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Civil Religion in the American Society Critical Essay

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Updated: Dec 29th, 2019


Human beings are extremely subject to beliefs and culture in their way of living. Religious beliefs are highly influential and thus people live in accordance with the religious virtues inherent in their religious isms.

In most countries across the world, religious beliefs, historical heroics, and historical events form constitutional backgrounds, which then make the basic blueprint of determining what is right for the citizens.

A nation with majority citizens as Muslims has a constitution whose main foundation is the Islamic religion.

This case is the same for the United States as the majority citizens are Christians and hence the American constitution is based on Christianity virtues. This aspect explains why civil religion has great impact on the American society.

Civil religion

Religious beliefs are very important in defining the character of the citizens of a particular nation.

However, the United States, which has been defined as a land of opportunities by majority historians and economists in the past, is a culturally diverse nation and thus no religion can claim to have founded the religious culture of the nation.

The founders of the nation are believed to have been Christians, as clearly explained by the idea of reciting the Lord’s Prayer every morning by schoolchildren.

However, this tradition was excluded from mandatory principles by Congress to give room for other religious faiths in the mid-twentieth century.

Despite the secular movements that have engulfed the modern world, the traditional beliefs still have great influence in society. Historical events have been the points of reference for the present events beside the modern development.

For instance, Martin Luther King Jr. is a world’s icon because of his Christianity virtues, viz. strong personality and character that enabled him to stand for the rights of all Americans to achieve the American dream (Echols 54).

On the same note Cohen and Numbers (89) argue that Martin Luther’s religious virtues played a major role in shaping the cultural beliefs in the United States and his actions are a renowned example of civil religion put in practice to beat the odds of political movements in the world.

According to Prothero, in his book, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, Jesus, who is a religious icon, has played a major role in the development of the American society.

Prothero (13) argues that many hymns that praised Jesus were published immediately after the Great Awakening in 1800s and are a clear evidence of the American society appreciating Jesus’ contribution in the making of the American nation through the founding fathers.

Since then, the American society, which Prothero (58) argues is a spiritual marketplace, has recognized Jesus far beyond the Christian faith. Hence, Jesus is an American icon rather than just being a son of God (Prothero 67).

In a bid to support his argument, Prothero defines his argument that the United States is a spiritual marketplace because there are numerous religious faiths and everybody is at liberty to choose the most suitable.

However, Jesus, despite his strong influence in the Christian faith, seems to have universal acceptance across all the religious boundaries in the American culture, a trend that Prothero (164) defines as the reincarnation of Christ by the Americans.

Jesus has truly become an American icon since the Great Awakening and he has been used as an advocate for the rights of many group segments in the American society as evidenced by various forms of his images used by those groups.

Historically, civil rights movements have used the image of Jesus in various forms in the American society. For instance, feminists used the image of Jesus in which he appeared as a black woman.

African-Americans often had images of Jesus in which he appeared as a black man and this image is believed to have been accepted by the Islam.

Jews used the image of Jesus in which he appeared as a Rabbi across the United States and Hindus too had the image of Jesus sitting on a cross-legged seat and surrounded by many wild animals in the woods. This image is still present in many Hindus’ homes across the US.

The above arguments by Prothero serve as a good illustration of the effect of civil religion in the American society. Religious faith is a very strong factor of determining the growth, development, and behaviors of a cultural society.

The basis of the constitution determines the form of leadership that is best suited for a society.

Hence, the American society has developed to where it is today due to the acknowledgement of faith, especially the Christian faith, right from the making of the constitution by the founding fathers.

Through Christianity, the founding fathers developed the American dream of achieving equality for all humanity irrespective of gender, race, or geographical origin.

Hence, Dr. Martin Luther king Jr. was in a position to rise beyond the political and race divisions to advocate for the equal rights of humans coupled with advising Americans on how they ought to behave in order to achieve the dreams of the founding fathers.

Hughes, in his book, Myths America Lives By, defines five crucial myths that have defined the American society.

In addition, he bases his myths in the renowned assertion of the declaration of the American independence, which states, “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Hughes 34).

These myths used the imagery of African-Americans to present the marginalized groups, but all aim at bringing forth equality to all humanity in the US.

However, the myth of a Christian Nation stands out as the foundation of the other four myths as it emphasizes on the civic religious virtues as the principles, which can enable Americans achieve the American dream.

Hughes (149) argues that the world’s societal behaviors are results of civic religious virtues and he supports his argument by recalling the events of 9/11 as results of crises in civil religion.

In addition, he argues that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could not have influenced the American cultural society without the influence of religious virtues that he used to remind the society about the American dream coupled with advising Americans on how to relate with each other in order to achieve that dream.

Though Hughes wrote his book in the era of great secularism, he argues that the Myth of Christianity Nation will not be invalidated by the dynamism of secularity, as it has held the US together according to historians (Hughes 87).


Civil religion is good for the American society as history has enough evidences of events where religious principles were used to define the current developments of the US. Civil religion brought about equality in the US through struggles of heroic icons like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as was the dream of the founding fathers.

In addition, civil religion has enabled civil rights movements to voice their concerns in the past and consequently the majority of the rights enjoyed by the Americans in the contemporary secularized world are a result of the bold acts of civil religion in the past.

Works Cited

Cohen, Charles, and Ronald Numbers. Gods in America: Religious Pluralism in the United States, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.

Echols, James. I Have a Dream: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Future of Multicultural America, Los Angeles: Fortress Press, 2004. Print.

Hughes, Richard. Myths America Lives By, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2004. Print.

Prothero, Stephen. American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. Print.

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