Civil Religion in America

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Over the past century, give or take, American society has evolved a few rules for talking about religion in public, the foremost of which are:

1. Don’t say your religion is better than someone else’s.
2. Don’t attribute others’ suffering to punishment by God.

But since their re-emergence in the cultural mainstream 30 years ago, evangelical Protestants have not been entirely with the program. It’s just hard for some of them to suppress the impulse to bear public witness to the superiority of their faith and signs of divine adjudication. So God doesn’t hear the prayers of a Jew and Katrina shows what happens to a city dedicated to letting the good times roll. And Tiger Woods should trade in his Buddhism for Christianity and Haiti made a pact with the Devil.

When such assertions are made, a lot of Americans are shocked, and there is widespread condemnation, including from some leading evangelicals. Most of us recognize that civility has its virtues, and we are loathe to give it up, whatever our theological convictions.

  • don

    As editor of, I have witnessed just what you have expressed. Civility has it’s purpose. Let us pray that it will not be lost on an entire generation.
    peace and love for 2010
    donovan moore

  • One of the interesting things happening is now that evangelicals (as a whole) basically ARE the largest group of Christians in this country — particularly when one considers the intensity of their religious practice vs. that of many Catholics (not dissimilar to Orthodox Jews becoming the being the majority of actively-Jewish Jews in the country in the coming decade or so — but more on that in another post).
    Now as part of the majority, evangelicals are seeing some splits when it comes to activism. This is particularly true when it comes to environmentalism.
    The real issue is that we in the media (I’m included) focus on what the idiots have to say as they are generally more quotable and outlandish (not to mention nauseatingly predictable). It’s the more cerebral evangelical leaders who need our attention — and are harder to find as they are not media hogs (nor are they creating their own networks to spread their insanity as they are more focused on deeds than headlines).
    At least that’s the take from Baltimore.