Civil Religion: The American Way of Life

United States (TFC) –The most observed religion in America isn’t Christianity, it’s patriotism.

America is widely regarded as a Christian nation with over 70% of the populace belonging to one of many different sects of Christianity. From a sociological stand point though, nationalism is by far the dominant religion in this country today. Though simply being prideful about one’s nation isn’t typically seen as a religious practice, by definition religion is a specific fundamentalist set of beliefs or practices that are generally agreed upon by a number of persons.

Civil religion is the nonsectarian quasi-religious faith of a nation, often times incorporating ritual expressions of patriotism. Many times this civil religion has been granted merit by leaders within a society, often with religious references relating to patriotic holidays. As in “God bless all who served on this Memorial Day”. Though not officially recognized as a formal creed, patriotism has long played an integral role throughout the history of these here United States. Repeatedly being used as a tool for uniting citizens in favor of a particular cause whilst simultaneously forbearing nonconformist ideas. It has existed alongside standard religion, yet remained individualized while still at times, subtly integrating certain Christian ideals.

The first recorded instance of the term “civil religion” was in 1763 and coined in The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The term was used to describe what he regarded as the spiritual and moral foundation necessary for any modern society to thrive. This civil religion is still being practiced today, and probably more than you think.

In many ways the Christian faith is intertwined within America’s political practices. Political leaders in America frequently quote religious texts during public appearances. Christian ideology is often implemented in other ways within government such as religious symbols being used on public buildings, religious gatherings called by political leaders, the invocation of God in political speeches and public monuments, and the use of public buildings for worship.

Which begs the question of where exactly the line between church and state actually lies. Why is it justifiable for the President or any political leader to use the word “God” on any public occasion? The ambiguity of the line between separating church from state is what has allowed these practices to occur, along with the generally antidisestablishmentarianistic idealism of the American people. As a culture, we have not denied the political realm a religious dimension. Although matters of personal religious belief, worship, and association are considered to be strictly private affairs, there are, at the same time, certain common elements of religious orientation that the great majority of Americans share.

Another example of religion influencing our patriotism is the veneration of past political leaders, veterans, and casualties of war and the glorification of the lives of these men and women to teach moral ideals, but since when was war of any kind been rationally interpreted as a good thing? Why are the deaths of many viewed as the preservation of our national freedom when throughout history the majority of American wars have been waged on false pretenses? The answer I believe is control.

Accepted as tradition, indoctrination of nationalism is direct evidence of civil religion being institutionalized and integrated within todays society as a method of control. The most familiar instance of this is likely The Pledge of Allegiance. Seemingly innocent, yet when analyzed in regards to its usage today, it’s nothing more than a glorified ritualistic chant.  Before children can comprehend or properly understand the significance of these words,.they’re ingrained into their daily schedules and easily memorized by the first grade. The pledge of Allegiance and other aspects of American culture were even further influenced by religion when amidst the so-called “religious revival” period of the 1950’s congress added the words “In God We Trust” to all paper money and made the same four words the nation’s official motto, replacing “E Pluribus Unum.” Legislators also introduced Constitutional amendments to state that Americans obeyed “the authority and law of Jesus Christ.” The campaign to add “…under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance was also part of this movement.

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Almost every American citizen is guilty of celebrating a national holiday in one way or another and we’re all generally inclined to have a specific set of values and beliefs in regards to national pride. there’s no escaping it, it’s the carefully fabricated foundation of our entire culture.

So do we have a choice, or are the good majority of us destined to perpetuate this facade known as “the American way of life”? Is it un-American to be a free-thinker and challenge the status quo? In the “land of the free” are we really free to choose what to believe?  Are we free to have an unbiased view of America when these long time used tactics and control methods derived from centuries old religious idealisms are not only being ostensibly used to mold the belief structure of the population but thwart the actions and ideas of those with opposing views? To that I answer a resounding yes. We do have a choice. The mold can be broken.

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t honor loved ones that have passed. Nor am I saying any individual shouldn’t be entitled to their own chosen religious faith or lack thereof. The point I’m trying to stress is that we can never truly be a free nation and a free people unless we are unequivocally allowed to think and choose for ourselves without the forced influences of religion or a false sense of patriotism. To quote my favorite living comedian Doug Stanhope: “Nationalism does nothing but teach you to hate people you never met, and to take pride in accomplishments you had no part in.”

So this Memorial Day and each following national holiday, if you’re inclined to do so honor the fallen and celebrate America. While you grasp that cold beer and salute the stars and stripes, take a moment to try to understand why we all do these things we do. Although it’s discouraged in modern America, question everything. Question yourself, question your beliefs, question authority, question the status quo. Truly, it is the only way to thoroughly understand not only this nation but this world we live in as well.

This article written by Clint Peterson for The Fifth Column.