Three Idolatries

Whether one thinks that “religion” continues to fade or has made a comeback in the contemporary world, there is a common notion that “religion” went away somewhere, at least in the West. But William Cavanaugh argues that religious fervor never left — it has only migrated … from the church to the nation-state … When nationality becomes the primary source of identity and belonging, he warns, the state becomes the god and idol of its own religion, the language of nationalism becomes a liturgy, and devotees willingly sacrifice their lives to serve and defend their country.

(Robert Benne, describing Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church (emphasis added). This is by the same William Cavanaugh who wrote The Myth of Religious Violence, and it almost appears a précis of what I’m finding most interesting in the latter, for instance:

As Eric Hobsbawm has pointed out, ours is an unliturgical age in most respects, with one enormous exception: the public life of the citizen of the nation-state. Citizenship in secular countries is tied to symbols and rituals that have been invented for the purpose of expressing and reinforcing devotion to the nation-state.

The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

The function of public education is “the training of American citizens in an atmosphere free of parochial, divisive, or separatist influences of any sort — an atmosphere in which children may assimilate a heritage common to all American groups and religions … This is a heritage neither theistic nor atheistic, but simply civic and patriotic.” A patriotic and united allegiance to the United States is the cure for the divisiveness of religion in public.

“The designation of the religious and the political is itself a political act.”

There is little possibility of our having a cold war with an Islamist regime armed with long-range nuclear weapons… . In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe. [Quoting Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason]

(The Myth of Religious Violence)

Tertullian at the beginning of the third century said there are three forms of idolatry. One is the cultural or poetic … the other’s philosophical … and the third is political.

The demonisms inherent in the political order, or at least the demonisms to which the political order is especially prone – Tertullian says the most dangerous of these, the most serious of these, is political idolatry, because it carries the sword.

Father Patrick Henry Reardon, discussing his decision no longer to require or to sign Illinois marriage licenses in order to conduct a sacramental marriage.

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.