In American Civil Religion (1974), edited by Russell E. Richey and Donald G. Jones write that considering the separation of church and state, how is a president justified in using the word God at all?  The answer is that the separation of church and state has not denied the political realm a religious dimension.  Although matters of personal religious belief, worship, and association are considered to be strictly private affairs, there are, at the same time, certain common elements of religious orientation that the great majority Americans share.  These have played a crucial role in the development of American institutions and still provide a religious dimension for the whole fabric of American life, including the political sphere.  The public religious dimension is expressed in a set of beliefs, symbols, and rituals that Robert N. Bellah calls the American civil religion.


Richey and Jones also posit that Charles H. Long brings to the topic of civil religion perspective derived from the history of religions and the experience of Black Americans.  He sees in both civil religion and Protestantism traditions and symbolism derived from the experience of the European immigrant.  The myths, beliefs, and narratives in terms of which the Protestant religious history is recounted or the civil religion analyzed constitute. 


Long suggests, a cultural language which give meaning to the American experience.  This language is faulted at the most fundamental levels.  It is faulted because it is exclusively European, Indians and blacks, their experience, and the symbols which would place them within America are omitted.  Thereby they are denied the status of “American.”  They are rendered invisible.  But the fault runs more deeply.  The traditions and symbolism have been preserved, developed, and interpreted in centuries of repression and exploitation of non-Europeans by Europeans.

The cultural language has not just omitted this conflict and ignored the presence of the non-Europeans.  Borrowing on psychological imagery, Long argues that the language represses these dimensions of the Europeans' won life and history.  This language has played (and so far as it is used by historians in the interpretation of the American past continues to play) an ideological role.  It permits European Americans to hide from themselves, to conceal their true experience from themselves, to deny in themselves the inner experience of conquest and suppression.  When, thus, the civil religion and Protestantism—Long implicates both in the cultural exploitation—are revealed as the recounting of the might works of white conquerors, a double repression is involved.  Indians and Blacks are repressed symbolically as they were oppressed physically, culturally, spiritually.  They are made invisible.  The European is at the same time repressing part of himself; he is making invisible part of his own consciousness.


From this “hermeneutic” of America there is no easy escape.  Simple patching of Black and Indian history into American history will not mend the deep fissure.  Only a new “hermeneutic” and civil religions, can overcome the concealment and invisibility.  In such a reinterpretation of American religious history, repression in both its meanings will need to be overcome.  A transformation of American consciousness and of American society is thus entailed.



Richey and Jones highlight Herbert Richardson definition of the concept “civil religion” that unites two terms: the civil order and the religious order.  The civil order is not the only term with which religion can be linked.  Two things happen when we link religion with some other thing, [such as the flag].  First, we ascribe to that thing some ultimate value or transcendent meaning.  For example Robert Bellah points out that civil religion “provides a transcendent goal for the political process.”  In civil religion, the political process is related through symbols and rituals to ideals concerning man's ultimate fulfillment.

When a person or group links up religion with some aspects of its life, therefore, we can learn from this fat something about their own orientation to the world: namely, what is important to them and what concerns them ultimately.  The second thing that happens when we link up religion with some other aspect of life is that we conceive ultimate reality as if it resembled this thing.  We can for example use the game of [football] as a model for ultimate reality—and thin of the universe as a “cosmic” [war] game.


Just as our social images can have theological relevance, so our theological judgments can have social and political relevance.  One of the functions of civil religion is to legitimate and control the use of political power in a society.  Thereby when any political party [the Tea Party] identifies its program with a Utopian vision: Freedom & Democracy (often for the few) and the kingdom of God [Trump's link with the right-wing evangelicals] the more justified it feels in pursuing its civil religion program with unqualified zeal and the less likely it will be to accept criticism or compromise.  Hence, the more earnestly anyone strives to attain a transcendent and divine ideal, the more likely he will be to regard himself and his strivings as righteous.


Is it not true that Americans have experienced this natural anomaly throughout their history?  It is, ironically, the “best' politics in America that always becomes idolatrous, for it is through its best and highest aspirations that American politics most reduces the discrepancy between the “is” and the “ought,” thereby identifying its strivings with what it believes should be and making itself the norm of judgment on itself.  In this way American civil religion always tends to generate the very situation it seeks to prevent.

Nancy Armour, columnist USA TODAY (8/5/18) in “Onus on NFL to be bold: Colin Kaepernick's new 'Just Do it' Nike ad puts pressure on league to take a stand: For Nike sends a message even Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones cannot ignore”--writes that “decades from now, when Americans look back at the NFL player protests and wonder how anyone could have seen them for anything but the plea for equality they are, Colin Kaepernick's new Nike ad will be one of the enduring images.

[Nike] is not some small, left-leaning company that has decided Kaepernick is on the side of angels in this fight.  It is one of the world's largest conglomerates, a setter of trends and arbiter of what's cool.

And it is one of the NFL's biggest partners, the official apparel company of the league.

This is about America, and whether we actually honor the ideals we champion or simply pay lip service to those notions of liberty and just for all.

While the NFL and its owners have been trying to contain the issue, Kaepernick and the other players have been playing the long game.  The civil rights protest were wildly unpopular when they were occurring—go back and research the polls and opinions of the time—but are now viewed as righteous and essential to our ongoing struggle for equality.  The NFL protest will be viewed much the same way through the lens of history.

Nike has recognized as much, betting a very large and prominent endorsement deal that Kaepernick will one day be seen much like Muhammad Ali.  A rabble rouser who outraged the establishment in his heyday.  Ali eventually became a widely admired and influential figure once society caught up. ...”

Colin Kaepernick’s Protest And Modern Patriotism

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s sits during the national anthem. We’ll unpack the controversy and message from all sides.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the sidelines during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Green Bay Packers Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Tony Avelar/AP)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the sidelines during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Green Bay Packers Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Tony Avelar/AP)

San Francisco 49ers NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick didn’t stand for the national anthem at the 49ers, Green Bay Packers game last Friday night. The fire is still burning over that. Kaepernick says it’s a matter of principle. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” says the QB. Critics are harsh. “You stand during the national anthem,” we hear. “People died for the flag.” This hour On Point, sports, protest, color and Colin Kaepernick. -- Tom Ashbrook


Kevin Blackistone, regular ESPN panelist and professor of journalism at the University of Maryland.  Sports commentary writer for the Washington Post. (@ProfBlackistone)

Sarah Jackson, professor of communicaton studies at Northeastern University. Author of “Black Celebrity, Racial Politics and the Press.” (@sjjphd)

David French, staff writer at the National Review. U.S. Army Reserve Major and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Co-author, with Jay Sekulow, Jordan Sekulow and Robert Ash, of “Rise of ISIS.” (@DavidAFrench)

From Tom’s Reading List

Christian Science Monitor: Is Colin Kaepernick the new face of American patriotism? -- "Ever since Mr. Kaepernick began to commit this taboo form of protest Friday, some athletes, fans, and columnists have said the 28-year-old is unpatriotic. But Kaepernick's protest may show a different type of patriotism, one that has become more popular among Millennials than many that came before them: loving your country enough to question it."

The Undefeated: Kaepernick is asking for justice, not peace — "There’s an undeniable nobility in what was an impactful — but ultimately harmless — display, even if one disagrees. Kaepernick didn’t do this in a crowd, surrounded by thousands. He sat alone, wearing a red, white and blue shield on his jersey. The NFL takes many of its cues from the military and has encouraged the idea that reverence for the military is a citizen’s requirement, not choice. The draft is gone, but we’ve all been conscripted as unquestioning devotees whose gratitude can be demanded by anyone at any time."

National Review: Colin Kaepernick, Meet Henry Johnson -- "To be honest, I don’t really care that much about Kaepernick’s protest. Why should anyone pay mind to what this quarterback thinks about criminal justice or the facts of any given police shooting? He’s indicting an entire nation based on his arbitrary, uninformed conclusions. The freedom our Constitution enshrines and our 'Star Spangled Banner' celebrates means he can voice those conclusions. And we can give them all the consideration they deserve, which is to say: very little. "

This program aired on September 1, 2016.


Charles H. Long reiterates that American religion [until Trump] is usually understood as the religion of European immigrants transplanted into the American soil.  Most general texts dealing with this area begin with coming of the Puritans and continue through to the breakdown of the Puritan theocratic ideal on to the new light, old light debate of the Presbyterians.  We are then treated to a description of the great awakenings and the religion of the pioneers as they move across the American landscape.


Long raises a salient issue by asking a simple question, the answer to which will raise a serious methodological issue.  What is meant by “American” and “religion” in the phrase “American religion?”  If by “American” we mean the Christian European immigrants and their progeny, then we have overlooked American Indians and American Blacks [as well as browns and yellows].  And if religion is defined as revealed Christianity and its institutions, we have again overlooked much of the religion of American Blacks, Amerindians, and the Jewish communities.  Even from the point of view of civil religion, it is not clear that from the perspective of the various national and ethnic communities that there has ever been a consistent meaning of the national symbols and meanings.  In short, a great deal of the writings and discussions on the topic of American religion has been consciously or unconsciously ideological, serving to enhance, justify, and render sacred the history of European immigrants in this land.


Indeed, this approach to American religion has rendered the religious reality of non-Europeans to a state of invisibility, and thus the invisibility of the non-Europeans in America arises as a fundamental issue of American religious history at this juncture.  Our first task, it seems is to ask how certain groups were rendered “invisible” in the historical narrative and cultural symbols of the American majority.

Sidney Mead states: Americans during their formative years were a people in movement through space—a people exploring the obvious highways and may unexplored byways of practically unlimited geographical and social space.  The quality of their minds and hearts and spirits was formed in that great crucible—and in a short time.  Their great and obvious achievement was the mastery of a vast, stubborn and oft-times brutal continent.  This is the “pic of America” a written with cosmic quill dipped in the blood, sweat and tears of innumerable little men and women . . . This is the mighty saga of the outward acts, told and retold until it has overshadowed and suppressed the equally vital but more somber story of the inner experience.  Americans have so presented to view and celebrate the external and material side of their pilgrim's progress that they have tended to conceal even from themselves the inner experience with its more subtle dimensions and profound depths.

“The mighty saga of the outward acts” is a description of the American language conceals the inner depths, the archaic dimensions of the dominant peoples in the country, while at the same time it renders invisible all those who fail to partake of this language and its underlying cultural experiences.  The religion of the American people centers around the telling and retelling of the might deeds of the white conquerors.  The hermeneutic mask thus conceal the true experience of Americans from their very eyes.  The invisibility of Indians and Blacks is matched by a void or deeper invisibility within the consciousness of white Americans.


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Comment by mary gravitt on September 21, 2018 at 1:05pm

The time has come for all Americans to stand up for their beliefs.  But at the same time if you are a Black American standing ups for American principles, you must be like Martin Luther King, be prepared to die.  American civil religion calls for the death of Decenters.  It seems this is the law of the land.

The US glorifies in is history of decent, as long as it is White decent, but Black decent is a threat to the Flag and the Union itself for which it stands.

Comment by Ron Powell on September 21, 2018 at 4:38pm

"The US glorifies in is history of decent, as long as it is White decent, but Black decent is a threat to the Flag and the Union itself for which it stands."

Well said....

Comment by mary gravitt on September 26, 2018 at 10:48am

History is Karma.  Whatever is done in the present is logged-in as history.  And if that present does not want to deal with the Karma that always seek revenge, then behavior has to change.  America is unique in that once upon a time, no matter the species of humanity, species because race is a fiction that has made landlords rich, you could come to America and claim you humanity.  This is what has always given Black Americans hope and made certain White American desperate.  If you don't know your history; you will relive it in spades.


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