America’s Civil Religion

In a previous post, I outlined what the sociologist Robert Bellah calls “civil religion,” and its elaboration by Carolyn Martin and David Ingle in their classic article, “Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Revisiting Civil Religion.”  Now, Lexington over at The Economist has posted on “The Perils of Constitution Worship.”  Lexington notes that Americans in general and Tea Partiers in particular treat the founding fathers as deities and their writings as sacred texts:

Indeed, there is something infantile in the belief of the constitution-worshippers that the complex political arguments of today can be settled by simple fidelity to a document written in the 18th century. Michael Klarman of the Harvard Law School has a label for this urge to seek revealed truth in the sacred texts. He calls it “constitutional idolatry”. The[se are] the words of men, not of gods.

When history is turned into scripture and men into deities, truth is the victim. The framers were giants, visionaries and polymaths. But they were also aristocrats, creatures of their time fearful of what they considered the excessive democracy taking hold in the states in the 1780s. They did not believe that poor men, or any women, let alone slaves, should have the vote.

This civil religion is taken for granted as a manifestation of natural law, always a sure sign that someone’s interests are being served and those interests have been mystified or hidden behind empty slogans such as “democracy, patriotism, and freedom.”

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