10 Responses to American Civil Religion

  • Thanks for the summary Ryan. I had glanced at the Wikipedia page to get a general idea of the accusation. It’s an interesting concept, but it seems to me that moralistic therapeutic deism is far more widespread, particularly over the last twenty to thirty years as the textbooks have discussed U.S. history in less glowing terms.

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  • I think you should also look at the more “conservative” or even traditional arguments against American Civic Religion. What I am refering to is the condemnation of the heresy of Americanism by Pope Leo XIII. This is especially relevant in light of issues such as individualism, “exporting democracy”, and American particularism.

    You have to understand that “exporting freedom” has been a part of America for a long, long time. This has been the unofficial idea probably since the begining, when the US was seen as the model for a liberal revolution, which caught hold accross Europe. It became the official millitary philosophy of the country since at least the Spanish American War where “American Democracy” conquered Old (and in part Catholic) Europe, and was continued in World War One and up to the Iraq war.

    Furthermore, the Individualism angle cuts in a few different directions. It is not just an economic issue. The Church has always said that the common good is more important than individualist rights, which effects social issues as well.

    The similarity of their criticism against the heresy of Americanism and the modern critique of American civic religion is amazing given their very different views and political committments.

  • The first is the importance of not simply writing someone off as “being that way”, and instead actually trying to argue things out with specifics.

    Not sure why everyone on this blog seems to think that blog comments are the place for extended arguments and complex explanations of phenomena like american civil religion. Surely you don’t expect me to be able to give a lecture on such things every time I make reference to them? I’ve written on american civil religion before. Sometimes I simply refer to things without feeling the need to make a long argument, seeing how we are bloggers, and you are not my dissertation committee.

    …especially if he works under the paradigm that those who support the War in Iraq, capitalism, strict border control, and so on live in either a conscious or unconscious worship of this American Civil Religion

    Not quite.

  • Michael – don’t be ridiculous. You made an accusation. Then you refused to provide any evidence for that accusation or offer any explanation of what led you to make the accusation. We were not waiting breathlessly for you to provide a lecture on anything – just to show the common decency of trying to justify your charge. Even Kingsley did that much.

  • Sometimes I simply refer to things without feeling the need to make a long argument

    Translation: “My habitual pattern on almost every occasion is to throw out insults that I can’t be bothered to explain or defend.”

  • We’re not your dissertation committee — which is probably why you haven’t been kicked out of grad school 😉 — but there’s a point at which if you want to throw around accusations and characterizations you should be prepared to explain what you mean by them.

    I don’t think you’d be impressed by a blog where people were constantly told, “You’re just one of those Liberal Catholics” and the accusor then refused to even explain what he meant by the term. Similarly, if you want to accuse people of worshipping at the altars of the state, or worshipping the military, or participating in American Civil Religion, or what have you, then you need to be prepared to explain what you mean by those terms and why you think they apply. Or at least, you need to be prepared to do that if you want to have any chance of helping people understand what you mean and perhaps even respect your opinion — if your main purpose is to blow off steam online I guess it really doesn’t matter.

    You clearly have a fairly unique political perspective, yet you seem oddly hesitant to ever lay it out very clearly. Trying to see if I was being unfair on this, I just ran down your list of VN posts back to the mid summer, and although I see a lot of quicky “Look at this horrible thing” posts and “This writer says this about Obama” posts, going back to July of this year I don’t see any where you lay out a policy proposal or write more generally about your political philosophy.

    Which made it a bit ironic when I ran across >this post where you express the laudible opinion:I am thankful to be part of a group blog that focuses on original writing and commentary on contemporary issues and current events rather than constantly pointing the finger at other bloggers.

    I’m not saying that I’d agree with you any more if you tended to write more substantively in your posts and comments, but I would at least have the benefit of knowing what it is that you think — other than that you generally react to my economic views with horror.

  • Michael,

    Not sure why everyone on this blog seems to think that blog comments are the place for extended arguments and complex explanations of phenomena like american civil religion.

    This from our comment policy:

    We would like American Catholic be a place where Catholics from various perspectives (and anyone of good will) may constructively discuss the issues that unite and divide us.

    Our intent here is not just to post articles, but have discussions. While we greatly appreciate your taking time to read what we’ve written, we’re also hoping for genuine dialogue. In a sense, we do want our comboxes here at AC to deal with complex arguments made for or against difficult issues. Now, of course, no one says you have to make long, involved comments. You have your blog to manage and probably many other things to do. At the same time, if you have the opportunity, we’d like to hear some well-argued points you have to make.

    I’ve written on american civil religion before. Sometimes I simply refer to things without feeling the need to make a long argument, seeing how we are bloggers, and you are not my dissertation committee.

    Part of the problem with saying this is that just because you’ve written about American Civil Religion before does not mean that we understand how you’re validated in accusing us of worshiping it. Now, I certainly took your advice and looked up the topic myself. I read Bellah’s original argument, and have worked through a good portion of his “The Broken Covenant” to try to get a good understanding. From there I speculated on what your accusations were precisely, and why I felt there weren’t justified.

    The difficulty, of course, is that I’m not a mind reader. I don’t know that these are your arguments, or even if they are, if you’re not seeing important minutiae that I didn’t pick up on. That’s why we ask for clarification.

    The point is that we’re not blogging to be in a void. We’re not spending hours of our time to produce something that has no impact on people. And if you feel that we’re presenting very bad arguments, we’d not only like to know that we are doing so, but how. We’ll take criticism–though we will probably argue quite a while–but we’d prefer “You’re wrong, and here’s why” over just a “You’re wrong.”

    Now, you challenged me to look into something, and I have, and I feel I’ve gleaned a good amount of insight from it. I feel sheepish that you had to rebuke me to look up “American Civil Religion” on my own, but then, that doesn’t solve the problems you see here. It reminds of the joke about a man overhearing a couple of coworkers gossiping about someone who simply doesn’t have a clue, and walks away thinking “I’m glad I’m not like that guy”, when in truth they were talking about him. Having looked into American Civil Religion, I feel comfortable in saying, “no, I don’t worship at its altar”, but maybe you’re seeing something I’m not. That’s why specifics are necessary.

  • Also, a little note on prose composition: If you want to emphasize that you’re using a proper noun (perhaps one that others should make themselves familiar with before responding), it can help to capitalize it — even if it contains the hated word “American”. Thus “American Civil Religion” or if you want to be specific “American Civil Religion as described by [Name]” might be more helpful than “american civil religion”.

    Otherwise people may not realize that you’re referring to a socialogical term rather than just tossing off an ad hoc accusation.