Neil Gaiman, in his book American Gods, claims that “religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world” (Gaiman, loc. 8985). In American Gods, the characters are, well, gods. They are gods from different countries around the world that have come to America through the belief the people. These gods, some centuries old, are about to enter into a war with the “new gods.” The new gods are the “gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon. Proud gods, fat and foolish creatures, puffed up with their own newness and importance” (Gaiman, loc. 25549) and these new gods are trying to kill off the old ones. Typically, when an author personifies something, such as the physical embodiment of credit cards trying to kill Thor, he or she is trying to convey a certain point. Gaiman is using this war, as described in the book, to represent the shift in American values from faith, community, and reliance on divine power to reliance on technology and self-sufficiency. Considering the main character sides with the old gods, this shift causes an issue. This war of faiths is prevalent in the current controversies throughout the country, and depending on what people do or do not believe in, battles will occur every day on the front lines of American conversation.
What would controversies be without differing political opinions? One of the First Amendment rights is the freedom to worship how one pleases, without government interference, and the underlying meaning from the establishment clause of “a wall of separation between church and state” (Separation of Church and State). When the United States was established, and the revolutionary war was fought, the then future Americans wanted to practice faiths different from that of England’s established church. They were a religious people who wanted to worship what they personally believed to be true. In American Gods, this aspect of escaping to America with different religions was symbolized in a variety of people throughout the early periods of the Earth, and people wanted to believe in their own Gods. Recently, this separation of church and state has changed its meaning from the notion that the state has no control over religion to the assertion that religious beliefs have no control over the government. In the 1940’s, court cases seemed to rule in favor of religions in cases such as “Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940) and Everson v. Board of Education (1947)…In Cantwell… requiring a license for general solicitations was legal, but requiring one for religious preaching was a breach of the First Amendment.” In the case of Everson, “Justice Hugo Black ruled that the providing of services, such as public transportation, to parents of students in religious schools is ‘separate and so indisputably marked off from the religious function’ that it did not violate the separation of church and state” (Separation of Church and State). However, in more recent cases, we see a swap in interpretation, such as the case that “fined Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Richland, Washington, for denying service to a gay couple in 2013, and ordered her to pay a $1,000 fine” (Washington court rules against florist in gay wedding case). Here we see an example of the government not allowing someone to practice his or her religious beliefs because the church has to be separate from the state.
In fact, with the growth of millennials and their rise to power, religion has become less about “institutions–political, civic, academic, or religious,” but more of “’moralistic, therapeutic deism.’ This is an ethic that says ‘what is right for me may not be right for you but no one has the right to judge anyone else’” (D.G. Hart). Reporter Kenneth Woodward believes this trend started with “the baby boomers [who] were looking for a religion that ’had nothing to do with ancient texts, gender wars, or institutions’; they wanted instead ‘the experience of their selves as sacred’” (D.G. Hart). These baby boomers had their own children (the millennial generation) who also wanted to find their own identity and views. However, as the baby boomers wanted to escape the intense structure of religion, the next generation followed the pattern, where going to church or worshiping has become less and less of a social norm. For example, the “nones” or the “religiously unaffiliated…now account for 23% of the adult population,” (Wormald) and not all of them profess a lack of belief in a God. They just don’t want to be connected to any religion. In American Gods, this is a reason why the old gods became old, they were not being acknowledged or worshiped, and would die off, making way for the new gods, and so the war began.
In fact, in this war between old and new, the fight for changing ideals has never occurred on such a large front as today’s media, which is also one of the main new gods. On social media outlets, battles over beliefs are constantly being fought. For example, when terrorist attacks and mass killings occur, people will share their “thoughts and prayers” on outlets such as Twitter, but apparently, it is now inappropriate to do so because “The terrorists pray. Good people think” (Judkis). Those who believe this way do not believe, or have faith, in a divine being or beings to assist, such as was proclaimed in a recent New York Daily News headline, “God isn’t fixing this” (Judkis). Instead of reliance on the divine, Americans today would rather put their trust in themselves.
However, as Gaiman suggests, why would this be a bad thing to rely completely on oneself? As the quote in the beginning says, religions act as “vantage points from which to view the world” (Gaiman, loc. 8985). When you don’t have a vantage point, then what do you stand for? As the popular saying goes, if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything. Why else would so many of these people on social media change opinions so often, or have conflicting arguments? Not only that, but according to Mastering the World of Psychology one of the four main ways people cope with stress through their religious faith (Wood, 342). These “new gods” will come and go, just as quickly as new car or iPhone models are released, because technology keeps changing. Religions, however have persisted for thousands of years, and will continue to remain as long as there are those who will lend faith and trust in something greater than themselves.
D.G. Hart. “From Nuns to ‘Nones’; Young Americans Today Don’t have Teachers Or Pastors to Shape their Belief. they Think of Religions as a Solo Quest for an Authentic Self.” Wall Street Journal (Online), Oct 05, 2016, National Newspapers Core, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1825963580?accountid=3859.
Gaiman, Niel. American Gods The Tenth Anniversary Edition. William Morrow & Co, 2012.
Judkis, Maura. “Social Media Rethinking ‘Thoughts and Prayers’.” The Washington Post, Dec 04, 2015, National Newspapers Core, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1738919603?accountid=3859.
“Separation of Church and State: Should there be a strict separation of church and state in the United States?” Issues & Controversies, Infobase Learning, 14 Jan. 2013, http://icof.infobaselearning.com.ez1.maricopa.edu/recordurl.aspx?ID=6324. Accessed 11 Apr. 2017.
“Washington court rules against florist in gay wedding case.” Fox News, FOX News Network, 16 Feb. 2017, www.foxnews.com/us/2017/02/16/washington-court-rules-against-florist-in-gay-wedding-case.html. Accessed 11 Apr. 2017.
Wood, Samuel E., et al. Mastering the world of psychology. 5th ed., Boston, Pearson, 2014.
Wormald, Benjamin. “U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, 2 Nov. 2015, www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/. Accessed 14 Apr. 2017.