Stayed up late reading this essay on the 'Civil Religion of America'. Bellah surveys American history (up through 1966, when the essay was written) through the lens of the American religion. He quotes Rousseau, who said the civil religion consists of these basic tenets:

*1) God exists, and is the ultimate authority
2) There is an afterlife, in which
3) Virtue is rewarded, and vice is punished*

To these basic tenets, the American civil religion adds:

*4) This land was granted to us, and has a special place in God's plan, on analogy with Israel
5) Our great land must be sometimes defended with personal sacrifice, on analogy with Christ*

(4) was added at the time of the Revolution; (5) was added during the Civil War.

Bellah talks about how these themes were developed in our most highly-regarded Presidential speeches, particularly the Gettysburg Address; and how the nation's holidays -- especially Thanksgiving and Memorial Day -- are really 'civil religious' holidays. He notes how (4) was so deadly to the indigenous peoples of America; and it continues to be so. He also warns how (5) can lead to American imperialism, if the idea of 'personal sacrifice' is transformed into fighting wars for democracy beyond our borders. When he wrote this in 1966, Vietnam was just beginning...

To me the most interesting thing, which he mentions only in passing, is how the civil religion has no provision for contemplative or mystic practice; and without that, it remains shallow and doctrinal. Also, there is nothing in the religion about the personal freedoms that we're so proud of; and that means that a theocratic America would not necessarily be a free one.

Bellah in the essay is hopeful that the civil religion could one day form the foundation of a world government. I can only say that I desperately hope he's wrong. What do you think?
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