I’ve been rethinking my understanding of civil religion. Until now, I know I’ve tended to speak of civil religion, particularly American civil religion, like it’s some monolythic entity. But in thinking through some unrelated issues I had one of those “Doh!” moments when I realized how one dimensional that was. It’s clear to me now that there are at least two streams I should be speaking of.
Stream 1: The Theocratic Nationalism of the Right
For me, this was the more obvious stream of civil religion. Wherever we hear people speaking of America as a “Christian Nation”, as if the land itself has been baptised, wherever we see Jesus wrapped in a national flag, as if he’s some kind of national mascot, that’s theocratic nationalism. In many ways it represents the deification of fighting for “freedom” and a denial of Christ’s universality. Tending towards legalism, Theocratic Nationalism is the civil religion of the patriarchal state.
Stream 2: The Deistic Universalism of the Left
For me, this was the less obvious stream of civil religion. But it’s there. Wherever we hear people promoting the therapeutic deity of the lowest common denominator, the “undemanding” god that’s for everyone and anyone, the domesticated god that no one could find offensive, that’s deistic universalism. In many ways it represents the deification of fighting for “equality” and a denial of Christ’s uniqueness. Tending towards licence, Deistic Universalism is the civil religion of the nanny state.
What we need is more Uncivil Religion
By this I mean a Christianity that views citizenship as secondary to discipleship. Uncivil religion refuses to water down it’s worship and witness of Jesus as the one and only Messiah. It accepts the untamed Messiah won’t be for all citizens. It’s prepared to betray the nanny state agenda. Uncivil religion refuses to water down it’s worship and witness of Jesus as self-sacrificing and stranger-loving. It accepts untamed Messiah won’t be for all citizens. It’s prepared to betray the patriarchal state agenda. In short, it espouses a Christ-centric agenda over a citizen-centric agenda.
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