Whilst some philosophers, like Nietzsche for example, argue that "God is dead" in European societies, religion still plays a fundamental role in the definition of today's American politics and society. This difference can be explained by the fact that, since its constitutional creation, American national identity has been constantly shaped by religion. Admittedly, America is not a Christian Nation. Its Constituent texts do not set up any national religious establishment, whilst enforcing essential Republican principles such as the separation of Church and State and the freedom of religion. But, these so-called secular principles (pluralism of cults, natural and inalienable rights, etc.) are fundamentally religious. In fact, these consensual values are part of "civil religion". Thus, Americans are both citizens and believers: their commitment to the U.S. homeland (patriotism) is a secular form of religion, common to all of them, whatever their personal religious beliefs. Therefore, religion is at the root of American national identity, as it molds the U.S. democracy. This is the reason why religious reform movements traditionally have huge political influence in the US.
[...] This recurrent official reference to religion emphasizes the blurred separation of Church and State. Admittedly, both are strictly distinct, but they are obviously tightly bound together. In addition to U.S. Presidents' commitment to refer to religious principles, American history provides many examples of social issues being characterized by theological debates. For instance Frank Lambert mentions, in the second chapter of Religion in American Politics, the controversy over Sunday mail delivery, consequent to the 1810 law authorizing it despite holy Sabbath. [...]
[...] Indeed, according to Robert Bellah, “American religion at least since the nineteenth century has been predominantly activist, moralistic, and social rather than contemplative, theological, or innerly spiritual (Bellah, p.180). An important religious reform movement of the 19th century was the temperance movement, opposing American growing decadence (notably related to alcohol consumption) and strongly supported by Lyman Beecher, who considered that religious voluntary associations were perfectly likely to reform society (Class, September 18). The Woman's Christian Temperance Union, created in 1873, was for example one of the political organizations campaigning for temperance. The Civil Rights movement also represented an outstanding opportunity for religious reform movements to gain political influence. [...]
[...] Martin Luther King, famous religious man, also became a political leading figure of the 20th century (Class, November 04). He was, indeed, a leading actor fighting against segregation, particularly after the Rosa Parks incident in 1955. In his “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”, he promotes “social conscience of the Christian churches” (p. thus advocating political involvement of the religious community. a Christian”, King believed that there was creative personal power in the universe who is the ground and essence of all reality” (p. [...]
[...] To conclude, it seems obvious that American national identity takes root in civil religion, that is to say commitment to transcendental moral principles, at the core of the Republican Constitutional idea of U.S. democracy. America is neither a Christian nor secular Nation, but it grants a tremendous importance to religion in shaping its politics and society. This is for example why religious reform movements have such significant political influence. Nevertheless, civil religion and sacred patriotism can be excessive: the so-called “universal” principles at the heart of American national identity could lead to an growing U.S. [...]
[...] Thus, there was a general agreement about the religious character of the principle of religious Pluralism. In sum, America is neither a Christian nor a secular Nation, but an intertwining of both. Transcendental religious principles, that is to say universal “principles that are accessible to people of all faiths” (Obama, “Call to Renewal” Address) are at the core of the American Republican ideal. Consequently, civil religion appears to be at the heart of U.S. democracy, hence also structuring American national identity. [...]
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