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Polytheism and American Civil Religion

I haven’t had time lately to offer much more/other than quick takes, and this is another one.

I’d like to recommend this month-old segment from Issues Etc. [mp3]; it’s an appearance by Alvin Schmidt, where he notes the theological overtones to some of the aspects of Independence Day observances and frames them in the context of polytheism, particularly First and Second Century Roman polytheism, and suggests that they are aspects of a kind of American civil religion of which a careful Christian needs to be mindful.

I am for the moment going to punt on what constitutes a religion; I believe that many of my contemporaries play fast and loose with definitions here; not everything that has one or more of the characteristics of a religion can fairly be called a religion. I’m thinking here of atheism in particular, because that’s a fashionable argument. A generation ago Secular Humanism got trotted out as a religion too, and I didn’t buy the argument then either.

Never mind all that. Schmidt makes one good point here that bears repeating: if somebody is talking about a god, and doesn’t mention whether that god has a son called Jesus, it’s fair to say he’s not talking about the Christian God. And this is an important distinction to make when observing secular holidays like Independence Day.

I sometimes wonder if the LCMS is the only place I can find somebody pointing out problems with American civil religion because the LCMS is just not all that American, and certainly not American in the way (say) the Southern Baptist Convention is. The SBC, with its history rooted in groups that dissented explicitly from Anglicanism both in the UK and in the States, sometimes has a hard time seeing how its thinking on matters political is framed by its preoccupation with things American. Or something like that.

The LCMS, of course, being for so much of its history predominantly ethnically German, carries different baggage.

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