American Civic Tradition after 9/11
Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and African-American Resources for Healthier National Faith and Community
Keywords:9/11, civic faith, American civil religion, Robert Bellah, Andrew Greely, James Baldwin, Niebuhr
Re-opening discussion of ‘American civil religion’ insights would have been much easier in the ashen glow of 9/11 than it is three years later. But the Bush administration’s war in Iraq and domestic Patriot Act, however invidious their version of patriotism, do not warrant academics’ or progressives’ repetition of possibly their biggest mistake of the 1960s and 70s. Their growing disdain for anything resembling national affirmation, along with their short-sighted discarding of Robert Bellah’s insights into an ‘American civil’ form of implicit religion, could well be argued to have eventually cost themselves, their country, its explicit religious institutions, and even the world, all too dearly. Renewed consideration of Bellah’s early ideas, expanded by old and new popular and academic perspectives, suggests Americans’ need for nurturing a mature civic faith that is surprisingly ‘traditional’ and cutting-edge critical. The nature, need, and good possibilities of such civic faith are shown first by rescuing the discussion from its mis-naming and premature burial, and then by re-animating it with Catholic perspectives from Andrew Greeley and G. K. Chesterton, with worldly wisdom from James Baldwin, with theological insights from postmodern Jewish thinkers, and with enduring discernment from H. Richard Niebuhr.