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April 28, 2014

Is "Civil Religion" Harmful to the Actual Church?

As you may know, Sarah Palin made a joke -- stating that if she were president, terrorists would receive waterboarding as their "baptism" -- and that's caused, as usual, all manner of commotions and consternations on the right.

I'm still thinking about my own feelings about this, but in casting about for reactions, I found Mollie Hemingway making an interesting, larger point about what she calls "civil religion," which I think she's saying isn't real religion, but a religiously-themed mode of expression in political/public settings.

This is a perfect example not just of civil religion but also how civil religion harms the church. Civil religion is that folk religion that serves to further advance the cause of the state. Civil religion can include invocations of a generic God at inaugurations and other key events (lately these invocations also acknowledge, showing the power of civil religion, the absence of trust in God as well), oblique or overt religious references by political leaders, exaggerated stories about great leaders, interfaith worship events at times of national crisis (e.g., when Oprah Winfrey led a massive interfaith worship service at Yankee Stadium in the aftermath of 9/11), and so on and so forth.

Civil religion can be a unifying force for political power but it manages to unify, typically, at the expense of orthodox belief.

I don't know what I think about that -- this is the first time I've seen this argument (that I can remember, anyway) -- but it seems like an interesting idea to explore.


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posted by Ace at 04:52 PM

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