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On this Independence Day, Is the Old Civil Religion Dead?

July 4, 2014

stock-photo-2964519-united-states-capitol
I’m just inside this part of July 4th, trying to stay cool! And not wanting to exert my brain a lot either, to write an in-depth article…. SO… some food for thought to go along with all the other food this week-end.

First, in speaking of “civil religion”, is this even a term familiar to you?

If not, the brief article in Wikipedia will get you up to speed on the basics, quickly.  There is a lot to explore about and within the subject beyond this, of course… entire books, courses, etc.  For here, just the general concept: Civil religion involves religious or quasi-religious ideas, symbols, etc. that are shared by a large portion of a nation (or similar societal structure) across specifically religious lines — the use of “God language” by politicians, prayers or biblical quotes at meetings or commemorations, religious placards (such as the Ten Commandments), or structures such as crosses at public places, etc.

So what is becoming of civil religion, do you think, as our national consciousness seems increasingly polarized? At the least, our political processes are increasingly polarized.  (I’ve heard a few researchers or commentators recently emphasizing that it is our political processes that is much more polarized than our citizenry, and I consider this likely to be true.)

Is there even a proper place for “civil” religion in things to do with government, under the US Constitution? Or should the “no establishment” clause rule out even this more common-ground and “generic” kind of religious speech or symbolism?  

Just my opinion on this: It is and always will be impossible to draw clear lines between what is “religious” and what is “secular”, so until something becomes clearly excessive–at least to me(!)–I don’t begrudge people some public symbolism, some mixing of God-talk into the political process….

On the other hand, I do believe many traditional Christians are in freak-out mode with the rapidity of change in a number of areas, and this is prompting outcries, lawsuits, etc., that are indeed “excessive” or ill-founded.  They are often merely reactionary when there is little or no true threat–for example to “religious liberty” or freedom of speech.

What gets you alarmed, on either “side” (or anywhere) on these issues? 

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