The rousing video from the Republican National Convention (“Believe”) played like an evangelistic crusade waiting for an altar call.
From the musical crescendos to the hyped voice to the pentecostal elation of the crowd, it was religious to the core. Here’s the definition of “religion” that leads to the claim:
“Religion is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of a meaning of our life.” – Paul Tillich
The makers of the video know how quick we are to shed a tear. Especially when at a crusade that plays all the chords of American “civil religion” as argued in the recent “Views from the Edge” post on American religion and American politics.
Tillich was the first professor dimissed from his university teaching position by the German Third Reich. Like the Germans at the Service Club meeting in an earlier post here, he knew that religion is not confined to the four walls of a church, synagogue, or mosque. It is the state of “being grasped by….”
The following exchange followed the earlier “American Religion and American Politics” post. Both C.A. and I see the world as the theater of God’s glory but also as the Theater of the Absurd.
C.A. left this comment:
If my small experience is any guide, you may get hammered on this one, Gordon. When someone has been brought up on American exceptionalism, especially if coupled with Caucasian exceptionalism, and one kind of Christian belief the three can be so ingrown as to be more than subconscious, virtually unconscious. Working together, they justify any negative behavior that the person believes, and cause outright rejection of much that he or she hears or reads about as impossible. …
C.A., You just wrapped it all up very nicely. Willem Zuurdeeg, a Dutch philosopher of religion, linguistic philosopher and phenomenologist, concluded that our deepest “convictions” are unexamined – below the surface of conscious awareness, so obviously true to us that they are what you call “virtually unconscious.” The compelling conviction hinted at by American civil religion is what Zuurdeeg described as an Ordered Home , a world order. In this case. the world revolves around tjhe doctrines of white supremacy and national supiority. These are the spiritual and moral centers.
“Views from the Edge’s” most popular post is the one about the Germans at the Service Club. It’s gone viral.
“Five folks from Germany recently visited central Illinois as part of a local service club program to improve international understanding.
At one point they asked me about something they did not understand: why do Americans begin so many gatherings with a ‘”patriotic” song, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer?
Perhaps especially because they were from Germany, remembering the horrors of two world wars begun partly from excessive beliefs in the superiority of their nation and religion, they were sensitive to expressions of exceptionalism at U.S.A. sports events and service club meetings.
What Tillich, Zuurdeeg, and the Germans at the American service club meeting were seeing was a religious people hypnotized by Kafka’s Sirens and Green Dragon.
Go to yesterday’s post “Believing in America” to see the juxtaposition of the Kafka parables and the Convention video.
Leave your comment or question. And thanks again for visiting.
I would say that Neibuhr’s realism still has a siilamr effect at times among the optimistic Unitarian thinkers of this era as well. I remember reading his book The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness and being quite turned off. It certainly flew in the face of the onward and upward humanistic ethos that defined liberal religion for so much of the last century.But here’s why I think its relevant. Without some counter-balancing element that recognizes the totality of good and evil, beauty and suffering, wealth and poverty, grace and sin, it is too easy remain in your comfort zone. It is too easy to offer ethical, or spiritual platitudes from on high instead of actively engaging the culture. In other words, it becomes too easy to rationalize not getting messy . The result is that instead of reaching out to people and building communities of faith in areas harshly affected by evil, suffering, impoverishment, and sinfulness, you can end up just passing a resolution instead.
Thank you for this thoughtful reply. How did this piece happen to come to your attention so long after it was posted? I’m always curious.
Gordon, you have clarified the danger of our overt national pride. It helped me see the connections with past history… Thanks.
Thanks, Karin. Glad it was useful.