Religious Progressives and their Civil Religion

By Stephanie Block

Religion as a means to a political end is a fascinating study. Old-style socialists thought they could do away with it by killing off clergy and believers but contemporary progressives are far more sophisticated.

The election of an organizer – specifically of a faith-based Alinskyian organizer – to the US presidency is therefore of great significance. Jim Wallis, founding editor of Sojourners - a magazine and a movement from the 70s anti-war days – is a premier organizer of Christian progressives. After Obama won his bid for the US presidency, which was strongly supported by Wallis, Wallis wrote, “This election represents a new and open door for change. However, we know that President Obama will face tremendous pressure and obstacles in pursuing an agenda that addresses the moral imperatives to overcome poverty, develop renewable energy, responsibly withdraw from Iraq, and dramatically reduce the number of abortions…We must ensure that the campaign slogan of “change” becomes a new movement for change.” [Wallis, “God’s Politics Blog”, 11-5-08]

This “movement for change” is the real point of Obama’s election. Progressives believe a desirable “social shift” first requires a “religious shift.” “Obama,” one pundit writes, “was always more comfortable talking about his faith than John McCain, but in the Democratic primaries, he emphasized more of a ‘civil religion’—the idea that collective hope could be a political force.” [Andre C. Willis, Faith-Based Politics, The Obama Way,, 11-17-08]

A civil religion – what the heck is that supposed to mean? Among sociologists, it’s a rather well-known description, however, of a set of beliefs and rituals that “sustain” political authority. This moves beyond the clumsy attempts of liberation theology to explain Our Lady of Guadalupe as the Mother of the Revolutionaries and into a fairly pure and unadulterated worship of the State. That’s nothing new, of course, but one would like to think progressives would offer mankind some, well, progress.

The discussion about Obama’s rhetoric of “civil religion” has been going on since he began his campaign. “He’s shown he’s fluent in the language of American civil religion, the non-denominational set of beliefs that has been a source of inspiration for great U.S. orators like Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy,” Tom Heneghan wrote back in June [FaithWorld blog].

Three months earlier, Greenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow Stephen Warner delivered a lecture entitled, “Barack Obama and the Revival of American Civil Religion.”

Forget the “narrow” religion of a personal God and personal morality (which can be a useful amnesia in politics) – we are entering the era of “religion” that will overhaul the office of faith-based initiatives and mold it into the progressive image, as well as expand Christian social programs to emphasize economic equality and to support the Alinskyian organizing networks. It’s a whole, new order. Just wait and see.

Stephanie Block is the editor of Los Pequenos - a New Mexico-based publication. Her columns are made possible by the sponsorship of generous individuals who believe information about the development and dissemination of progressive ideology needs to be more widely understood. Please fell free to share -- acknowledging authorship -- these articles with others. If you would like more frequent publication of Stephanie Block's work, tax-deductible donations can be sent to: Catholic Media Coalition - PO Box 427 Great Cacapon, WV 25422 Attn: Progressive Watch

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