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Bellah_Civil Religion in America

Bellah_Civil Religion in America - Civil Religion in...

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Civil Religion in America by Robert N. Bellah Acknowledgement: Reprinted by permission of Dædalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, from the issue entitled, "Religion in America," Winter 1967, Vol. 96, No. 1, pp. 1-21. At the beginning of a reprint of this essay (Robert N. Bellah, Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditionalist World . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991, p. 168), the author wrote: This chapter was written for a Dædalus conference on American Religion in May 1966. It was reprinted with comments and a rejoinder in The Religious Situation: 1968 , where I defend myself against the accusation of supporting an idolatrous worship of the American nation. I think it should be clear from the text that I conceive of the central tradition of the American civil religion not as a form of national self-worship but as the subordination of the nation to ethical principles that transcend it in terms of which it should be judged. I am convinced that every nation and every people come to some form or religious self-understanding whether the critics like it or not. Rather than simply denounce what seems in any case inevitable, it seems more responsible to seek within the civil religious tradition for those critical principles which undercut the everpresent danger of national self-idolization. While some have argued that Christianity is the national faith, and others that church and synagogue celebrate only the generalized religion of "the American Way of Life," few have realized that there actually exists alongside of and rather clearly differentiated from the churches an elaborate and well-institutionalized civil religion in America. This article argues not only that there is such a thing, but also that this religion-or perhaps better, this religious dimension-has its own seriousness and integrity and requires the same care in understanding that any other religion does. i [i] The Kennedy Inaugural John F. Kennedy's inaugural address of January 20, 1961, serves as an example and a clue with which to introduce this complex subject. That address began: We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom- symbolizing an end as well as a beginning-signifying renewal as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same
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solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago. The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and to abolish all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forbears fought are still at issue around the globe-the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God. And it concluded: Finally, whether you are citizens of America or of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice that we shall ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead
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