Posted by: dacalu | 19 May 2010

Civil Religion

Sorry to be out of touch for so long.

I wanted to say a word or two about our state and our attachments to it. The subject has some tricky edges, but I’ll see what I can do.

I am a faithful and loyal citizen of the United States. In other words, I have a relationship with this collection of people, I believe in us and our system of government, I think our system is better than most, if not all, other governmental systems, and I’m willing to struggle to keep it. That said, I am also a skeptical and critical citizen of the United States. I think we are often selfish and inward looking; I think that our government (as all governments) has its own errors to which it is prone. I think our system of government requires constant vigilance to keep it on the right track.

This great edifice of ours, the United States, depends on the belief and behavior of its citizens. One of the tasks of government is to maintain, grow, and enrich that ethical framework – a tricky thing to do. We don’t want the government interfering in religion, but we desperately need them interested and involved in our daily ethical lives. We are a social contract state – rule by consent of the governed – and the governed need to participate to make this system work. The governed need to believe in the system, support it, and when necessary act to correct it.

So what are the elements of our civil ethic?

First and foremost, there is a balance between two important themes:

1) Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

It’s all about the people. They have the power and their needs should be the goals of the state.

2) Constitutional government.

No matter who holds power, that power must be limited by reason, compassion, and strategy.

We forget either of these at our peril. Recently, we have been tempted to give too much power to the president. In times of crisis, we want a strong leader to save us, and we recognize the need for quick, decisive action. Still, the only way the needs of the people can be met is if as many people as possible are involved in decision making. Our kind of democracy rests on an educated and involved public. On the other hand, we have been tempted to take democracy too far. A constitution limits the power of those who hold power; in a democracy it limits the power of the majority. We have worked hard a generating, defending, and yes tweaking the constitution so that it holds up the best of our ideals. We believe that all people should be equally represented – regardless of religion, race, or sex – even when they are in the minority.

I’m proud to be an American because I can harassed by Hari Krishnas on the National Mall on the Fourth of July. I’m proud to be an American because people come here from around the world to learn and because we fund humanitarian work around the world. I’m proud because we have fought hard for the idea of one person-one vote to be extended regardless of skin color or gender.

These are the ethics of which we can be proud, and these are the ethics which must be defended. In the coming weeks I want to talk about religion and state, about ethics in schools, and about marriage, but I begin with this statement. America is something to be preserved, not because it is us (we are flawed), not because it is favored by God (God makes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous), not because it is best (there is always room for improvement). America should be treasured because there is no distinction between the governors and the governed and because the constitution protects this equality.

So I will say a prayer for the United States,
May we live up to our highest ideals
May we live each for each, and all for all
May we live into the freedom our founders hoped for
And may we always be on God’s side.

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