chapter  7
14 Pages

Civil Religion

The vehicle had to be built from the ground up. Being a new nation with old memories, we had no indigenous body of traditional imagery to draw from and certainly didn't want what had been left behind in Europe. American Indians were cast aside as barbaric and inappropriate for symbolic use until they finally surfaced on onecent pieces toward the end of the nineteenth century (after they were no longer a serious threat to anyone.) Neither the Pilgrims, huddled on their New England rocks as self-conscious Protestants, nor the Cavaliers, building plantations on more hospitable land, thought of themselves as a "race" or a "nation." From the first our condensed and contrived symbols have been in conflict. The cross and the flag are dissimilar icons. Which do we follow in moments of peril? In times of triumph? If they make demands, which do we heed? Can a Roman Catholic, a Jew, or an agnostic preside over Protestant America?