While it may be considered uncouth to bring up politics and religion at the family reunion, there are strong reasons to believe that our political regime benefits from the presence of active religious communities.
As the First Amendment to our Constitution details, citizens of this nation are granted the freedoms of religious expression, speech and the press, peaceable assembly, and redress for grievances. These rights are guaranteed as the first among equals, so to speak, for they provide a free people with the essential civic space to order their liberty, in pursuit of the common good.
It is particularly noteworthy that religious freedom tops the list, for it embodies that essential human activity of discerning what is of “ultimate concern,” to borrow the theologian Paul Tillich’s phrase. And, while each individual must discover that in a personal fashion, religion remains an ongoing, corporate activity that plays out in communities of worship. As such, those communities help to form the moral imagination of a nation’s people, generation after generation. In turn, those religious communities inform the citizenry’s conception of a good society, for they speak to the highest aspirations of the human spirit.
For a pluralistic society like America, the diversity of religious expression is both an essential freedom and a source of civic strength.
As evidence of the strength of this religious diversity, I offer two recent articles from colleagues that I also count as friends: Wilfred McClay and Ian Lindquist. Dr. McClay’s article looks closely at the rapprochement between Jews and Christians, the result of their shared commitments to the freedoms of two modern democracies—the United States and Israel—both of which draw upon a shared religious heritage.
Mr. Lindquist’s essay builds off of Eric Cohen’s recent article in Mosaic, “The Jewish Schools of the Future.” Lindquist specifically explores the implications of religious experience in relation to civic virtue. Moreover, he enthusiastically describes a recovery of classical education, among both Jews and Christians, highlighting their shared commitments to a robust form of education (think lots of books in multiple languages!), integral patterns of liturgical life, and a genuine patriotism that places country beneath the authority of the Almighty.
While Lindquist derives most of his observations from his personal experience with Catholic classical education, I suspect there are numerous ways to extrapolate for other Christian denominations, as well as other religious groups. In particular, for those of us working in classical education, Lindquist’s article highlights a handful of civic resources that may be useful to our colleagues across the country—both religious and “none affiliated.”
- Hillsdale College’s video series based on Wilfred McClay’s A Land of Hope
- Classical Learning Resource Center (Naples, Idaho)
- PBS animated series, Liberty’s Kids
- George Washington’s 1790 “Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport”
- SCOTUS Espinoza v. Montana decision
- Veterans’ societies (like VFW)
For generations, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and other religions have found a homeland in the United States, where they can practice their beliefs and raise their families with the freedom of conscience. Such freedom equips citizens to pursue the Highest Good (as they understand it) and contribute to the common good, in open conversation and civil deliberation with their fellow citizens. This is the true strength of a pluralistic society, where religion is honored and the public square is populated by men and women working to fulfill that national motto, E pluribus unum.
Now that’s a civic education worthy of the name.