In my “Unsettling America” class we recently discussed Democracy and Religion, and I think it is pertinent here after the “Democracy” section by Fred Moten in Keywords. While Moten touches more on what constitutes a democracy, and the Democrats from a political party aspect, religion is still relevant to democracy.
Religion and democracy relate as religion facilitates the cultivation of liberty and democracy in America. In a democracy, to an extent courtesy of religion, all are considered equal. Religions effect everyone being equal, as all should be deemed equal, especially according to Alexis de Tocqueville.
Without religion, people may be immoral and have minimal incentive to adhere to laws. People follow rules through the guidance of religion. Without this religion, people essentially could “run wild,” without regards to anyone or anything. Religion had an effect on laws, especially regarding civil rights and religion. To call the Civil Rights Movement a religious revival would be an injustice, as the movement was too big to have any one label on it. But, to say it had nothing to do with religion, would be naive. All people, no matter there race, ethnicity, or creed are created equally, and the Civil Rights Movement tried to establish just that.
Liberty and democracy are about freedom and free-thought. Religion promotes both of these, even if, for the free-thought, that it was likely first conceived through notions and concepts of religion. One would be remiss to not mention just how intertwined Religion and democracy truly are.
This text, Puritan Origins by Philip Gura, traces the role of the study of Puritanism in the development of the field of American Studies. The text begins by introducing how Puritanism came to be understood as central to the development of an “American Mind,” and then follows the trajectory of academics who challenged that proposition. The author ultimately argues that Puritanism is only one of a number of frames through which we can study and understand the development of “Americanism.” The two accompanying pieces, Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity” and Bush’s Second Inaugural Address, both emphasize the need for a sense of united national consciousness. These very distinct pieces both exemplify the idea of an imagined national community (Anderson) that is more projection than fact.
In my reading of the text, the main question that I felt was unaddressed was: How did these scholars think that the “American Mind” (if there is such a thing as a unified set of beliefs that all Americans share, and despite whether or not they thought that Puritanism played a significant role in that “mind”) had been transmitted through the generations? Who passed that intellectual and cultural ideology on, and to whom? How were the values and characteristics of the “American mind” indoctrinated into the mindset of the next generation? To me, the debate over how central Puritan tenets were to the development of a national consciousness is based on a set of assumptions and a way of reading history that I found challenging. What about the waves of immigrants since the Puritans who have brought their own religions, ideologies and cultural practices into the melting pot of America? How can we say that any of these groups had more of an impact on the development of a general understanding of “American” values? With all of the diversity of America it is impossible for there to be such thing as an “American mind,” and to propose such does deep disservice to marginalized and disenfranchised groups who have been, in practice, excluded in a myriad of ways from this cultural and ideological heritage. The production of this myth of the “American mind” is as dangerous and potentially damaging as the cultivation of the “American Dream.” Gura’s text begins to address some of these issues towards the end, when he writes about the work of more contemporary scholars like Sandra Gustafson and Philip Round. The text still leaves unaddressed, however, this question of how cultural heritage and values are transferred to the next generation, how they are produced in daily lives, and how they affect lived experiences.
The concept of a national community being part of a collective imagination is interesting. Once one begins to adopt the notion that a sense of community can be imagined then it becomes easier to see how certain people and ideas can fall to the wayside of such an imagination. The abstract presence of power can shift ideas into an unspoken list in order of priority that can do the work of rendering visibility or invisibility. Furthermore, this framework makes it easier to see how perceptions of the nation-state can be socialized and reproduced within, yet, inform what goes on the outside of it via foreign policy. What I really focused on was how fmr. President Bush continually justifies American imperialism in a speech affirming the intentions of his presidency and by extension the intentions of the nation-state for the world.
A question that I first was posing to myself as I read the speech was what makes an entity feel like it can define policy for others that it does not know. I think a big part of that is the subject of power within this framework of imagined community. I believe this ethos can be found in A Model of Christian Charity by John Winthrop. Winthrop prefaces this piece basically accepting inequality by invoking the name of God to validate this social condition. “God Almighty in his most holy and wise providence, hath soe disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poore, some high and eminent in power and dignitie; others mean and in submission” (Winthrop, 1630). I believe this tacit acceptance of inequality was a foundation of the resultant nation built on capitalistic and maverick dispositions.
Similarly President Bush, in his inaugural address, invokes biblical allusion to justify modern day paternalism to serve the ends of imperialism. “God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul.” Warner accentuates this idea in his piece on Secularism when he says “George W. Bush similarly speaks of a nation ‘guided by faith’ without specifying what that faith is in….But the divine is assumed to be personal and historical; a being that actively addresses individuals and nations has specially appointed a world-historical mission for the United States.”( p.212 Warner). Basically if one can align their intentions with divine will then their intentions are seen as best for all those around them.
The loss of human lives in moments like 9/11 and the wars of the past further pushes this inevitable self-professed divine right to exact just revenge and to define discourse around the policies of foreign bodies. Because according to this idea the world falls under the purvey of a God that supersedes the ills of the present but is very much a part of a “a politics of the present”(p. 212 Warner).
I chose this concept to focus on because personally I have always critiqued the U.S. for what I see as its sheer hypocrisy when it uses this language. Especially as a country that professes itself as one that honors the separation of church and state yet maintains a discourse and political framework that colludes with religious sentiment in debates such as reproductive rights, marriage equality, welfare funding .. etc.” I’ve realized that at this point it is a sisyphean task to try to separate the religious from the secular when both are continually conflated and intertwined in popular discourse.