The Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, an Episcopalian Church was commissioned in 1893 by the U.S. Congress, its cornerstone was laid in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt, and was completed in 1990.
Construction was halted from 1977-80, not because of a lack of belief in the project, but by economic hardship. It is commonly known as the Washington National Cathedral; so much for separation of Church and State.
For several years, retired Unitarian/Universalist pastor, Edward Frost, made a regular jaunt from his home in Atlanta, Georgia to a small congregation of “U/U”s in Franklin, North Carolina to bring a message; deliver a sermon. Dr. Frost, a native of England, brought an international perspective as well as an intellectual construction to his talks.
One sermon which struck me as particularly insightful and appropriate to the understanding of every progressive American was about what Dr. Frost termed, The Great American Religion. This religion has been called, also, The American Civic Religion and The Religion of the Republic.
What follows is a synopsis of Dr. Frost’s sermon which gives much more detail than is found below and if this interests you I suggest that you read it.
The colonies were not settled by men and women seeking freedom of religion. The colonies were settled by fervent believers in their religion who wanted to be allowed to practice it. In some colonies these settlers were extremely intolerant of any other religion, and punished anyone who practiced differently from them with death or banishment. This was particularly true for Puritans and German and Swiss Lutherans. These religious communities were opposed to anything “papish”. Other colonies were settled by Catholics and Anglicans who often had to move to other areas to practice.
Another power forced a change in these practices; the power of the Trading Companies and Investors in the colonies. These businessmen realized that free commerce and developed markets could not flourish in the face of religious intolerance and a general movement occurred toward a sort of Civic Religion. This religion, believing that certain religious beliefs were important to the furtherance of business as well as a foundation for caring for the colonies' citizens in need, was preferable. The tenets of this religion were, a belief in God, a belief in immortality, and a belief in personal responsibility. Whatever else a religion practiced was “good enough” as long as it did not hold beliefs contrary to the central tenets of the Civic Religion.
At the founding of the Republic the framers of the Constitution included phrases that referenced God without any reference to a specific religion. Throughout the course of America’s history the agents of the state religion have expressed the belief that God favors America. That wars fought in the interest of America are sanctioned by God. While the high priests of this Civic Religion have been Presidents and politicians, these leaders have had Religious Coaches such as Billy Graham who make sure that the Civic Religion's beliefs are upheld.
Believers in this Civic Religion are fervent and as unyielding as our Puritan founders were.
A key determinant and force behind this belief is a belief in the “Second Exodus”. The belief is held that America was founded by men and women who fled Europe in the way the Hebrews fled Egypt; that just as the Hebrews were God's chosen, Americans are God’s chosen people. This belief is at the core of the concept of Manifest Destiny, and has bolstered and sanctioned racism and the oppression of those of non-European descent.
Throughout America’s history there have been those liberal religious leaders who continued to preach pacifism while the leaders of the Civic Religion and their allies preached war. There have been those who spoke out against injustices perpetrated against others in the pursuit of America’s interests. These leaders have been, in general, dismissed and castigated.
As the numbers of members of mainstream Christian churches have fallen, the numbers of followers of what have been termed Evangelical Churches has grown. These churches generally preach for The Great American Religion. They are today’s Religious Coaches. They preach a blend of nationalism, hiding behind patriotism, and the three key beliefs sacred to the Civic Religion: a belief in God, a belief in immortality, and a belief in individual responsibility.
Adherence to these beliefs excuses any other beliefs or practices. These religious coaches have held that the election of Donald Trump was the will of God because Trump preached American Exceptionalism and at least implicitly supported White Supremacy, inherent in America's Manifest Destiny.
Since the Civic Religion is essentially amoral, abuse of women, nepotism, and cheating in business are immaterial so long as the leader upholds the Civic Religion. Leading worship on Americas High Holy holidays such as Memorial Day and Independence Day is seen as the job of the President (along with his religious coaches) and the more impressive the President’s display of nationalism, the more he is adored by the American Religion's followers.
The Great American Religion does not care whether you are Catholic, or Protestant, Christian or Jew so long as the unspoken religion of the state is upheld, and so long as that religion is the tool of the state.