My mother didn’t give me a lot of useful advice. That is, she gave me plenty of advice—but it wasn’t necessarily useful. She told me not to put bananas in the refrigerator (which was good to know), but also that white shoes and straw hats must not be worn after Labor Day, and furthermore that one’s shoes must always be darker than one’s hemline. I have no quarrel with the white shoes/hemline things because I never wear white; but Mom also informed me that a lady never wears diamonds before 4 pm, or a wristwatch after, which means that a lady who is lucky enough to have scored a diamond-studded Rolex can never wear it. My mother wasn’t young when I was born—she was the age of most of my friends’ grandmothers—and I think some of her dicta may have been a wee bit out of date. Anyway, I’m a woman, not a lady, and stand on my right to do as I please with regard to diamonds.
I am, however, in perfect agreement with her about one thing: Religion and politics are not good topics for social conversation.
This conviction makes it just a little bit awkward for me that the third and final question that my English-language students almost invariably ask me is, “Why are Americans so religious?”
I say “almost,” because in fact, the Asian students I’ve interacted with never ask this. What they know of American culture is what’s penetrated the filter of their own home-culture; and American religion mostly doesn’t penetrate the filter. They see American-style Christianity all around them, and don’t recognize it. An Asian student who had been in America for four years was amazed to discover that the figures in the Christmas crèche represented The Holy Family, rather than just “a family.” It’s the European students who are curious about American religion.
The reasons Americans appear to be more religious than Europeans (I don’t quite concede that they actually are more religious, but they may seem that way) are many and varied, and since I love history and particularly the history of my own country, I think I could probably expatiate on them for several hours.
But I don’t.
For one thing, these are students of biochemistry, not history, and a lecture like that would bore them to death. For another, to talk about religion at all would be as unsuitable as to wear that lovely fancy diamond-studded Rolex watch that I don’t own either before or, regrettably, even after four in the afternoon.
But it would be rude not to answer them at all, so I just look ‘em in the eye and I say, “Americans are religious because our country was founded by the people YOU drove out of your country for being too religious.
“Now, let’s get back to the proper use of the passive voice, shall we?”