I had the privilege this weekend to attend the graduation ceremony of the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. A whole weekend to military bands and flag waving is a good thing! The bad thing is that Civic Religion was on full display.
At the graduation ceremony Pete Geren, the Secretary of the Army, spoke. Like all good politicians he invoked God and Country. He quoted Jeremiah and Jefferson. It all sounded so good. The scary thing is that in this country where the Gospel is increasingly hated and the right of Christians to talk about their beliefs is becoming scarce, politicians like Mr. Garen can get applause when they serve up big helpings of the Civic Religion.
So what is Civic Religion. Well, it works like this. There is a God. We don't want to be to specific about his name, his attributes or his will. All we really need to know is that he likes to bless America. We don't really talk about the fact that God's blessing is pretty meaningless if there is no curse around! (I could not help but remember RC Sproul's message at T4G.) That would be bad to talk about God judging our enemies. But we're very sure that he is blessing us.
He is a God of the present. We cannot talk to much about the past beyond hazy "past blessings" because that might sound like he condoned genocide against Indians and other stuff like that that Civic Religion justified in the past. Civic Religion is very much a religion of the present. We also don't want to talk too much about the future other than to assure ourselves that God will keep on blessing us. Our boys and girls in uniform are doing God's work. It's just like that hymn that the Christians sing in church: "As He died to make men holy/Let us die to make men free." See, Civic Religion American style offers up salvation ass a free gift of the USA. All folks need to do is accept this free gift!
As for the afterlife, God loves us and we don't talk to much about it but if we have to talk about death Civic Religion is nearly universalist. Mr. Garen read from a letter of a WWII soldier that stated that he was sure that while his friends had done some bad things that God had taken them to heaven when they died in battle. What a comforting thought to young soldiers! Whatever you do; swearing, fornicating, cheating, stealing; it will all be OK if you die in battle for the USA and you can go straight to heaven. Here is were Civic Religion gets a more than a little hypocritical. We mock Muslims who will die for their religion. We sneer at the idea of paradise and virgins yet we hold out to our own warriors the hope that they can enter into some kind of bliss after death in battle for Freedom!
I still remember vividly going to the funeral of Gary Isaacs, a US Marine who grew up around the corner from me. Gary was killed in action in Panama. At his funeral Dr. Bob Jones Jr. so clearly laid out that while it would be convenient to believe that Gary was in heaven because of his heroic death that the reason we knew Gary was in heaven was because of his repenting of his sins and placing faith in Christ!
American Civic Religion sounds so pleasant and comforting. It has no doctrine, no scripture. It's temples are the quiet fields with their long silent rows of white headstones. It accepts all, Protestant, Catholic, Jew and atheist. It speaks peace to bereaved families and assures politicians that their decisions are without eternal consequence. It is an easy religion to accept since it requires very little beyond a nod of assent and a trickled tear when the bugle plays and the rifles bark over the tomb of a young soldier.
For all it's talk of God and quoting scriptures like John 15:13, Civic Religion is antithetical to Christianity. It is a religion of the Old Deceiver. It belittles the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It negates Jehovah's standard of righteousness. It is not the Old Time Religion of the Pilgrim Fathers and it is not my religion.
I love this country. I believe that God has blessed it in some unique ways. But even that areligious politician, Abraham Lincoln, was savvy enough to realize the dangers of a God harnessed to current political thought when he said, "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right." While I value every person who puts on a uniform and fights for freedom and democracy; while I weep for every warrior who falls defending this great country; I cannot help but believe the clear teaching of the Word of God that all who die outside of the righteousness of Christ are lost for eternity and face hell. I was overwhelmed in that while I heard Mr. Geren eloquently give forth the gospel of the Civic Religion that over the course of the weekend I heard a general and 2 chaplains speak clearly the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the lovely pulpit of the Cadet Chapel at West Point pointing young soldiers to the hope of the Cross!