Monday, December 20, 2010

"Civil Religion" by Robert N. Bellah

Mr.Bellah is one of the most famous expositors of the Founding and Religion. He invented the term "Civil Religion." However, he is not without his errors with respect to the Founding. Here is one of many:
And yet at the beginning of our history we were that mutually exclusive thing, a Christian Republic. (Samuel Adams even called us a Christian Sparta.) Or were we? Christianity was never our state religion, nor did we have in Rousseau’s strict sense a civil religion, a simple set of religious dogmas to which every citizen must subscribe on pain of exile.
Did not the State Constitutions proclaim Christianity? Was not the penalty for violating the Ten Commandments prison time, and a fine? Bellah claims the Christian Constitutions evaporated by the early 18th century. What kind of revisionism is this? The State Constitutions were Christian the entire 18th century, and into the 19th and 20th centuries:
Even more to the point, the New England colonies in the seventeenth century were Christian republics in a comparable sense. In Massachusetts, for example, only Christians could be citizens, though the church did not control the state and both church and state were governed by their members. Even though the reality of this experiment had evaporated by the early eighteenth century, the memory was still strong in the minds of the founders of the republic.
In spite of his errors above, he does understand James Madison was a Calvinist. Below, Bellah highlights Madison's duty to the sovereignty of God before he can be a member of civil society, illustrating his Calvinism:
In the early republic religion had two vital locations: in the superstructure and in the infrastructure of the new political regime. It is to the superstructural location of religion that the Declaration of Independence points. By superstructural I mean a locus of sovereignty taken to be above the sovereignty of the state. Perhaps the most striking recognition of this superordinate sovereignty comes from the hand of Madison in 1785 during the debate on the bill establishing religious freedom in Virginia: "It such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the general authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign."
Below, Bellah explains who is the God of the Declaration of Independence, and debunking the Deists:
The Declaration of Independence points to the sovereignty of God over the collective political society itself when it refers in its opening lines to "the laws of nature and of nature’s God" that stand above and judge the laws of men. It is often asserted that the God of nature is specifically not the God of the Bible. That raises problems of the relation of natural religion to biblical religion in eighteenth-century thought that I do not want to get into here, but Jefferson goes on to say, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it." We have here a distinctly biblical God who is much more than a first principle of nature, who creates individual human beings and endows them with equality and fundamental rights.
It was Christianity, through Calvin's Republicanism, from the Reformation, that most clearly spurred the American Revolution; by rejecting Divine Right of Kings, etc. yet Bellah appears to ignore or divorce the principles of the Declaration with those of the Constitution, giving the latter a liberal foundation, as though the colonists set aside Divine Law for the French Revolution's Enlightenment rationalism; something he coined "liberal constitutional regime." His theory divorcing the principles of the DOI with the Constitution has been debunked by many, including John Q. Adams:
From the day of the Declaration, the people of the North American union, and of its constituent states, were associated bodies of civilized men and christians, in a state of nature, but not of anarchy. They were bound by the laws of God, which they all, and by the laws of the gospel, which they nearly all, acknowledged as the rules of their conduct. They were bound by the principles which they themselves had proclaimed in the declaration..They were bound by all the beneficent laws and institutions, which their forefathers had brought with them from their mother country, not as servitudes but as rights..[T]he same Congress which issued the Declaration..recommended to the several states to form civil governments for themselves; with guarded and cautious deliberation they matured a confederation for the whole Union; and they prepared treaties of commerce, to be offered to the principal maritime nations of the world. All these objects were in a great degree accomplished amid the din of arms, and while every quarter of our country was ransacked by the fury of invasion. The states organized their governments, all in republican forms, all on the principles of the Declaration. The confederation was unanimously accepted by the thirteen states: and treaties of commerce were concluded with France and the Netherlands, in which, for the first time, the same just and magnanimous principles, consigned in the Declaration of Independence, were, so far as they could be applicable to the intercourse between nation and nation, solemnly recognized..In the progress of forty years since the acknowledgment of our Independence, we have gone through many modifications of internal government, and through all the vicissitudes of peace and war, with other mighty nations. But never, never for a moment have the great principles, consecrated by the Declaration of this day, been renounced or abandoned.
-Adams, An address, delivered at the request of the committee of arrangements for celebrating the anniversary of Independence, at the City of Washington on the Fourth of July 1821 upon the occasion of reading The Declaration of Independence. [bold face mine]

Yet, Bellah says our civil religion is founded on the religion of the Revolution, that wasn't Christianity. Ultimately, Bellah claims our "Civil Religion" was unitarianism:
The God of the civil religion is not only rather "unitarian," he is also on the austere side, much more related to order, law, and right than to salvation and love. Even though he is somewhat deist in cast, he is by no means simply a watchmaker God. He is actively interested and involved in history, with a special concern for America. Here the analogy has much less to do with natural law than with ancient Israel; the equation of America with Israel in the idea of the "American Israel" is not infrequent.
Bellah considers the civil religion a combination of theories:
The remarkable coherence of the American revolutionary movement and its successful conclusion in the constitution of a new civil order are due in considerable part to the convergence of the Puritan covenant pattern and the Montesquieuan republican pattern. The former was represented above all by New England, the latter by Virginia, but both were widely diffused in the consciousness of the colonial population. Both patterns saw society resting on the deep inner commitment of its members, the former through conversion, the latter through republican virtue..When Jefferson evoked at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence the "laws of nature and of nature’s God" he was able to fuse the ultimate legitimating principles of both traditions. And when in concluding it he wrote, "And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor," he was not only invoking a republican formula for the establishment of a civil compact but echoing the formula of the Puritan covenant. Only the confluence of these two patterns can help us understand the fusion of passion and reason that, with such consistency, seems to have motivated the major actors in the revolutionary drama.
This blog has clearly refuted unitarianism as the civil religion of the Revolution. A cursory examination of fast and prayer proclamations show the colonists were clearly Trinitarian Christians. What a contradiction to claim the DOI founded on Puritan Covenant Theology, and the same time, claim He is a unitarian God. The Puritans were Trinitarian. Should not these principles be consistent with one another? How could the Puritans claim their God was unitarian?

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