American Civil Religion And Politics Essay, Research Paper
American Civil Religion and Politics
My major area of study is Political Science, and even if you haven’t majored in political studies you know that there are few things left untouched by politics. Religion, of course, is no exception. Issues concerning religion are some of the most hotly contested topics in politics today. Consider as an example, the seemingly never-ending conflict in the Middle East over rights to Israel. It can be argued that this conflict has as much to do with politics as it does with religious beliefs. However, I think the way in which politics most closely relates to the study of world religions is in its creation of so- called “civil religion.”
American civil religion is a religion borne entirely from politics. It got its start at a point in American history when phenomena called the Great Awakening swept across the nation. The Great Awakening began as a spiritual revival in the American colonies. As a result of the Great Awakening individual churches were divided among revivalists and skeptics. This caused the idea of civil religion to come into existence. Americans who used to be unified by churches were now looking to government and politics for unification.
An actual definition for civil religion is the worship of a form of government and the political principles associated with it. Civil religion has much in common with the traditional world religions such as a set of highly held beliefs and ideals. In the United States this includes the worship of democracy and republican government rooted in principles such as liberty, equality, equal rights, union, limited government, and due process of law. The latest stream of faith includes multicultural diversity and communitarianism (the “It takes a village to raise a child” mentality).
American civil religion has a set of sacred texts all it’s own as well. These would include: the Declaration of Independence, the constitution, The Federalist Papers, the Bill of Rights, Washington’s Farewell address, Jefferson’s first inaugural speech, the Gettysburg address, FDR’s first inaugural speech, the pledge of allegiance, JFK’s inaugural speech, and Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.
The demigods of American civil religion are the founding fathers. Men such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin would all fit into this category.
American civil religion also comes with it’s own set of “high priests”, if you will. These originally tended to be the Presidents- with some even becoming “saints” with days of national veneration. This group would include men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln. Eventually Justices of the Supreme Court came to be included in this group as expositors of the “sacred texts.”
The martyrs of American civil religion are those who have died in the service of democracy. Nathan Hale, an American spy at the time of the American Revolution, and members of the armed forces who have died in battle would be considered martyrs of American civil religion.
Finally, American civil religion has it’s own set of sacred places. Examples of this would be the Washington Monument, the White House, Lincoln Memorial, and Mount Rushmore.
It has been suggested that American civil religion is so popular, even fervent, because of the strong Judeo-Christian background of the country and the personal religious beliefs of its citizens. It has also been attributed to the American sense of exceptionalism, which is the belief that the United States is “chosen” by God. This might be an explanation as to why Americans are so eager to intervene in international affairs.
So, while American civil religion is not an organized religion, I do believe that it is something that is thriving in American society. It serves as a means of unification of people across classes and cultures, and I’m sure will be in existence as long as the United States continues to be.