Why Are Americans So Uptight about Religion?

Chris, meet Tim. He’s not a Christian like you. He’s a Buddhist.” The introduction affronted my American sensibilities. I would have been less shocked if he had disclosed my net worth. But my friend and my new Buddhist acquaintance seemed unfazed by the candor, so I pretended to be comfortable with it too. But I was pretending.

Though I hold strong religious convictions, I am also a product of the American religious culture — one that elevates privacy, restraint, and non-infringement among its chief values. Living two months in Hong Kong helped me realize how much Americans can learn from this Chinese city, and how our values stifle freedoms for all American citizens — and uniquely ostracize religious minorities.

In rankings of both religious diversity and freedom, the United States is no longer a global leader.

Hong Kong features rich religious diversity. Well over half of the city’s seven million residents adhere to some form of Buddhism or Taoism. About 10 percent identify as Christian. About three percent identify as Muslim. Smaller but still significant populations of Hindus, Mormons, and Jews also coexist in the city.

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