Twilight of the Saints: Ch 2. Civil Religion From The ancient Past to the Anxious Present
The second chapter of Twilight of the Saints deals with the history of civil religion. Beginning with the history of American Civil Religion, The Declaration of Independence. G.K. Chesterton talks about how the Declaration lays out the “creed” of United States civil religion. The chapter lays out the past nations which have had some form of civil religion, like Rome, and Greece. It also lays out the history of America’s civil religion, how it became what it is today. This chapter expands the boundaries of civil religion
What is Civil Religion
This chapter uses the opinion of Rousseau to add to the understanding of civil religion. Rousseau adds an idea of a social contract. A Social contract is “the general will of the people expressed religiously in the life of the state with a benign but watchful deistic god to preside over the keeping of the public faith.” The general will of the people is found using reason, assuming that the Christian religion is true. Civil religion is not a nation which possesses a state church as its religion. Emile Durkheim said this about civil religion “a common religion is constitutive of the unity and character of every society.” Plato also confirmed the belief that “the essential conditions for achieving a just political order was the practice of citizens honoring the gods and their parents.”
Civil Religion in Ancient Nations
Rome and Greece are two ancient nations which both possessed civil religion. These two nations both had a religion which every person embraced. Rome was the main force when it came to influencing England which influenced America. Rome was the first civilized nation that attempted to civilize the English. Because of this development of the English by the Romans the English experienced the civil religion of the Romans. The Romans first had a polytheistic religion but then the people began to worship the Emperor as god. This idea was impressed upon the English, but they were also opened up to the Christian religion. This Christian religion and the idea of a single person being in power remained. The Romans also gave the English the idea of global conquest through colonization. This is the reason why the Americas were established.
Civil Religion in England
England has played a vital role in the development of America’s civil religion. England has created a national church with much latitude making it almost a civil religion. The most important idea which emerged from England was the idea of a state. This is the idea of having an individual at the head of the country and a god to be next to the king. This is when the phrase “For God and crown” originated. England also sent settlers to America who possessed this idea but wanted a different religion then the state church offered. These settlers wanted “their outpost in the wilderness would be as a “city upon a hill”, a moral and political example to the entire world.” John Foxe has inspired the idea that “England was God’s anointed vessel.”
Civil Religion in Modern America
The American civil religion is the basis of the American dream “A third element in constructing the first American civil religion was some sort of religious consensus” The whole process creates “but in the process, where the churches moved out the nation moved in.” The early civil religion was based on different ideals “evangelical-deistic ideals made up the early national faith.” In Americas now use civil religion as a blending tool for all immigrants. America has “a nation with the soul of a church.” This soul is nurtured by events like Memorial Day, “The Memorial Day celebration is an American sacred ceremony, a religious ritual, a modern cult of the dead.” America has created a nation which is beloved by a majority of its citizens, because of civil religion. It is the sum of its major influences from Greece, to Rome and England.
The Author does a very good job of presenting where Americas civil religion originates from. As well as the key people or ideas which have influenced it along the way. I personally did not like the references to some of the founding fathers being considered deists, on page 71.