“Only one form of social activity has not yet been explicity linked to religion: economic activity.”

“Only one form of social activity has not yet been explicitly linked to religion: economic activity. Nevertheless, the techniques that derive from magic turn out, by this very fact, to have indirectly religious origins. Furthermore, economic value is a sort of power or efficacy, and we know the religious origins of the idea of power. Since mana can be conferred by wealth, wealth itself has some. From this we see that the idea of economic value and that of religious value cannot be unrelated; but the nature of these relationship has not yet been studied.”

Footnote 4 from the Conclusion of Emile Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912). There is so much in that footnote.

Is there a difference between ideology and religion?

The U.S. Intellectual History blog has an interesting guest post from Corey Washington on “After Ideology.” Here’s a bit:

There is good scientific evidence that political reasoning is based on innate, non-rational principles. Nevertheless, the fact that people reason so badly about politics is striking given that people are intelligent and believe strongly that it is important for their political beliefs to be true. Religion may also be innate and non-rational, but if people are rational enough to give up God-oriented religion because there is not sufficient evidence, why do they not give up ideologies as well?

When I ask this question, the responses are quite similar to what you hear when you discuss atheism with a religious person. Atheists/agnostics cannot imagine how you could act ethically, or more broadly make sense of the world, without an ideology. That is, ideology seems to give many atheists/agnostics a value system just as religion does for believers. I believe ideologies also provide people with a community of like-minded friends, as do religious beliefs, and people are loath to alienate themselves from their friends. But if your goal is to have an accurate political view of the world, what use are such ideologies and communities if they are based on beliefs one has very little reason to think are true?

Those two sentences I bolded struck me. Of course ideology functions like religion! Washington is right on the money with this. But so was Emile Durkheim. Religion and ideology, as sketched by Washington here, both form what Durkheim called “moral communities” in his Elemental forms of Religious Life. What Washington doesn’t outline in his post, thought I suspect it is to be worked through in his book, is the relationship between ideology and religion. Too often religion becomes subsumed under ideology. Thus, socially constructed notions of the sacred are reduced down economics or psychology or what have you. Instead, religion and ideology should be placed alongside one another as products of cultural and social imagination and construction. For example, nationalism (and here I’m following my recent reading of Benedict Anderson) as an ideology has the incredible power to motivate men to die. Anderson begins his discussion of nationalism with a comparison to religion. They both share this same power-a power that will motivate humans to lay down their lives. To go back to Durkheim, we can call this socio-culturally produced power ‘the sacred.’ Questions then follow. How is the sacred produced in cultures and societies? What is sacred in an ideology or religion? How dies it function?How do humans move between or occupy overlapping sacralities (i.e. a communist nationalist Christian)?

However one approaches the question of ideology and religion and whether one wants to use the term ‘sacred’ or not, the goal should be to  avoid reducing the phenomenon down to a single ’cause’ and instead to uncover their messy cultural production and practice.

Who is America’s God?

Stanely Hauerwas claims that America’s god is dying. The Duke theologian argues that the god of America is unique to American Protestantism:

That is why it has been possible for Americans to synthesize three seemingly antithetical traditions: evangelical Protestantism, republican political ideology and commonsense moral reasoning. For Americans, faith in God is indistinguishable from loyalty to their country.

American Protestants do not have to believe in God because they believe in belief. That is why we have never been able to produce an interesting atheist in America. The god most Americans say they believe in is just not interesting enough to deny. Thus the only kind of atheism that counts in America is to call into question the proposition that everyone has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Hauerwas goes on to argue that this “belief in belief” has had grave consequences for the church and is leading to the death of American Protestantism as we know it.  Hauerwas ends pointing out that America’s god is not the God that Christians worship. The full piece is worth your attention.
What jumped out to me, though, was  the connection between Hauewas’ argument and this passage from Emile Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life:
[The totem] expresses and symbolizes two different kinds of things. From one point of view, it is the outward and visible form of what I have called the toemic principle or god; and from another, it is also the symbol of a particular society that is called the clan. It is the flag of the clan, the sign by which each clan is distinguished from the others, the visible mark of its distinctiveness, and a mark that is borne by everything that in any way belongs to the clan: men, animals, and things. Thus if the totem is the symbol of both the god and the society, is this not because the god and the society are one and the same?

Durkheim was describing the religious life of aboriginal Australians but re-read that quote and substitute “nation” or “state” or “country” for “clan.” This is the same phenomenon Hauewas is pointing out. As Hauerwas points out in the opening of his article, American Protestantism grew up in a new country that did no have to identify itself over and against at Catholic past (the Catholic was always an interloping immigrant to the American Protestant, not a historical precursor). Protestantism, then, became part and parcel of American society along with the Enlightenment values of republicanism, and common sense philosophy. As such, the God of America functions-at least as Durkheim and Hauerwas would see it-as the god of the aboriginal clan; flags and all. American exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny, Spreading Democracy, freedom, equality, the city on a hill, capitalism, In God We Trust, separation of church and state, and all the other ideas, rituals, and myths of the Right and Left in this country carry “the visible mark of its distinctiveness.” They are “everything that in any way belongs to the clan.” They all make up the totem of America’s god. A god placated, promoted, relied upon, and upheld by the religious and the secular, the poor and the rich, the Right and the Left.

Somehow “civil religion” is to shallow a name for the cult of America’s god. It captures everything considered sacred and powerful in the American imagination. It truly is America’s god.