Tag Archives: Civil Religion

America’s Other Religion (Hint: It Is Not Islam)

According to Pew Research center, 70 percent of Americans identify as Christian. This includes evangelical protestants, who make up the largest bloc in American Christendom, along with Catholics, mainline protestants, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The next largest religious bloc in Pew’s study is Judaism, which comprises a little less than 2 percent of the population. Then Islam, which makes up less than 1 percent. Some have argued that the second largest bloc, dwarfing both Judaism and Islam, are those who identify as “nothing in particular.” They come in at about 16 percent of the total population.

It is, however, debatable that the “nothing in particular” folks form a religious bloc. It’s like giving an empty space on my bookshelf a catalog number. However, there is another religious group that is much larger and more influential than all those listed above, with the possible exception of Christianity.

Unlike the “nothing in particular” group, this bloc clearly meets the criteria to be considered a religious group, though it is entirely overlooked by Pew and by most sociologists. This group has no official structure or hierarchy, but it invokes a god, possesses a historical narrative (or mythology, as some deem it), and reverences its saints.

This religion has received various labels over the years, but the one that has been around longest, given to it by Rousseau before the American Revolution, is “Civil Religion.” According to the sociologist Robert Bellah, Rousseau outlined the simple dogma of Civil Religion as: “the existence of God, the life to come, the reward of virtue and the punishment of vice, and the exclusion of religious intolerance.”
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