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Comments by Emily

On “Re: Modern American True Civic Religion vs. Pre-Modern Cultish Religion in North Carolina

I think you're midstream, but talking about what makes religion religion, and how that changes depending on the purpose of defining it, is important.

Beyond a sociological description, the way that humans express the religious impulse, the desire for meaning, is so varied that we often don't recognize it in one another. Can we come up with a definition that allows us greater understanding of how religion works and why it should or should not be institutionalized in some way? Can there be a definition that shows more compassion for our fellow primates?


But they continue to be elected, have strong, vocal support bases, can raise money, have publications, etc. Certainly there is great conflict between groups, and plenty of name calling aimed at all stripes of partisanship but so far no one has been jailed or executed.

What you may be describing is the discomfort inherent in making a strong personal statement, based on one's ultimate concern, and having that concern rejected and even belittled, an experience common to many in the public square. Harsh words are unfair, and inappropriate in real debate, but they aren't a penalty.


So if there can be zero assertion of faith in a public sphere, where does that leave all the politicians and pundits who proclaim clearly that their vision of leadership is informed by or often directly attributed to a particular religious adherence? How is it that they continue and are often quite successful?


So their assertion is that the federal government should allow individual states to reject parts of the constitution? Or reject the constitution as a whole?


By replace do you mean any that follow, chronologically? Does existence over time indicate durability or must it be growth over time?

Ok, I get that, Colin (and Leo.) But I wonder how to talk about religion as it could be mandated as official by a law if we only talk about one religion, unless we call it Christianity and say, yeah, Christianity is the subject.


But "real" is subjective. If we are describing a phenomenon we see in the world, whether from the inside or the outside, we have to do so with intellectual rigor. It's hard work to tease out one's own feelings and beliefs from what is really functioning as religion, but it is vital in order to talk about human experience.

I've also been reminded over on Facebook of the impossibility of defining a religion solely as "Christianity." What subset would a mandate require?


If we insist on relationship to God defining religion, it's going to leave us stranded when we want to look at the function of the religious impulse in a culture. I think Wach's descriptive definition of religion is very useful here.

Also, Colin,that link has made my week. It wins the internet.


I hesitate to use the pagan description, as it implies a pre modern religion heavily informed by animism. Pagan ideas about hedonism are also not necessarily connected with "happiness," and certainly not postmodern happiness. I feel where Cervantes is coming from with his source about a relationship to God, but religion is not defined by a God concept.


The issue of semantics I'm thinking about is culturally subconscious, and were it named religion, would be rejected by its adherents.

There are lots of examples, but here's one of my favorites. The group that values reality television and its surrounding culture. There are significant numbers of Americans who find their highest values expressed by say, the Kardashians, and more than that, see those values as being the most exemplary of American culture. Wealth, desirability and fun are a modern definition of happiness, and one to which many Americans feel is not only a right but a commandment. Those same people might reject a traditionally structured religion specifically because it is in conflict with this. Gratification is not just desirable and available but a moral good.


Semantics confuse this discussion further. The way different groups of Americans understand religion as a word, in addition to their varied emotional responses to the word, gives a wild range of stories about how it functions as an establishment (or not.) An established religion, as a concept, can be analogous to an organized religion for many people. That is not to say that there may not be a quantifiable difference, but the stories behind both concepts, particularly for the self identified non-affiliated religious, are intertwined.

A common self description is of course "spiritual but not religious." While many of this group appear to be agnostic or interested in religious experience without commitment, there are also those who have a stringent fundamentalist/literalist vision of religious experience that makes it difficult for them to tolerate the social expression of religion as community. There is a flavor of American Civil Religion that goes with that, focusing on separatism and a distinct narrative of history and culture that functions as scripture. Actions which embody values of wealth, power and autonomy (according to the group narrative) are ritualized. While from the outside they are assumed to be part of a protestant Christian culture, they frequently identify religion as irrelevant, and are deeply suspicious of any self-reflection or critical thought as being in direct opposition to a "lifestyle" which is in fact, fraught with religious experience.

On “Prophet of the Nones (disbelief in disbelief 3)

Soloveitchik, in The Lonely Man of Faith, speaks to the two human ideas in Genesis (bereshit) I and II as a kind of myth of moral evolution, Adam I being the self-focused man, and Adam II being the other-focused man. Buber would say, of course, that is where Adam II begins to encounter God, by turning outward, by his ability to turn outward. I am assuming that you guys are way beyond documentary hypothesis.

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