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Ian Buruma writes about politics and culture for a variety of major publications—most frequently for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Corriere della[…]

The history of religion and immigration in the U.S. has made us more receptive to outside faiths. But, of course, our true religion is entrepreneurship.

Question: Do democracy and religion require the same rnkind of faith?

Ian Buruma:  No, I don’t think the two are quite the samern thing.  In a religion you have to have… you have to believe in some rnotherworldly or metaphysical force.  I don’t think that that is the casern with democracy at all.  Democratic governments ought to be neutral as rnfar as those big questions about the meaning of life, what happens afterrn death and so on, are concerned.  I do think there has to be a common rnagreement to abide by certain rules and laws, and without that things ofrn course would collapse very quickly.

rn Question:
How much does religious freedom in the U.S. rnowe to its Protestant heritage?

Ian Buruma:  I think that the particular nature of the rnseparation of church and state in the U.S., as is true of Protestant rncountries in Europe or majority of Protestant countries in Europe, does rnhave a lot to do with that. And that the authority of the Vatican, of rnthe Catholic church, was much more opposed to democratic development in rnthe past than the Protestant churches were.  The Protestant churches rnhave a tradition of being suspicious of authority, certainly of absolutern authority, encouraging a certain kind of individualism since every rnindividual according to the Protestant faith has his own pipeline to Godrn and doesn’t need to go on his knees or her knees to priests.

rn Question:
Has its immigration history made the U.S. morern receptive to outside religious beliefs?

Ian Buruma:  Yes, I do think that.  It’s very clear what rnit is to be an American citizen.  It’s a political concept more than rnanything else.  It means that you are loyal to the Constitution and rnyou’re a good citizen and then you can have whatever culture you wish inrn your private life, so you have the hyphenated citizen.  It’s much rnharder for Europeans to accept that this is possible.  Also the fact rnthat so many Americans still themselves are religious makes them much rnmore accepting of other people who are equally religious even though of rnreligions that, you know, are not Christian or are not all that rnfamiliar.

Does entrepreneurship trump religion in the US?

Ian Buruma: Yes, I think that is probably fair to say.  rnAlso the U.S. has a long history of a kind of folk Christianity in the rnform of evangelism, evangelical faiths, which in itself is very close torn business and entrepreneurship.  People who start mega-churches or rnpromote their religious faith on television are businessmen as well as rnpreachers and that goes back you know almost the beginning of the Unitedrn States.  That is why I started my book with the story of Elmer Gantry.

Recorded April 21, 2010
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