What is Civil Religion Annotated Bibliography

Ends and Means

The story of Baruch Goldstein is one that for me helps me to define ends and means. Goldstein was a deranged lunatic who believed that by murdering Muslims at prayer he could further the aims of Zionism. While his means were despicable in and of themselves, the fact that many extreme Jewish settlers have memorialized him shows that they are sympathetic both with his means and the end he embodied (Chapter 5, n.d.): total domination of the West Bank and the total annihilation of the Palestinian people. The reason I think if Goldstein when I think of ends and means is that he represents in the most literal way exactly how ends and means go together. They must align: the ends must be in alignment with the means and vice versa. From a Christian point of view, the end is union with God and the means are supplied by the Church—the Church’s teaching, the sacraments, the discipline and so on. One is taught that one should know, love and serve God in order to be happy with Him in the next life. The ends are in alignment with the means.

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Goldstein represents the ends and means too—just of the opposite end of the spectrum. Did Goldstein believe he was knowing and loving god in his despicable act of murder? I doubt it—but he probably did think in his own deluded way that he was advancing the aims of Zionism. Goldstein was a loud outspoken Zionist who wanted the Palestinians off the land. He decided to take matters into his own hands and remove them one by one by force. He chose to be a show of force, the image of force. He wanted them gone and he achieved that end through violence. He was the perfect representation of ends and means being in alignment. If only Christians could show such perfect alignment!

I myself struggle to have such alignment. I know what the end is I desire, but I struggle to make the means align with the end. If I wish to be in union with God in the next life, I sincerely have to use the means that are available to me: prayer, the teaching of Scripture and the Church, the sacraments and so on. If I do not achieve my end because I failed to know, love and serve God in this world, failed to keep the Commandments, then it will show that my means never aligned with my end—and if they never do, then the ends and means have no meaning.

My own personal thinking and definition of this term did not change much from the reading—except that the story of Goldstein helped me to put it into greater perspective. That story helped me to see that just because one’s ends and means are in alignment does not mean it is good. For it all to be good, the ends have to be good.


Again, I think of Goldstein when I think of othering, as he perfectly represents othering as well. Othering is the process of marginalizing others who are not of the same in-group as you: you push them into a separate camp and degrade them in the process. Othering is used to dominate over others. It is non-inclusive. It is exclusive. It says that some may not be part of my group and my group has the right to speak poorly of others because they are not one with us.

Othering is essentially anti-Christian in my opinion. Christ did not engage in othering. Christ was the symbol and personification of inclusion. He ate and talked with and healed sinners while the Pharisees rebuked Him for doing so, for being inclusive. The Pharisees were like ancient Goldsteins, always looking at how they were better than the others, better than the Samaritans—and Christ was not having it. He objected to their othering by telling stories and parables like “The Good Samaritan.” The Pharisees were not friends with the Samaritans and the idea that there could be a “good” Samaritan would have been outrageous to them. Christ tossed their othering back in their faces and showed that they themselves were not special because they were not of God—they did not have the same charitable spirit of God within them. Christ showed that the essence of God is charity: He Himself was charity, walking around and telling the truth and being kind to the poor and healing the sick. He did not ignore people because they were not of the right religion or ethnicity or political background or social class. He healed lepers, who were basically outcasts in the city. He had no problem with doing any of this. Christ did not engage in othering.

I have not actually thought about othering much before. It is not a term I consciously use—but the reading did help me to think about it and put my thoughts into words so that I could appreciate the term more. I think that what this reading allowed me to see is that othering is not a good process of demonstrating charity or of witnessing to others. To bring people to God, one must be like Christ, be holy, be charitable and not engage in othering. Othering is ultimately rooted in this idea that you are somehow special and your group is special—but this is not true. God is what makes things special and so to assume that you have this special quality is to assume that you know the mind of God—but no one knows the mind of God and that is something Scripture teaches everyone.

Civil Religion

This term is one I had not heard or thought of before, and I admit it is concerning. I accept Bellah’s definition of civil religion—as a vague or general religious expression or belief in God—a Deity Who is never named and never identified as the Triune God—but rather as just a general God. The civil religion in America is the state religion that was apparent from the days of the Founding Fathers to now, as Rodriguez (n.d.) shows. It is evidenced whenever a state dignitary dies and the funeral procession begins and everyone makes their speeches and drops a line about believing in God and the dead dignitary now being with God. But there is no mention of any specific religion or what means that dead dignitary used to reach God.

The civil religion tends to be based in this idea that America is the New Jerusalem as Rodriguez (n.d.) points out. America believes it has the mission and duty to proselytize to the rest of the world—but what is America’s religion? The religion of the state appears to be secular, grounded in “democracy,” which America attempts to spread through “humanitarian intervention” rather than through missionary work like the Apostles. The beliefs are liberal (freedom, equality, fraternity) rather than religious (the Ten Commandments). The belief system is supported by the members of the state and their stories, which are shared on the media—the new church of the civil religion. The TV screen is the pulpit where the word of the state is given.

None of this is aligned with the Word of God, however. And as much as the proponents of the civil religion like to talk about being of God, they do not demonstrate it in their actions—not in the way that any member of a religion that takes God’s laws seriously would do. For example, the civil religionists use their ideal of equality (the woman’s right to choose stems from this) to justify the slaughter of the innocents that occurs via abortion year in and year out. The high priests of the civil religion (the Supreme Court) have judged that the Constitution (the American Talmud) should be interpreted to hold that women have the right to choose what to do with their own bodies, just as men do. Therefore, killing the baby in their womb is not murder but merely a political choice. This is obscene and shows the depravity of the civil religion.

So before this reading I never thought of it in these terms, but now I understand what it is about America’s “relationship” with God that has always left me feeling uneasy: their relationship is based on their own belief system, their own civil religion, which puts politics before the Ten Commandments, and which puts an unknown, vague “god” before the Triune God.



Chapter 5. (n.d.). Digital file.

Rodriguez, Fr. (n.d.). Bellah’s Theory of Civil Religion in America. Digital File.








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