Dallas Morning News,
Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.
How would a foreign visitor with little knowledge of America see the state of religious faith today?
One way to assess the state of religion in America today is to ask how a newly arrived foreign visitor - say, from another country or another planet -- would see it. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat asks that question in his new book and comes to fairly blunt conclusion: The visitor would see a nation of Osteens and Obamas. On one hand, here's Joel Osteen preaching a sunny Gospel to a packed house at a baseball stadium in Washington. On the other hand, there's President Obama defending his shift on gay marriage "on explicitly religious grounds." In Douthat's view, we've become a nation of heretics who've abandoned the orthodoxy of faith.
Osteens and Obamas? Is that what a modern-day De Tocqueville would see? Or would the visitor see instead the rise of the megachurch? Or the growth of non-traditional forms of faith? Or conversely, the popularity of Richard Dawkins-style atheism, the political firefight over Mormonism or the tensions over Islam? What to make of all this?
So, how would a foreign visitor with little knowledge of America see the state of religion here today? Our Texas Faith panel weighs in.
NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas
I have spent time in other parts of the world and what is most apparent is the ever increasing materialism of America. Materialism is a by-product of spiritual degradation. Materialism is ever rampant in religious groups as well and often religion is marketed as a good luck venue to fulfill one's material desires.
The very first lesson in spiritual life is that the soul is different than the body. Those who are wise invest their plan for happiness in something that is internal and eternal and those who are foolish materialist invests in the external and temporary.