Religiosity in the U.S.

Dhlazare at Dhlazare at
Fri Jun 12 05:17:41 PDT 1998

Yes, but don't forget the secular equivalent -- the unthinking obeisance to the Founding Fathers, the pious invocation of the Federalist Papers, the all- prevailing notion that if Madison or Jefferson said something -- anything -- it must be right, even though they contradicted themselves on innumerable occsions. Religious piety in the US rests on a solid foundation of constitutional piety.

In fact, we can take this a step farther. Two things stand out about the US constitutional tradition. One is that it lacks any coherent concept of sovereignty as the term was defined by Hobbes and Bentham -- no concept that someone must be ultimately in charge, no concept of a people's government as the source of law rather than something subordinate to it. Instead, power is endlessly fragmented, and the people ar hamstrung even in their ability to change the Constitution created in their name. Politics is an endless merry- go-round involving Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, etc. The other thing, as Hobbes and Bentham would have predicted, is that the govt that results from this absurd constitutional set-up is consistently dysfunctional. It continually breaks down, dissolves into rancor and confusion, and ends up in corruption and demoralization. Amid all this disarray, however, the US has emerged as the sole remaining superpower. Hence, the widespread belief that a dysfunctional political system is somehow the key to greatness. The fact that the people are not sovereign in the US system reinforces the belief that sovereignty inheres in God. As a Russian political scientist named Moisei Ostrogorsky once put it, "God takes care of drunkards, of little children, and of the United States." The fact that political failure coexists with political triumph is a sign of divine intervention. Only God could take something so absurd and make it work. Therefore, all those lilliputians in Washington don't matter, because something higher is clearly guiding the American ship of state.

Dan Lazare


This pervasiveness of pious expressions--including coyness and timidity of

atheists in the face of the pious--must be a result of the lack of class

consciousness + class politics. One of the unstated requirements for

participation in public political discourse in the USA seems to me to be an

ability to swallow an unlimited amount of pious hypocrisy, and this high

tolerance for hypocrisy--that is, theory-practice inconsistency--looks like

a measure of depoliticization of workers. At the same time, God-reinforced

nationalism and American exceptionalism are major--perhaps the most

important--obstacles for the developement of class consciousness + class

politics. There's a vicious circle here!

Yoshie >>

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