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« Let the circle be unbroken | Main | Dickensmania! »

February 13, 2009

Give Me That Old-Time (Civil) Religion

Carradine [Ed. note: Steve Rempe, PFM website editor, is our newest blogger. His bio will be up on the contributors page sometime next week. Please join us in welcoming Steve to The Point! --GRD]

Norman Lear--the man who gave America All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and Sanford and Son--has produced a new anthem for the Obama Generation, a paean to the dawn of hope entitled "Born Again American."

There is a healthy dose of intentional irony in the title. Lear, in addition to producing half-hour morality plays packaged as sitcoms, has spent the last three decades fighting the perceived excesses of the "religious right" and its encroachment upon secular society, as founder and chairman of the board of People for the American Way.

There are several allusions to religion in the song--albeit in a very generic fashion. The chorus proclaims, "My Bible and my Bill of Rights/My creed's equality." When asked by U.S. News and World Report writer Dan Gilgoff if this indicates a softening on his position concerning strict separation of Church and state, Lear responds, "There should be a separation. Come into the discussion, that's what the song is about." (Lear also claims in the same interview that the development of the "religious left" is "a very positive development. That's what 'Born Again American' is about.") Songwriter Keith Carradine indicates in his comments that, in his mind, "my bible is The Bill Of Rights" (emphasis in original).

Representatives of varying religious backgrounds are presented singing in the video--an Episcopal choir in California, a Jewish cantor and a Muslim singer at Mount Rushmore, a gospel choir from Harlem.

Perhaps the most interesting contributor is a gray-haired, bespectacled Unitarian pastor from Austin, Texas. Identifying himself as a "liberal pastor," the Rev. Davidson Loehr claims that he would "do anything" for Lear. "We met after he had read my 2004 sermon, 'Living under Fascism,' and I was hooked on him as soon as I met him," says Loehr. Loehr claims to have preached on honesty, integrity, and "salvation by character" for 25 years. "These are always necessary messages," says Loehr, "but seldom more so than since 2000--or 1980." (One does not need to be a political scientist to identify those years as the election years of Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.)

There are several interesting questions raised by Lear's project. What is the role of religion in civil society? Is it desirable--or even possible--to create a civil religion that divorces the secular and the sacred? What exactly is "salvation by character," and who is doing the saving? And exactly what were these people before they became "Born Again Americans"? 

(Hat tip to Mollie Hemmingway at GetReligion.org; image © Born Again American)

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