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American Civil Religion The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. (Sociology 159)

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Presentation on theme: "American Civil Religion The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. (Sociology 159)"— Presentation transcript:

1 American Civil Religion The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. (Sociology 159)

2 Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865 Equality, exemplary, sin inside the nation Main themes: – Equality the defining characteristic of American thought – National identity prioritized over state identity – US points beyond itself to something higher – The law and American political institutions make political freedom and equality possible Union politically inseparable from freedom 2

3 Lincoln deploys the language of civil religion to define and defend American national identity, based in his understanding of a divinely mandated equality as the foundational value of just democratic rule. – His definition of the polity as being based in equality sets clear limits on the boundaries within which legitimate political action may take place, implicitly casting practices and institutions that violate the principle of equality, such as slavery, as being outside the polity and thus un-American. Moreover, Lincolns depiction of a national identity with a distinct world historical charge constitutes an important part in legitimating the use of force against the seceding states, in his civil religious framework their fracturing of the Union becomes a hostile act against not only the federal government of the United States, but against the very possibility of democratic government and even the will of God himself. 3

4 Shared Burden of Sin Renders all individuals equal in their sinfulness before a perfect God Depicts the United States as always in moral and spiritual unity, despite its political division. Legitimates the use of coercion against Americans in the name of positive liberty – The war as punishment from God (67-69) Humility & forgiveness 4

5 The Priestly Mode Relatively celebrative, affirmative, culture-building, – depicts a personal God who created, guided and led [the] nation toward its destiny. – This God mandated a mission and demanded loyalty that went beyond the loyalty extended to the state Emphasizes the exceptional status of the American polity and its possibilities for a transformational form of politics. – Attempt to to explain the will of God to his constituents so that they might think, act, and believe in a way appropriate to Americans. – Emphasizes the efficacy of human effort, and the ability of humans, with Gods help, to move the nation along its teleological path toward equality. – Though the mode of thinking is religious, its terms are political, with issues of citizenship, republican virtue, and, most importantly, equality as its primary concerns. (70-71) 5

6 The Prophetic Mode a tendency toward the judgmental, being critical rather than affirmative – describes Gods relationship with the United States as being essentially dialectical, as God both shapes [the] nation and judges it, because he is transcendent in both circumstances – integrates the United States into a larger cosmic order and places it firmly under the judgment of God – Slavery does not retard national progress toward telos of equality, but is an offense against God by a people covenanted to equality God, who directly intervenes in American history in order to favor or punish his almost chosen people – Strongly presdestinarian, even deterministic, depicting humans as impotent before the overwhelming power of God, powerless to either advance or hinder the workings of the divine will, which is to be obeyed more than it is to be understood. (70-71) 6

7 Priestly Mode A priest, in affirming the values and beliefs of his congregation, also works to exclude or condemn those not a part of his community of belief. – Thus, the central tasks of priestly civil speech and thought are the interpretation and codification of an inherited tradition, and the dissemination of the subsequent conclusions among the laity. Lincolns priestly speech functions in exactly this way. Lincoln moves the primary aim of the war over time from the preservation of the union to the extermination of slavery, which exists as an affront to the Providence that has given America the historical telos of institutionalizing a universal form of human political equality (80-81) 7

8 First Inaugural A question of interpretation – Lincoln notes that All profess to be content in the Union, if all constitutional rights be maintained, and challenges his opponents to think of a single instance in which a plainly written provision of the Constitution has ever been denied. May Congress prohibit slavery in the territories? The Constitution does not expressly say. Must Congress protect slavery in the territories? The Constitution does not expressly say. – Likewise, the Constitution is silent on the only substantial dispute facing the country; that One section of the country believes slavery is right, and ought to be extended, while the other believes that it is wrong, and ought not be extended. (96) Analyzing & interpreting the cannon in order to define the community of belief (96) 8

9 Unanimity is impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy, or despotism in some form, is all that is left. – the rule of a democratic majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitation, and always changing easily is the only form of government compatible with human equality. The secessionists are not, as they claim, fighting to continue the legacy of the Founders, but to demolish it. – You can have no conflict, without yourselves being the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it. – God in ritual function of guarantor of oaths – One of only two mentions of God in 1 st Inaugural (99-101) 9

10 In the other, making one of a very few explicit references to Christianity in his public career and displays a remarkable confidence that he knows the mind of God: – Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty. Commonalities between North and South that could preserve the Union (101-102) 10

11 After Antietam (September 17, 1862), Lincolns civil religious language changes – More than 23,000 casualties in a single day He believes that his pact with God has revealed Gods will to end slavery – I said nothing to any one; but I made the promise to myself, and [hesitating a little]to my Maker. The rebel army is now driven out, and I am going to fulfill that promise. – Winthrop in A Model of Christian Charity: covenant, reward, & obedience The aim of the war no longer primarily to reunite the Union, but to end slavery – Making meaning of slaughter & chaos (105-110) 11

12 Dec. 1 1863 Address to Congress It has not pleased the Almighty to bless us with a return of peace, we can but press on, guided by the best light he gives us, trusting that in His own good time, and wise way, all will yet be well. Partial knowledge of Gods will Southern secession thus represents not only a rebellion against federal authority, but against the will of God One section of our country believes that slavery is right, and ought to be extended, while the other believes that it is wrong, and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute. [...], Our strife pertains to ourselvesto the passing generations of men, and it can, without convulsion, be hushed forever with the passing of one generation. The sin is not contained within the Confederate states, but because the nation is for him a single moral unit it is shared across the polity as a whole. (112-113) 12

13 The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. – A moment of spiritual revolution and redefinition, as the Union is to be founded again purified in the embrace of equality. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. Weeven we herehold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the freehonorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, justa way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless. – Winthrop, a covenanted people – Saving the soul of the nation; changing what America means – Human agency: the moral responsibility of American political actors before all generations of humanity and even before God himself (113-116) 13

14 Gettysburg July 1-3, 1863 – 23,000 Union and 28,000 Confederate casualties – about one quarter of the Northern and one third of the Southern forces fielded July 3: Picketts Charge – Confederate advance of 12,500 men across three-quarter mile of open space, facing concerted artillery and rifle fire More than half killed, wounded or captured. Making sense of the carnage: a national narrative – The project of Lincolns speech at Gettysburg is one of interpreting and revising the American politys self-understanding, in fitting with the priestly concern for the codification of belief. In it, he looks not only to embed the carnage of the war within a greater narrative, making it comprehensible and thus meaningful, but also to decisively reject slavery as being outside the bounds of orthodox American life. (119- 120) 14

15 The Gettysburg Address Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new Nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. – Biblical dating – use of the plural possessive pronoun our in reference to the fathers is suggestive, as the Israelites used the same language to refer to their forebears, and especially to the prophets. – depicts Americans as being a single people descended from common ancestors, who are in turn themselves dedicated to something higher. (121-122) I.e. the proposition that all men are created equal 15

16 Presented not as a new tenet of American belief, but as being in continuity with original ideals of American politics. The shared heritage of the American people is to pursue the charge of their fathers – Affirming orthodox American belief a single Nation, not various States – Nation born in the Declaration, which predates the Constitution or any other arrangement between states The pursuit of political equality for Lincoln is the essence of the American polity, and serves as the common heritage and identity of the American people. – Americans are for Lincoln united by shared belief, and the nation is a lineage defined by that belief in the place of blood, or rather, that faith is its blood. The fathers are the fathers only insofar as the children embrace the central idea that all men are created equal (122-23) 16

17 Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that Nation or any Nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. – A test or ordeal – A definitive test case that will reveal finally whether democratic order can resist localist anarchy, and whether republican equality can overcome the aristocratic domination found in slavery. 17

18 We are met, he says, on a great battle-field of that war. We are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting-place of those who here gave their lives so that the nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we do this. – Conception, birth, death, redemption – Gave their lives But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or subtract. – The ground is sanctified by the martyrdom of soldiers The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. – Humility (123-127) 18

19 It is for us, the living, rather to be rededicated to the unfinished work that they have so far so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion; – that we here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vainthat this nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedomand that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. 19

20 A renewal of dedication and surpassing the fathers, completing the work that they began Human agency – Conception, birth, death, sacrifice, rebirth – This rebirth enables the living to draw increased devotion even as the dead gave the last of theirs; the living must go beyond what was given by the fallen, as the task remaining is one which only they can complete Under God – Equality before God Perish from the earth By the time of his speech at Gettysburg Lincoln has come to define and affirm the nation by its dedication to the ideal of equality, by definition depicting the defenders of slavery as being alien to the American polity and opposed to its world-historical mission (127-129) 20

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