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Saturday, May 5, 2012

America's Religion

Two traditions have competed in the history of North America.  They are 1) the communitarian republican tradition and 2) the individualist pursuit of wealth tradition, with the latter totally dominating the former.  Puritan leader George Winthrop preached aboard the Arabella sailing to America that what his companions must be vigilant about is that the "good of the public oversway all private interests."

But, as Berman points out, this was not to be, although that rhetoric arises from time to time as in "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."  The "public good" became not a higher good, but is reduced to the aggregate of the pursuit of individual wealth.  As Bellah noticed in his comprehensive review of the American character in Habits of the Heart, although there were still some who dedicated themselves to public service over private interests, even they had lost the language of communitarian republicanism.

Let us look then at the American Religion: (this is a work in progress)


Supreme Being or Higher Power:  Invisible Hand of Market, Source and Bestower of all Wealth--sometimes personified in language of particular private religious traditions.

Sacred Text: US Constitution as guarantor of the right and freedom to pursue and defend property wealth and the ability to consume (money).

Good news: America is the exceptional nation, chosen by God to be an exemplar for and protector of the nations following in America's example; America is the land where anyone can achieve riches if they follow the commandments; public good or commonweal is the accumulation of individual effort to accumulate wealth.

Commandments (later I will put these in the form of the J/C ten commandments): equip yourself and children to pursue wealth; maintain order primarily the law that protects property; protect institutions that encourage free enterprise; use mass media to advance technological progress; produce and consume things; work ceaselessly to keep seeking and getting more (hustle!); create government that supports and does not infringe upon the private pursuit of wealth; do not descecrate sacred text or symbols.

Sacred symbols:  American flag including lapel pin; dollar; signs of acquisition; (e.g. house, yacht, art work, stock portfolio), diploma (primarily from Ivy League or major university), government buildings and corporate headquarters, Pentagon and World Trade Center.

Saints (models for emulation): Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, Warren Buffet, Mitt Romney, etc.  The "troops" fighting to maintain American hegemony and protect America's interests.

Ministers of the gospel: president with economic council, corporate executives, film producers, economists, bloggers, political parties; pastors, bishops, ayatollahs who help maintain the present order, teach the American dream, encourage people to work hard and be successful.

Heresies and heretics: socialism (Debs, Harrington, Marxists); communitarian conservatism (Emerson, Thoreau, Kirk, Kekes, Mumford, Niebuhr); worker organization (Lewis, Reuther, Chavez); (local community organization (Mother Jones, Ruskin, Alinsky, Rathke, Malcolm X, Freire); Intellectuals (Berman, Harrington, Hedges, Arendt, Liberation Theologians, Marxists, Crossan, Klein); Artists (Lewis, Melville, Baldwin, Wordsworth, Twain, Hughes, Hawthorne, Miller).

Highest principle of action and measure of success of persons, institutions, nations: economic growth (primarily through technological progress and corporate efficiency).

Sacred institutions: corporation, financial institutions, trading centers (Wall Street); in government--military to protect trade and keep order, treasury and Federal Reserve Bank, judiciary to protect Constitution and freedom to pursue wealth; charitable foundations and organizations that relieve strains on existing system; Ivy League and certain major universities that prepare persons to best equip themselves for economic success; private religions and churches that teach the values of existing system.


Next:  Creation Myth, Axis Mundi, Ten Commandments

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