Saturday, May 22, 2021

Musings on Morality and Politics and the Need for a Civil Religion in America

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Religion and politics have always been interwoven; but it’s the moral imperatives of religion, not its mystical beliefs, that provide the standards of political legitimacy in a democracy.  Altruistic moral standards promote a politics of reconciliation among people of all races and religions, while exclusivist religious beliefs promote religious and political divisions.

The greatest commandment is a universal and altruistic moral imperative to love God by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, including those of other races, religions and political persuasions.  It’s a common word of faith of Jews, Christians and Muslims that should be at the foundation of political legitimacy in America’s pluralistic democracy--but it’s not.

Instead, the altruistic morality that once defined political legitimacy in America has fizzled out, leaving a moral vacuum.  It was a gradual process until 2016, when a majority of White Christians sacrificed Jesus on the altar of Republican politics and elected Donald Trump their President.  American democracy now needs a civil “religion” to restore its political legitimacy.

The church planted the seeds of its own demise long ago when it subordinated following the moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist belief in Jesus Christ as the alter ego of God.  That opened the door to the church supporting the Moral Majority, which led to Trump’s election in 2016.  That was likely the beginning of the end of the White church as a major political power.

It’s doubtful that the church will ever change its evangelical priority from worshipping Jesus to following him.  The church is committed to being a popular social institution, and Jesus taught that following him would never be popular (Mt 7:13-14).  To abandon the cheap grace of worshipping Christ as the only means of salvation would undermine the popularity of the church.    

Jesus was a Jewish rabbi who never claimed to be divine and never advocated any religion, not even his own.  Thomas Jefferson was a deist who considered the moral teachings of Jesus as “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man.”  It’s time to pick up where Jefferson left off and codify an American civil religion based on the moral teachings of Jesus.

Christianity set out to change the world--but the world changed Christianity.  The church sacrificed the altruistic teachings of Jesus to become popular in a materialistic and hedonistic culture.  Democracy was nonexistent in the 1st century Palestinian world of Jesus.  America now needs a civil religion that defines political legitimacy for its 21st century democracy.  

Christianity has failed to address the challenges of democracy.  The teachings of Jesus are timeless standards of legitimacy, but they are silent on the stewardship of democracy, including human rights, political freedom and a just economy.  America needs a secular civil religion to preserve its libertarian democracy.  It must promote a politics of reconciliation and balance individual rights and partisan objectives with providing for the common good.


Notes on related commentaries:

Thomas Jefferson 

(3/17/18): Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics

Christian universalism  

(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?

(2/15/15): Is Religion Good or Evil?

(4/5/15): Seeing the Resurrection in a New Light

(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism

(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion

((11/23/19): Musings on Jesus and Christ as Conflicting Concepts in Christianity

Civil religion

(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion

(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads

(3/27/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Civil Religion in a Divided America

Notes on the future of a church that has lost its moral compass:

(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World

(4/29/17): A Wesleyan Alternative for an Irrelevant Church

(7/22/17): Hell No!

(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?

(7/14/18): Musings on Why Christians Should Put Moral Standards Over Mystical Beliefs

(9/7/19): Musings on the Self-Destruction of Christianity and American Democracy

(9/14/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Chaos as a Prelude to a New Creation

(11/9/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Virtual Alternative to a Failing Church

(12/28/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the End as a New Beginning

(4/17/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Future of the Church

(5/15/21): Musings on the Moral Failure of American Christianity and Democracy

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