A fascinating article on the journalistic GetReligion Blog titled In gods we trust. Writing about the National Prayer Breakfast and its role as part of the civil religion, he explains what civil religion is:
…[the] National Prayer Breakfast embodies civil religion, as opposed to the Christian religion. Religion professor Rowland Sherrill defined civil religion as “the mysterious way that religion, politics, ideas of nationhood, patriotism, etc. — energized by faith outlooks — represent a national force.”
Examples of civil religion include the invocation of a non-specific God at political events (“God bless America!”) and the quotation or reference of sacred texts in political speeches. We are quite accustomed to Biblical references but President Bush has begun including the Koran in his political rhetoric… Civil religion has its own hymns, such as the Star Spangled Banner, and venerates past political leaders and deceased veterans of wars.
I can’t help but adding that, as Tom DiLorenzo’s work has made clear, Lincoln was not only a great practitioner of civil religion (first person I thought of who, so cynically and effectively, used “the quotation or reference of sacred texts in political speeches”) but is in many ways the founder, prophet and martyr messiah of the current American civil religion.
In the Roman Empire, Christians were called “atheists” because they rejected the Roman gods and were persecuted because they wouldn’t participate in the cult of the Emperor. In regards to the American civil religion, I proudly declare myself an “atheist”. I will not sing the hymns of the U.S. State, I will not sacrifice myself or my children in the State’s wars and I will not venerate the pantheon of State leaders.6:00 pm on February 2, 2006 Email Stephen W. Carson