As we approach July 4, one of the “holy” days of American civil religion, some random comments on where we are in this ever unfolding contemporary religious dimension to the American society:
As noted before in this blog, I deeply care about and am thankful for the United States of America and believe we should dedicate ourselves once again to vigorous participatory democracy. In order to do so as members of various faith communities in this pluralistic society, it is important to understand that as Robert Bellah wrote in his groundbreaking article in Daedalus in 1967, “while some have argued that Christianity is the national faith…few have realized that there actually exists alongside of and rather clearly differentiated from the churches an elaborate and well-instituted civil religion in America…[that]requires the same care in understanding that any other religion does”
I have been studying American civil religion (ACR) for well over 30 years now and have written extensively on the subject. But it keeps changing! It is not a dead religion. Lately I have wondered if we in the United States do not rather have an American corporate religion, as the power struggles between the U.S. government and BP would attest.
Each time I work with groups of people, whether students or congregational adult forums, I use a discovery method so that people are engaged in their own learning. We list the various elements of a religion listed around the room on chalk board or paper: Holy Days, Shrines, Holy Writ, Hymns, Symbols, Saints, Martyrs, Priests, Prophets, Rituals, Creeds, Gods. Participants fill in what they have seen in the world around them. ACR is indeed our “other faith” which shapes and forms what we believe every day. Over the years participants have suggested I add the categories of “Missions” and “Ecclesiology/Church”
Two weeks ago in Wartburg Seminary’s one-week intensive course, “The Church as Learning Community,” students, added some of their own ideas from summer of 2010 (By the way, the views in this post are my own. The class was a wonderful group of people with diverse views...I simply wanted to share some of their ideas and show you their picture!):
Mission: To spread our form of democracy
God: “happiness” (there are a lot of books, videos, etc out of happiness right now, perhaps because this is time of fear and uncertainty)
Creed: The Creed, “In Debt We Trust” has been shaken to the core
Ecclesiology/Church: Cell phones and Face Book
Shrines: Malls, banks, Arlington National Cemetery
Prophets: Sarah Palin (the list is usually all male) and Sarah Palin wannabes
Actually Sarah Palin was shown on the cover of Newsweek as “Saint Sarah” last week theorizing that the Christian right, long a group that confuses its brand of civil religion with its brand of Christianity, melding them together in a religious patriotism, is poised to become a women’s movement. By “feminist,” however, these women do not mean a movement of liberation and shared partnership of women and men working for global peace and justice, but a “kind of submissive, pretty, aw-shucks demeanor with a fiery power, a spiritual warfare.” (Newsweek, p.37)
Is there room for “Repentance” in American civil religion? Shame? Jonathan Kozol‘s recent book The Same of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, chronicles the educational gap in educational opportunities among rich and poor, black and white. But repentance?
Shame? The misnaming and missing of bodies at the holy “shrine” of Arlington National has been called a shame.
Where are we this July 4th? Where are you? These are random thoughts, hardly comprehensive of all the news, all the beliefs, all the "holy" shrines and hymns. Do we believe in "Freedom" as an icon? Is it "my" own independence that I worship? But don't we really need to be interdependent? And surely our belief in the corporate world to take complete care of our needs, particularly the needs of the poor has been shaken. In fact globally, decisions are usually not made on the basis of what is good for the needs of most of the poor of the world, but what is good for the corporation.
So, where are our gods? What do we hold dear? What beliefs and creeds hold us? What holds us together as a nation? What holds our attention?
And, in the midst of it all, what do the radical creeds of a radical Gospel of cross and resurrection empower us to do as we seek to serve all people in God’s created and hurting world?