the culture. More specifically, we need to study the form of society in America. Is this society changing, or does it remain fixed throughout time? There are many aspects of our society, some of which are: traditions, values, and religion. The many realms of society contribute to a conglomerate culture, which cannot be described simply.

The American culture is diverse and constantly evolving due to many various aspects of society, including, but not limited to, religion. It cannot be said that there is one American culture because there is no national language in America. Also, the lack of a single culture is displayed by the strong need for political correctness in America. Finally, it is evident that the culture in America has changed through the years due to changes in American religion.

Since language is an essential part of culture, and America has no national language, then America is not tied together with one culture. There are reasons why the U.S. Government has not declared an official language. The most important being that an official language of English would promote xenophobia, making the English speaking afraid of new immigrants or vice versa. It would also deprive the American citizens who do not speak English of some of their basic rights. For example, how could someone vote, or take a driving test, if they do not know the language. On the other hand, immigrants would benefit if they were forced to learn a national language in America. They would be able to receive a better education, find a better job, and participate more completely in society (Gallegos, 1994).

The fact that hundreds of thousands of children in America are being primarily educated in languages other than English, along with drivers’ license tests in America being administered in over twelve languages, should bring us to realize how ethnically and culturally diverse our country really is. The primary opponents of English as a national language are Hispanic politicians and lobbying organizations. These Hispanics are very resistant to the idea of America as a “melting pot”. They would prefer the idea of a “salad bowl” with all of the ingredients thrown together, but not melted, so that they retain their own distinctive traits (Gallegos, 1994). But what about the Hispanics who are being led by these organizations? It is hard to say whether or not they whole-heartedly agree with their leaders. Some may even think that resisting assimilation by maintaining the Spanish language is detrimental to America as a whole. In the nineteenth century, Alexis de Tocqueville said, “The tie of language is perhaps the strongest and the most durable that can unite mankind.” As long as there are many groups in America that disagree with this statement, there will not be an uniting language to bring America together under one culture (Gallegos, 1994).

The lack of a single culture in America is also conveyed by the strong need for political correctness in this country. If America were not so culturally diverse, we would not have developed this method of politeness that has become increasingly popular. This is also an example of how much this country has changed. A few years ago, no one knew what the term “politically correct” meant. But as we approach the twenty-first century, it has invaded society like a plague. If we do not conform to this concept of political correctness, we are labeled as slanderous, almost to the point of being outcast by popular society.

There seems to be a cultural war going on in America waging between the freedom of speech and the need for political correctness. When Charlton Heston told an audience that white pride was just as valid as black pride or red pride or anyone else’s pride, he was called a racist. When he said that gay rights should go no further than anyone else’s rights, he was called a homophobe. When he drew an analogy between singling out innocent Jews and singling out innocent gun owners, he was called an anti-Semite. These are just a few examples of how Americans are being trained to think and to speak with sensitivity towards others. American society contains so many different races and ethnicity’s that a system had to be developed in order for our country to proceed peacefully (www.mere-christianity.org/heston.htm).

In one instance, Time/Warner, the biggest entertainment conglomerate in the world, was marketing a CD by Ice-T called “Cop Killer”. This CD had extremely vulgar lyrics, but Time/Warner, along with the media, was afraid to say anything against it because the rap artist was black. This is an important story to learn from. Americans have gotten so involved with political correctness in order to make everyone feel included in this country that they have forgotten common sense and basic values. Martin Gross in his book, The End of Sanity, writes “There seem to be new customs, new rules, new anti-intellectual theories regularly foisted on us from every direction.” Because of this trend in America, we can tell that our culture is forever changing. It seems that the concept of political correctness is trying to unite America to be tolerant towards everyone, but the mere fact that we need a system of political correctness shows that America is not truly united (www.mere-christianity.org/heston.htm).

It is evident that religion in America has changed through the years, and that many religious changes have brought about changes in the American culture. In the early part of the twentieth century, the following events were unthinkable: In 1986, Presbyterians, the United Church of Christ, Reform and Conservative Jews, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church, and many others joined together to lead a pro-choice march. In the same year, Mormons, conservative Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Greek Orthodox banded together to address the problem of child and adult pornography. In 1988, orthodox activists from every religious group in America protested together against abortion in what was called Operation Rescue. Before the second half of this century, cooperation among various religious groups was unheard of to this extent. But in the latter part of the twentieth century, alliances have formed across denominational lines. Specifically, the shift has been for each religion to experience a split between the “orthodox” and “progressive” believers within their own religious faith. In conjunction with this, the more progressively minded have supported each other across religions in spite of a few differences in beliefs (Wolfe, 1991).

Many things were happening in America to bring about this shift from the traditional way of life to the progressive attitudes of some of the members of American society. Such as: increased crime, labor and public health problems, poverty, political instability, and the weakening of the credibility of religious faith. Many people from the Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic faiths sought to form new moral ideals to deal with the changing social circumstances. To start with, the Social Gospel movement in Protestantism rejected the individualistic view of sin and lack of personal morals as the cause of human difficulties. Instead, they focused on the problems with social and economic institutions (Lecture notes, 7-7-99). The Americanist movement in Catholicism aimed at integrating the American Catholic Church into the mainstream of modern American society. To accomplish this, the Americanists tried to phase out the inessential aspects of Roman tradition in order to present the Catholic Church in a more positive light towards a Protestant society. Along the same line they tried to Americanize the foreigners in the church by teaching them American customs and the English language as quickly as possible. They also made it a point to back American’s celebration of the separation of Church and State and their principle of liberty (Wolfe, 1991).

The progressive Judaism movement was also along the same line of thought as the Catholic Church. Jews in America wanted to fit into the modern lifestyle of their new country. For starters, they shortened the worship service, started using an organ, and stopped separating the men and women in worship services. They also became more laxed in the laws regarding food, clothing, and the extreme rituals of traditional worship (Lecture notes, 6-24-99). Judaism decided to welcome Christianity and Islam as partners to spread the notion of a monotheistic God. The progressive Jews made it clear that the Orthodox Jews who would not budge from their old ways would be disowned and left behind. This was the same attitude that the progressives had in Catholicism and Protestantism. Their orthodox counterparts responded by saying that the focus needs to be shifted back to the scriptures (Wolfe, 1991).

The three major religions in America, as indicated by Hunter and Rice, are Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism. These religions have not only experienced a growing separation between their orthodox and progressive members, but it seems that this division is outweighing and taking precedence over the interdenominational divide. Without the progressive movement in America’s most popular religions, our society would have been much, much slower to change towards our more modern way of life. If the members of America’s religious sects had held steadfast to the orthodox viewpoints, it would have definitely hindered progress in America as a whole. For example, last year, the United American Christian Women’s Organization held a convention to discuss the role of women in the church. This non-denominational gathering of the more progressive women in Christian churches nationwide brought forth recommendations to give women in Christianity more important, leadership roles. This trend has also continued in many other non-religious aspects of American society. The status of women is continually being furthered in America, especially with the backing of our dominant religions (Wolfe, 1991).

If there were one particular religion in America that has had the most influence on the basic thoughts and ideals of our society, it would be Catholicism. To be more specific, the attitude of being a “good person” and performing “good works” in order to please God in the hopes of an afterlife in Heaven, is a prevailing thought throughout America. These ideas can be seen in many Americans who have no claim to any religious group or background. For example, if you ask most non-religious Americans how to get to Heaven, they would say that you have to be a good person, go to church, and obey the Ten Commandments. In addition to this, why do so many Americans contribute to the Goodwill, the American Red Cross, and many other charities in our society? Whether it is realized or not, the answer lies in the teachings of Catholicism.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that grace and faith in Christ alone cannot obtain salvation, but that one must complete their salvation by additional good works during one’s lifetime. This can be seen by the Roman Catholic Churches many missions that were set up in America. Catholicism also teaches that Christ’s suffering was not enough in itself to save sinners, but that the Sacraments are needed to apply this shedding of blood to each individual sinner. In addition to this, since they believe that Christ’s death did not fully pay the penalty for our sins, Catholics have developed the notion of purgatory to finish their cleansing. Finally, Catholicism also teaches that our prayers and “works” that are performed on this earth not only aid in purifying the soul, they can also benefit others who are still waiting in purgatory to be admitted into Heaven. From this it is obvious how Americans have been exposed to the notion that the more good deeds they do, the better off they will be in the eyes of God. Consequently, our society has, without realizing it, developed the notion that we are judged by the extent of our good works during our lifetime (www.personal.s1.umich.edu/~rlm/rccpagan.html).

Throughout American history, there have been many trends that have kept us away from a single, unifying culture. As I have mentioned, the lack of a national language and the many different ethnic backgrounds in America, only begin to explain why there isn’t one American culture. It is also clear that American culture has changed through the years. Most importantly, it has been affected by religious influences. In addition to this, America has responded to its diversity by implementing an agenda of political correctness. The Roman Catholic teachings have also been a strong influence on our ignorant society, especially on those who haven’t taken the time to research the doctrines of various religions. Because of the diversity in America, there is no prevalent culture, nor does the culture of tomorrow replicate the culture of yesterday.

Gallegos, Bee. (Ed.). (1994). English: Our official Language. New York: The H. W. Wilson Company.

Heston, Charlton. (1999). Winning the Culture War, [Online]. Available: http://www.mere-christianity.org [1999, July 5].

Wolfe, Alan. (Ed.). (1991). America At Century’s End. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Author Unnamed. (1999). Roman Catholicism: Christian or Pagan, [Online]. Available: http://www.personal.s1.umich.edu [1999, July 7].

Wickham, R. (1999). Lecture Notes. R/ST 302I. [1999, June 24, July 7].

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