Everybody has an opinion about what went down at the Glenn Beck promoted rally in Washington last weekend. Was it political? Or was it religious? Rally or revival?
Well, frankly, it was all of the above.
The United States of America has always been a religious nation without a specific religion. We have always had something variously called the “civic” or “civil” or “public” religion that was pious, moral, believed in a supernatural and an objective good, but was insufficiently defined ever to rise to the level of an actual, organized religion. It was a banner under which many religions united to work together as a nation. This compromise has served us well because religion has flourished in our nation like no other place in history.
The civic religion has served as “battleground” that defined the rules of conflict between competing specific religions, and by keeping that conflict civil, forces that have ripped apart virtually every nation in history have been held at bay. But some aspects of the civil religion are beginning to fray. The belief in a supernatural and objective good seems no longer to be part of the common understanding of our nation. One would think that in such a circumstance those of us that still hold such would unite under a banner to restore it – if we do not, the consequences would be disastrous. NO religion will survive.
Ross Douthat’s analysis of the Beck rally is both insightful and problematic. Insightful in this:
Latter Day Saints and evangelical Christians arguably share enough affinities to belong in the same “cultural family,” as Weigel puts it. But you’re more likely to find them in competition, from the streets of American suburbia to the mission fields of the developing world to the 2008 election’s great Mike Huckabee-Mitt Romney throwdown. It’s a case of theological differences trumping cultural commonalities: The two faiths occupy opposite sides of a theological chasm that makes the gulf between Catholics and Protestants look narrow by comparison, and many evangelicals bristle with hostility for what they regard as Mormonism’s cultish pseudo-Christianity.
The problems arise when he then goes on to seemingly fan the flames of the conflict rather than try to quell them. Yes, we do compete in the mission field, but if our nation cannot maintain its civil religion and accompanying religious truce in governance, there will be no mission field on which to compete – all religion will find itself banned, or an “official” religion will squeeze the rest of us out.
Some, worried that capitalism and politics will become a god, sound warnings that lead others to send for the wrong message at the wrong time. The forces that deeply oppose, those that do not believe in the supernatural and objective good, will – when they get the story straight – use our religious differences to split a coalition that could otherwise preserve the civic religion. They will try to make us look foolish. They will look calm and cool and collected while we will look like religious thugs.
The analogy is old and tired, perhaps to the point of triteness, but that does not rob it of its essential truth – It was necessary to ally with Stalin to defeat Hitler. There was an imminent and violent threat that had to be dealt with before the subtle and quiet threat of communism.
There is an imminent and violent threat to religion in America right now – and it must be dealt with before the religious “cold war” between the faiths can be fought. The Beck rally in Washington this weekend past was about that pressing threat. I’ll take any ally I can get.