All States have a vested interest in clothing themselves in a religious veneer or a “civil religion,” but this does not necessarily take the form of an “official” religion such as in the European states of old or western Asian countries now. In the case of the United States, there are many of what I like to call “statist sacraments” that reinforce a kind of mythology around the centralized power of the State.
A few weeks ago, the Christian Libertarian Facebook group had a great discussion about forms of civil religion that we encounter regularly. It was such an interesting thread that I just had to record the highlights for posterity here at LCC. (I’ll add some light edits for clarity.)
The discussion began with Drew: “In just a few words or a couple sentences, please describe the worst forms of nationalism, idolatry, and/or propaganda that you encounter regularly. For example, one of my pet peeves is the idol worship of past presidents like Lincoln and such. I’m working on a new writing project and I wanted to get some your thoughts or experiences.”
Here are some of the responses:
“The idol of the dollar. People spend countless hours of their lives working for a piece of cotton while basing all their transactions with it. People devote their lives to it.”
“Worship of ‘Public Safety Personnel.’ Farmers and a few others have higher injury and fatality rate. Last I checked I can survive most days without a police officer writing a report about something bad that happened, but would be hard pressed to survive without the farmer’s production. Which job is more dangerous? Which is more important? Which actually defends my liberty? Which is most beneficial to me? The farmer whose property we steal and leave with no retirement is my advocate. The officer consumes my sustenance, depends on me for his salary and retirement and increasingly threatens my liberty as the state increases in power.”
“I would add idolatry of the [Jewish state] as well.”
“The flag, blind patriotism, and the pledge of allegiance.”
“Lincoln’s a big one. The whitewashing of Reagan galls me, too.”
“Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He got us out the Great Depression, you know.”
“Many liberals I know have said that they believe rights come from the government or ‘the people.’ Seriously disturbing.”
“Who can deny the way Americans worship the ‘Founding Fathers’? I was certainly guilty of this when I was [part of the] religious right. I think American evangelicalism in general places an emphasis on the founders that is unhealthy.” … “[The Founders] were just ordinary men who lived in an extraordinary time, but they are worshiped and some have elevated them to the level of prophets. Further, the Constitution is venerated to such a degree that, though you will be hard pressed to get any of the one’s who worship it to admit it, they view it as another book of the Bible.”
“How about political freedom as an idol?” … “Milton Friedman was a liberty-idolizer. He even said it was his ‘god’, in a manner of speaking. Worldly liberty, while I see it as the true loving ‘political’ or ‘governing’ act… free-will is [still] from God… It is God who gave us liberty. I’d much rather worship God than His creation of liberty. Even better God offers an even greater liberty from the chains of sin!”
“The god named ‘Society’ who has forced us into a contract, despite this being a complete contradiction. Its priesthood are primarily soldiers and teachers. Its church is the preferred political party.”
“One that hasn’t been mentioned yet… the worshipful singing of the national anthem before every sporting event known to man. Happens more often these days than praying before meals. What should that tell you?”
“My oldest is in preschool, and it drives me nuts that he recites the pledge of allegiance every day. I look forward to the day when he’ll be old enough to understand why he shouldn’t recite it and can decide for himself whether or not he wants to.”
“The idolatry of the American Soldier. I was majorly guilty of that one. Many people hold them to a point of Sainthood. I have a great amount of respect for them, but they are venerated in modern society — and the unfortunate indictment – modern evangelicalism.”
“Government and banks creating money from nothing is a claim to create something ex nihilo, which only God can do. This is a logically precise case of government as god… No one claims to create new physical laws. Neither can any other law be created by man. The claim to create law is a claim to be god, by government, legislators and by those who approve of the lie that men can create law.”
“Misinterpretation of Romans 13:1-7, leading to logically incoherent application of Scripture to the role of government, a term not even present in the text. This leaves Christians advocating for and self-censoring themselves in support of ungodly government, thus idolizing government.”
“Hollywood, of course. The celebrity spokesmen (and assumed authorities on all topics) for the state.” … “We Americans (indeed the whole world) WORSHIP Hollywood. Look at all the magazines and TV shows that hang on every word out of the mouth of the likes of Brat Pitt, Angelina Jolie, or George Clooney. (ad nauseum) They are considered experts on whatever cause they happen to be focusing on at the time. We gush over their clothes, hair, make up, marriages, breakups, etc. It’s sickening.”
“Don’t complain unless you are part of the political process, vote, etc, as though that its a test of genuine concern for ‘the nation.’ [In other words] worship of the political process. Also, worship of the political party, rather than seeking wisdom and standing on principle.
“The greatest idolatry, in my honest opinion, is the worship of democracy. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe said, [democracy is] ‘the god that failed’ … After all, what are governments but mere men pretending to be gods?”
That’s a lot of input! Do you have any other examples that the above discussion missed? Let us know in the comments.