In his book Civil Religion: A Dialogue in the History of Political Philosophy, Ronald Beiner argues that in modernity the attempt to domesticate strong religious convictions in the interest of state control has assumed two primary and antithetical alternatives: civil religion or liberalism.
Civil religion is the attempt to empower religion, not for the good of religion, but for the creation of the citizen. Indeed, the very creation of “religion” as a concept more fundamental than a determinative tradition is a manifestation that, at least in Western societies, Christianity has become “civil.” Rousseau, according to Beiner, is the decisive figure that gave expression to this transformation because Rousseau saw clearly that the modern state could not risk having a church capable of challenging its political authority. In the process, the political concepts used to legitimize the modern state, at least if Carl Schmitt is right, are secularized theological concepts.
In contrast to civil religion, the liberal alternative rejects all attempts to use religion to produce citizens in service to the state. Liberalism, in its many versions, according to Beiner, seeks to domesticate or neutralize the impact of religious commitment on political life. Liberalism may well result in the production of a banal and flattened account of human existence, but such a form of life seems necessary if we are to be at peace with one another. In other words, liberalism as a way of life depends on the creation of people who think there is nothing for which it worth dying. Such a way of life was exemplified by President Bush who suggested that the duty of Americans after 11 September 2001 was to go shopping.
I have earned the description of being a “fideistic, sectarian, tribalist” because of my attempt to imagine an ecclesial alternative capable of resisting the politics Beiner describes.
Read it all.