Monday, June 9, 2014

The Faiths of Our Nation

"God Bless America" -- The Civil Religion in American by Robert Bellah

Civil religion in America, argues Robert Bellah in his book of the same title, Civil Religion in America, is the faith of the land, not Christianity as some will argue. The civil religion, he says exists both independently and along side the other religious organizations in America, such as temples, churches and mosques. Taking up this as his topic, Bellah says that while the founding fathers may have advocated for religion, they in their enlightened minds, argued for no religion in particular; up sprung what today we call, civil religion. Over time the amalgamated beliefs of many faith communities have coalesced into this one great mass that here in America, the religion of our intrinsically religious society is not any particular religion at all, but the civil religion that suits so many.

In defining civil religion, Bellah describes a situation that goes beyond folkways but does not extend itself to established or 'mainline' faith communities. Often leaders of civil religion inhabit political spheres and engage religion to advance message. And while some may want to diminish the sincerity or intensity of this American faith way, Bellah argues equally that it "deserves the same care and understanding as any other faith."  In his most recent work, The Robert Bellah Reader, He writes about religious faith communities and the ways in which they impart meaning not only to their immediate constituents, but to the civil, political process; the shaping of ethical and moral policies translate directly into the legislation of society.

The Reader is divided into four broad parts. Bellah seeks to examine the 'waves of modernity' as they are sometimes called when examining religious practice within society. These waves are often the ideas of antiquity, early modern, modern and post modern as they manifest within a given social order. He also charges the universities with a deficit, "testing the axiomatic modern assumption that rational cognition and moral evaluation, fact and value, are absolutely divided... arguing instead that they overlap and interact much more than conventional wisdom in the university today usually admits." To read Robert Bellah's words is to be deeply challenged and enlightened to the ways of modern America.

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