It has been my contention that in the United States the term “civic religion,” as used by Robert Bellah, is counter to the prohibited national religion.
At the same time, the concept of a “civic religion” acts to negate the reality of the diversity of the practiced religions in the United States.
The synonyms for “negate” all seems to imply this point:
-nullify, invalidate, counteract, disprove, refute.
I diagram this with a loop in which each use of “2” – Bellah’s statement of a “civic religion,” is a distraction, as it would loop back to “1” – the articles of the Constitution in the 1st Amendment.
“1” – No civic religion, US Constitution – 1st Amendment, 1776
“2” – Framing the term civic religion, Robert Bellah, 1967
To be sure, I do recognize much of what Bellah is driving at rather consistently.
There are religion precepts which are woven into the fabric of American society.
There is also the attempt within American society to negate the recognition religion within that fabric with the phrase “a wall of separation between church and state.”
This is not Bellah’s intended outcome.
Bellah reflects Religion Sector 1.0 – “The church, or religion, on the town square.”
This is countered by what is reflected in Religion Sector 2.0 – “The wall of separation.”
The paradigm which has now emerged, after this long tension between adherence to one of these two, is Religion Sector 3.0 – “Alignment – among congregations and within society.”
Religion Sector 3.0 enables a path forward which recognizes Bellah’s validation of the deep existence in the United States of religion values and symbols, as expressed in the range of denominations he speaks of as “cousins,” taking their place within the spectrum of our society.
This Religion Sector 3.0 paradigm, which now finds its place into our society, call for neither a “state” religion, nor for the negation of religion as a dynamic in our society.
Religion moves within our nation without requiring us to choose between either a state sanctioned religion or the exclusion of religion within the fabric of society.
Finding that alignment – while recognizing what are unique aspects of the relationship of religion and the civic sectors – is to be worked out. This is the historic process in an evolving democracy. The process is similar to other sectors such as the education sector or even the business sector. It is also reflected within the process of navigating each shifting concept of who constituents “We the people.”
Having lived for that past 20 years in the one region where Religion Sector 3.0 defines “the landscape of religion in the United States,” I can attest that the advance to this phase (a) moves us beyond the debilitating tension between religion – yes or no, and (b) provides the context for the communal discourse on the resolution of factors that have been specific roadblocks hindering that discussion. It has also prevented the long sought beneficial relationship between the institutions of the Civic Sectors and the core institutions of the Religion Sector, clergy and congregations.
Significantly, this has resulted in the now “appropriate” and “efficient” strategies to attain the full potential of “Congregations Base Resources” (CBR) on behave of the common good. This is enabled with the defined infrastructure of the Religions Sector which serves the widest range of collaborative efforts.
Furthermore, this has resulted in the origination of “Congregation Based Constituent Engagement” (CBCE), enabling the much needed engagement of people across the full spectrum of the nation. Congregations are the most constituent based institution in any community, gathering weekly in significant numbers, incorporated multiple communication vehicles of websites, emails and bulletins, with a recognized leader. Congregations, internally and collectively, reflect the mix of denominations, demographics, and geography in any region.
In addition, of immediate concern today are the dynamics in the United States which have resulted in cultural divisions which have similarly influenced divisions within religion. This has impacted that vast aggregate of constituents.
These divisions within religions, impact the progression of democracy, particularly given the dynamics of religion today and the dynamics of politics today as it continues to advance in this democratic society.
Conversely, the innovation of the designed infrastructure for Regional Clergy Engagement has enabled a progression resulting in the shift from the ad hoc to the systemic model for the Religion Sector. This offers a countervailing asset at this critical time for democracy.
Congregation Based Constituent Engagement (CBCE) is an innovative platform for engaging vast numbers of constituents, in a context within a congregation and in congregational clusters, which engages a diversity of demographics within the full spectrum of the fragments in our society.
While we focus on the need for bridging “the sides,” the real need is bridging, or connecting, the full spectrum of society. Impactful communal discourse.
What does seem to make sense where the term “civic religion” appears in the writing of Bellah is to remove “civic.” This seems to retain the intent of his assessment of the impact of religion, while it removes the impact of a suggestion hat there is a designated religion and the resulting discrepancy which I have suggested above.
This innovation of the Religion Sector 3.0 era finds further credibility when taken as an extension of Denis Lacorne’s book Religion in America: A Political History. One summary of Lacorne’s book reiterates his articulation of the concept of two competing narratives on religion defining American identity. This provides a clear statement of the narrative which is the context which Religion Sector 3.0 now addresses.
Lacorne reiterates the long struggle between adherence to one of two narratives defining “the landscape of religion in the United States,” which precedes the emergence of an understanding of Religion Sector 3.0 – “Alignment: Among Congregations – Within Community.”
The critical clauses are highlighted.
The first narrative, derived from the philosophy of the Enlightenment, is essentially secular. Associated with the Founding Fathers and reflected in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers, this line of reasoning is predicated on separating religion from politics to preserve political freedom from an overpowering church. Prominent thinkers such as Voltaire, Thomas Paine, and Jean-Nicolas Démeunier, who viewed the American project as a radical attempt to create a new regime free from religion and the weight of ancient history, embraced this American effort to establish a genuine “wall of separation” between church and state.
The second narrative is based on the premise that religion is a fundamental part of the American identity and emphasizes the importance of the original settlement of America by New England Puritans. This alternative vision was elaborated by Whig politicians and Romantic historians in the first half of the nineteenth century. It is still shared by modern political scientists such as Samuel Huntington. These thinkers insist America possesses a core, stable “Creed” mixing Protestant and republican values. Lacorne outlines the role of religion in the making of these narratives and examines, against this backdrop, how key historians, philosophers, novelists, and intellectuals situate religion in American politics.
In the delineation of the Religion Sector, Lacorne’s I and II are revered, resulting in:
Religion Sector 1.0 – The Church On the Town Square
Religion Sector 2.0 – Walls of Separation
Religion Sector 3.0 – Alignment: Among Congregations – Within Community
Yes, there are religion based precepts woven into the fabric of American society.
Yes, there is the attempted negation of that, with the phrase “a wall of separation between religion and state.”
Religion Sector 3.0 enables the presence in society of religion values and denominations.
It does not call for a “state” religion.
Religion is within the fabric of our nation without having to be either state sanctioned or excluded from within the society. How religion sits in an alignment with the greater society is to be worked out, given the acknowledged unique aspects of the relationship of religion and the civic sectors. This has been the historic case in an evolving democracy, similar to other sectors such as the education sector or even the business sector.
Combining my lenses of both religion and of political science, I would observe that this is a critical factor in addressing the current dynamics in the United States which has resulted in a level of fragmentation which drive cultural divisions. This has similarly influenced religion divisions.