Political Messianism Draws More Believers
John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign speech about his Catholicism made news again this year when former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said reading the speech made him want to “throw up.” Santorum took umbrage with Kennedy’s remarks because they, in his estimation, claimed a complete separation of personal faith from governance. While the “throw up” line was probably an unwise political statement it again brought to the forefront the debate about religion and its role in politics and the public square. While debates about religion, society and government are not new, their surfacing in presidential campaigns tells us a lot about truth and virtue in American culture.
“Our national self-understanding has always had a religious inflection, not least because the most famous passage of the Declaration is explicitly religious: ‘All men are created equal and we our endowed by our creator,’” says Baylor University historian Dr. Thomas Kidd. The statement by its nature carries the implication of the Imago Dei; that we are made in the image of God. We are protected by language that shields us from an all powerful state. We inherit the right to flourish and to live out a purpose that has a higher calling than government and politics.
Civil religion in America has a long and rich tradition. From a critical point of view, the use of religion in a political context risks debasing true faith—instrumentalizing religious language as a tool of political power or, at least, reducing religion to a least-common-denominator approach that keeps everyone happy. But civil religion is also a marker of the strength of a nation’s faith life: a deeply religious culture is bound to express its faith through all of society’s institutions including the political. Presidential campaigns today reflect in many ways a more personal faith influenced by evangelical revivals of the 19th century known as the Second Great Awakening.Continue reading at www.acton.org