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The Rise of Modern Secular "Religions"
37
In this regard, America is no exception. U .S. citizens frequently
see bumper stickers that say " America- love it or leave it. " They
also hear prominent politicians intoning : " It is time to renew our faith
in America." The slogan " new order of the ages " appears in Latin on
its dollar bills . And U.S. citizens frequently hear about the "American
way of life, " which in itself is somewhat interesting because religion
is
a way of life.
According to Will Herberg , a leading religious writer, this phrase
has particularly significant overtones: " Spiritually , the American Way
of Life is best expressed in a certain kind of ' idealism' which has
come to be recognized as characteristically American . It is a faith
that has its symbols and its rituals, its holidays and its liturgy, its
saints and its sancta; and it is a fa ith that every American, to the de–
gree that he is an American , knows and understands"
(Protestant,
Catholic, Jew. an
Essay
in American Religious Sociology,
p . 92).
Norman Mailer also made a penetrating observation concerning
this American brand of civil religion during the 1972 Democratic
Convention : " In America, the country was the religion . And all the re–
ligions of the land were fed from that first religion which was the
country itself, and if the other religions were now full of mutation and
staggering across deserts of faith , it was because the country had
been false and ill and corrupt for years ... corrupt to the point of ter–
minal disease, like a great religion floundering "
(St. George and the
Godfather,
p. 87).
Faith in America and democracy rather than God has been the
main driving force behind most of the nation's endeavors. When the
United States took up arms during World War I, her rallying cry cen–
tered around the ideological concept of making the world safe for de–
mocracy. Essentially the same motivation was present during the
Second World War and subsequent conflicts .
In view of the limited ability of the democratic ideology to solve
the nation 's growing problems, perhaps Americans and other West–
erners would do well to re-evaluate the real sources of their civil reli –
gion . And perhaps we would also do well to take to heart an ancient
prophecy found in the book of Jeremiah : "But my people have for–
gotten me, they burn incense to false gods" (Jer. 18:15-16). And
also Isaiah: "The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's crib;
but Israel does not know, my people does not understand . ... They
have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel ,
they are utlerly estranged" (lsa. 1:3-4).