The Rhetorical Aims of “Civil Religion in America”
This abstract reading written by Robert N. Bellah, introduces the idea of a “Civil Religion” and argues that, apart from the normal religious traditions our nation follows, there is an unrecognized “Civil Religion” that becomes evident during national crisis or during high public ceremony. According to Bellah, “there actually exists alongside of and rather clearly differentiated from the churches an elaborate and well-institutionalized civil religion in America.” Bellah points out many different examples to prove his point of how “Civil Religion” has been expressed throughout history. First Bellah points out that every president since Washington has mentioned God in his inaugural speech. Next he points out that the presidents did not refer to any religion in particular. They did not refer to Jesus Christ, or to Moses, or to the Christian church. Last a significant point that Bellah makes refers to the Civil war and “Civil Religion”.
In Bellah’s writings, he researches the inaugural speeches of many earlier presidents and notices that every president since President Washington has mentioned God. When researching the inaugural speeches, Bellah notices the placing of the references indicates that religion has only a ceremonial significance, meaning it gets only a sentimental nod to the community before a discussion of the really serious business with which religion has nothing to do. For example, in President Kennedy’s inaugural address of January 20, 1961 Bella points out that there are three places in his address in which Kennedy mentioned the name of God. Also if you look at other presidents’ speeches, you will find that, similar to Kennedy’s address, references to God are consistently found in the pronouncements of American presidents on formal occasions, though usually not in the working messages that the president sends to congress on various concrete issues. With this said this gave presidents the...
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