`THE United States of America,'' British social commentator Paul Johnson reminds us, ``was not ... (founded as) a secular state; it might more accurately be described as a moral and ethical society without a state religion. Clearly, those who created it saw it as an entity, to use Lincoln's later phrase, `under God.''' Today, surveys show, Americans remain a people distinguished by the extent of their religious participation and their religiosity. For example, the percentage of Americans who say they believe in ``heaven'' is several dozen percentage points higher than that in most Western European countries.
Some observers argue that opinion surveys can't really chart something as deep and personal as the fabric of religious belief. That may be true. But the polls do enlarge our understanding of the central place of religion in the nation's life.
This review is part of a continuing series done by the Center for the Monitor on how Americans respond to various issues, institutions, and events in the nation's life.