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America’s Spiritual Crisis, Ch. 4: America Has Always Had a Religion

The American Spirit vs. Woke-ism Essay Series America Has Always Had a Religion Contrary to popular opinion, the American nation was indeed founded with a religion but one that was intentionally incomplete and skeletal. The […]

The American Spirit vs. Woke-ism Essay Series

America Has Always Had a Religion

Contrary to popular opinion, the American nation was indeed founded with a religion but one that was intentionally incomplete and skeletal. The Declaration of Independence, the defining document in this new American religion, is full of references to a “Creator,” “natural law,” and “rights.” Any faith that also adheres to these basic beliefs may complete the American identity, allowing genuine, full Americans to express their faith in very different ways. Conversely, any faith that rejects these beliefs is, by definition, incompatible with the American “religion”.

Historians and others have referred to these skeletal beliefs as America’s “civic religion.” A better reference is the “American spirit”.  America’s founding civic religion is a platform rather than a system. It defines an extraordinarily broad set of principles that its founders deemed essential for a coherent society. It always assumed that all (or at the very least most) Americans would augment these basics with a more traditional faith.

The American adoption of an intentionally incomplete creed as the core of its national identity was the first demonstration of American Exceptionalism. At the time most if not all societies had an official “established” religion that defined all aspects of culture and society. Even today, countries with an official “state religion” persist in much of the non-Western world in ways that often confuse and confound Americans.

It was also understood that for many Americans faith affiliation might be nominal. Some  might even avoid traditional faiths altogether, substituting “non-religious” organizations capable of meeting some of the spiritual and/or communal needs typically associated with religion. Over the years, fraternal orders, professional societies, bowling leagues, affinity groups, fan clubs, and social media chat groups have arisen to provide this completion (some with greater success than others).

Alexis de Tocqueville, perhaps the first great outside observer of American society, testified to the extent to which early Americans turned this abstract goal into an effective reality. How did those early Americans do it? Americans have long understood this relationship between platform and completion instinctively. Those of devout faith never saw their Americanism as a challenge to their Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. In fact, more saw it as a complement rather than a competitor.

Americans who hyphenated their identity abounded, as those claiming personal or ancestral ties to a foreign culture imported the best of their ancestral cultures proudly, paired it seamlessly with their Americanism, and enhanced the American nation. Many others adopted alma maters, sports franchises, or organizational memberships as key parts of their identities, again feeling that it enhanced rather than challenged their identities as Americans.

However, without some core shared beliefs and values, no society can long hold together, as contemporary American society is demonstrating with alarming frequency.

Like all faiths, the American spiritual platform incorporated aspirational elements we strive to attain. To this day, some of those elements still remain aspirational. However, imperfection of faithfulness – by individuals, by the nation, and by the governments we have chosen to represent us – does NOT invalidate its underlying principles.

Here, then, is our modest attempt to codify the tenets of America’s “religion”:

The Tenets of America’s Religion

  1. America is a distinct and exceptional nation. The shared truths we hold to be self-evident define us as a nation. People who do not share these truths cannot claim to be American.
  2. Our Creator’s natural law endowed both humanity as a whole and every individual human with certain inalienable rights.
  3. Inalienable individual rights to equality, faith, freedom, and security all exist under natural law. No government may infringe upon them legitimately.
  4. Governments are man-made entities existing for the sole purpose of securing natural rights. A pattern of repeated government infringement upon natural rights produces despotism and illegitimacy.
  5. Citizens have a sacred right and duty to overthrow illegitimate governments and to replace them with a new government that will secure their natural rights.
  6. American legal systems must afford due process, equal protection, and strict fidelity to the rule of law.
  7. Any governmental incursions upon our privacy or our property must comply with the law. Citizenship in the United States is a meaningful concept. Citizens are afforded privileges and responsibilities unavailable to non-citizens. National governments have obligations towards their own citizens that are greater than, and that take priority over, any obligations they may assume toward the citizens of other sovereign states.
  8. The federal nature of the United States reflects and respects the American commitment to diversity of opinion. Different states may enact distinct policies reflective of the beliefs, attitudes, values, and opinions of their own citizens. The government of each state must recognize, and provide equal treatment under its own laws, to citizens of every state including its own.
  9. American governments are obligated to conduct free, fair, secure elections in which all citizens, and only citizens, have a meaningful opportunity to vote for their government representatives.

Robert B. Chernin

Robert B. Chernin

Robert is a longtime entrepreneur, business leader, fundraiser, and former radio talk show host. He studied political science at McGill University in Montreal and has spent over 25 years deeply involved in civic affairs at all levels. Robert has consulted on a variety of federal and statewide campaigns at the gubernatorial, congressional, senatorial, and presidential level. He served in leadership roles in the presidential campaigns of President George W. Bush as well as McCain for President. He led Florida’s Victory 2004’s national Jewish outreach operations as Executive Director. In addition, he served on the President’s Committee of the Republican Jewish Coalition.