Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Hidden rituals

Just read a good description of ritual yesterday (yes, I know the book is 10 years old!). It fits in well with my thoughts on a national secular religion and the picture that I'm posting below:

The basic formal properties include: repetition, acting (which involves doing, not just thinking or speaking), special behavior or stylization, order, evocative presentation style or staging, and a collective or social dimension. By virture [sic] of these properties, ritual is a “traditionalizing instrument,” that is, it makes what is expressed thereby acceptable and common. It hides the novelty and even radicalness of new ideas and acts. It also allows those of diverse social groups, even strangers, to participate together and feel commonality and solidarity. In addition to any direct teaching it may include, ritual communicates latently about morality, authority, the legitimacy of the social order, and the nature of social reality. And not only does it reflect these social aspects, it transforms society by its performance. Because they are dealing with secular ritual, the authors [Sally Moore and Barbara Myerhoff] avoid the problematic inclusion of the supernatural in the list of characteristic elements. But they do note how even secular ritual is connected with the notion of the sacred. The sacred may be partly defined as what is unquestionable. Ritual, and what it communicates, is similarly unquestionable, at least when it functions properly.—Ritual in Narrative, pages 10-11 (emphasis mine)

Now, with that in mind, look at the inscription on the wall behind Lincoln...

Civil religion, anyone? Who says we don't deify our heroes! By the way, that picture was taken by me Sunday afternoon, so I can vouch for its authenticity.

Now, stop and think about the national anthem, the pledge of allegiance, the rituals involved in displaying the flag, etc...

The most important line in the quotation above was the last one that I highlighted—"Ritual, and what it communicates, is similarly unquestionable, at least when it functions properly"—if you never thought about any of the things I'm raising in this post, then ritual did its job only too well. As Christians, our loyalty is first and foremost to God, and the pledge of allegiance is an admission that our primary loyalty is to the state...OK, I'm done; go ahead and tell me where I'm wrong, if you can.


That's my 2 cents! said...

The USA is, I believe, the first nation intentionally founded upon ideals/ideas hijacked from Christian narratives, and pressed into the service of the architects of America. Founded during the enlightenment the mix of religion and the ascent of idealized man, it is little wonder our nationalism carries such religious fervor.

One of the most glaring examples I can think of follows Tertullian's famous maxim, "The blood of the martyr are the seeds of the church." Now, ready, here comes the American version,

"The freedoms we hold dear are and have always been kept and ensured by the blood of patriots."

Think about that and see how much of our national narrative borrows (steals, actually) from Christian narratives. We don't ever have to look far to see how much Christianity and American nationalism are interwoven. Unfortunately, part of the work of the Church today needs to be unraveling this awful narrative tapestry, er...um...travesty.


jps said...

Yep. :(