Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Giant Foam Fingers and Blue Cotton Candy: The New Civil Religion?

Some commentators have criticized the atmosphere at the memorial service for the victims of the Tucson shooting. Michelle Malkin complained about the blue-and-white "Together We Thrive" banners created for the ceremony and asked Will there be giant foam fingers and blue cotton candy, too? Others have suggested that the event was more like a campaign rally or a pep rally. The Washington Post observed that President Clinton's speech at Oklahoma City was more somber. A writer at the Chronicle of Higher Education argued that University of Arizona officials should teach their students how to behave at a memorial service, which is different from a pep rally.

Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs was more positive; he diplomatically suggested that the crowd was celebrating the miracle of those who survived

Presidents are the leading spokesmen for the American civil religion. In times of war, sorrow and tragedy, they are expected to address the nation and find the proper words to unite citizens. The presidents usually turn to the Bible to express their sentiments, as Obama did twice in his speech in Tucson:

Scripture tells us:
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, "When I looked for light, then came darkness."

As George W. Bush did in his speech responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11:

Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a Power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.

As Bill Clinton did in his speech responding to the bombing in Oklahoma City:

Let us teach our children that the God of comfort is also the God of righteousness: Those who trouble their own house will inherit the wind.
As St. Paul admonished us, Let us "not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
It embodies the lesson of the Psalms -- that the life of a good person is like a tree whose leaf does not wither.

Right now, religious services--especially Christian ones--still provide the models and sources for the American civil religion. As the nation, especially the young generation, becomes less religious, however, we need new models for public ceremonies. Today or tomorrow a pep rally may capture the positive spirit of the American people more directly than a traditional church service that appeals to Christian scripture. 

If giant foam fingers suggest that America is #1in lending a hand to the victims of the Tucson tragedy then why not encourage the new civil religion to flourish? 


  1. You asked, “...why not encourage the new civil religion to flourish?” and in your prior post to this one, you cited David Griffin’s position that the new civil religion is, “... the belief that America is a divinely inspired nation of chosen people with a God-given duty to be a light unto the rest of the world....” Given the definition cited and how it is usually applied to cultural and political situations, there are several important reasons why we should NOT encourage this new “civil religion” to flourish.

    It is not harmless to do so. Isn’t “civil religion” an oxymoron in the first place? Mixing civic beliefs with religious ones is inherently and directly against the separation of church and state. In fact, just stating out loud the two terms together, CI-VIL RE-LI-GION, creates a painful dissonance inside my “compassionate conservative”. But the harm can be much more devastating, just ask the 500 or so sovereign nations of native Americans who were here when Columbus arrived, those religionless heathens, they! (Only most of them were driven to extinction by the God-fearing x-tians who either enslaved them, killed them, or slaughtered their bison in order to starve them to death, all IN THE NAME OF AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM, and also in the name of their god, of course!)

    It is harmful to many of those non-domestic individuals, evidence: the tens of thousands of dead and maimed Iraqi and Afghani citizens that American Exceptionalism was the reason and licensed used to attack them.

    America and it’s citizens are NOT exceptional because of any divinely-mandated duty to show the rest of the world how to live, rather, we are the part of our species of hominids that, driven by our DNA-level instincts, rode the wave of efficiency that was the industrial revolution into a position of dominance and power during the 19th and 20th centuries. This dominance and power was derived solely because of our great wealth, relative to the rest of the world. But such wealth and hubris came at a price, a great price, to those who were dominated. Such economic slavery is yet another reason we should NOT encourage our civil religion to flourish... to be our guiding light as we make our way through the future.

    Instead of using the x-tian cheer of American Exceptionalism, and all of the pain, death, poverty, and abuse that spills off of it, we should instead be using a much more humble and cooperative, non-damaging attitude that includes phrases such as, “do what is best for humanity”, “do what is best for our ONE PLANE”, “more and bigger is not always better”, and “we don’t have all the answers and neither does our religion or god”. ---Rick Wilbanks

    1. You do not seem to review you blog too often....huh? Oh well, Koby told me about it and religion & government are two subjects about which I am concerned and relatively informed, so I thought I would respond to your commentary.--- rw