Culture, Ideology and Religion

The Da Vinci Code & Mary Magdalene

Michel A Rizzotti

The popularity of The Da Vinci Code put Opus Dei and the Church at the center of a controversial limelight. As a result it created a reactionary backlash from the more conservative faction of the Church. Dan Brown’s book made accessible to millions of readers the topic of the sacred feminine. And created a long overdue public debate on Mary Magdalene. A subject matter that had been discredited for the past two millenniums. Relegated as a profane reality by a religious hierarchy. The book rekindles a spiritually sensitive subject of Christianity that could no longer be overshadowed.

Paris and London

Dan Brown’s story begins in Paris. The heroine is Sophie Neveu, a French freckled red haired with a startling pedigree. The book was published shortly after Dominique de Villepin’s famous stance at the UN challenging the US’ right to wage an illegal war against Iraq. Shortly after, “freedom fries” became the rage in Washington and a favorite American antidote for renowned French arrogance. However, history has taught France a tough lesson with its colonial ambitions in Algeria. And decades after its involvement, it is still paying the price for its misadventure. Some of the words uttered by the main villain in the book reverberates a global concern about revenge. They will remain embedded as a reminder of the folly of grand illusions of anyone who wants to save the world and play god with history. As the Teacher asks the professor:

Are you with me or against me.

For the most part, the story revolves around museums and churches in Paris and London. The mystery begins with the murder of the Louvre curator and ends in a church’s rectory located in Scotland where the secret of the Holy Grail lies. The author keeps his readers guessing by alternating clues between famous and invaluable works of art, legends, myths, math trivia, poetry, anagrams, ancient monuments and secret rituals. Switching between the interpretation of famous paintings, the Gospels and the more complex and obscure secrets behind ornate gothic churches and temples.

The Holy Grail

The first Code is revealed with the display of the body of the murdered Louvre curator Saunière lying in the position of the famous Vitruvian Man. Saunière and Leonardo da Vinci we find out were both Grand Masters of the Priory of Sion: a secret society created to safeguard the secret of the Holy Grail. One of Christendom’s most famous and enduring legends.

In Christian mythology, the Holy Grail was the dish, plate, cup or vessel used by Jesus at the Last Supper, said to possess miraculous powers. The connection of Joseph of Arimathea with the Grail legend dates from Robert de Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathie (late twelfth century) in which Joseph receives the Grail from an apparition of Jesus and sends it with his followers to Great Britain; building upon this theme, later writers recounted how Joseph used the Grail to catch Christ’s blood while interring him and that in Britain he founded a line of guardians to keep it safe. The quest for the Holy Grail makes up an important segment of the Arthurian cycle, appearing first in works by Chrétien de Troyes (Loomis 1961). The legend may combine Christian lore with a Celtic myth of a cauldron endowed with special powers.

The development of the Grail legend has been traced in detail by cultural historians: It is a gothic legend, which first came together in the form of written romances, deriving perhaps from some pre-Christian folklore hints, in the later 12th and early 13th centuries. The early Grail romances centered on Percival and were woven into the more general Arthurian fabric. The Grail romances started in France and were translated into other European vernaculars; only a handful of non-French romances added any essential new elements. Some of the Grail legend is interwoven with legends of the Holy Chalice. ─Wikipedia

Harrison Ford in Harris Tweed

Who in their right mind would have thought that a professor of Religious Symbology would one day be the hero of a best selling mystery that would sell over 30 million copies worldwide. Robert Langdon is a Harvard University professor whose field is the study and interpretation of ancient sacred symbols. The night of the murder he happens to be in Paris as an invited guest to give a lecture and slide show on the pagan symbolism hidden in the stones of Chartres’ Cathedral.

Langdon is the writer of a manuscript entitled “Symbols of the Lost Sacred Feminine” yet to be published. The book deals with the history of goddess worship with several chapters on Mary Magdalene that are considered to be quite controversial. It prompted the editor to send the manuscript to a number of serious historians and art luminaries for their endorsement prior to the printing of Advance Reading Copies. Among the recipients of the draft was Jacques Saunière, who was found dead in the museum. Langdon and the curator both share a passion for the history of the sacred feminine and Mary Magdalene. They felt that the goddess’ role in the development of religious thought had been undermined by the curia.

The plot moves quickly after the discovery of Robert Langdon’s name written in blood next to the murdered body of Saunière on the Louvre’s museum floor. The professor becomes judicial police chief Bezu Fache’s prime suspect. He is saved from the constricting hold of the police by Saunière’s granddaughter Sophie Neveu, who happens to be a police cryptologist. She helps Langdon escape from the scene of the crime. Free to pursue their quest to resolve the mystery behind the murder. They begin their Harvard scavenger hunt.

Da Vinci and Saunière

Saunière was a devoted Leonardo da Vinci expert. Both were Grand Masters of the Priory of Sion. Most of the clues in the story revolve around Saunière’s use of da Vinci’s interpretation of paintings and crafts that point to the nature and identity of the elusive Holy Grail.

Langdon weighed his words carefully. “I was just thinking that Saunière shared a lot of spiritual ideologies with Da Vinci, including a concern over the Church’s elimination of the sacred feminine from modern religion.”

As a former Grand Master of the Priory of Sion Leonardo da Vinci’s works hold the key to the secret society’s reverence for the sacred feminine. He shares with Saunière an ongoing duty to preserve the secret of the tomb of Mary Magdalene and the documents that hold the truth about the divine feminine. As the story nears its final code we find out that the word APPLE is the key word that opens the precious keystone.

The symbol of the fall of the sacred feminine.

At this point we would like to alert the reader to one of the more popular and enduring misconceptions regarding the symbol of the fall. And to the fact that there is no mention of an apple in Genesis III. Eve simply eats a “fruit from the tree”. The popular misconception is so embedded in our psyche that it made its way into the logo of a famous brand of computers. The discrepancy shows how myths evolve and become intertwined with reality and become part of our acceptable way of thinking.

One explanations as to how the confusion occurred, and not necessarily the correct one, is the following: When the Bible was translated into Latin the word malum ─meaning evil, implying Eve’s doing─ became identified with the words pyrus malus ─meaning apple tree. It might be added that the confusion was not dispelled by the Magisterium and seems to confirm our heroes distrust about the Church’s motive in maintaining Eve’s guilt in the fall of mankind.

The Teacher

The killer of  Saunière is an albino named Silas. He is a member of Opus Dei ─a powerful and secretive order established as a personal prelature by Pope John Paul II. Silas is a protégé of a misguided Bishop named Aringarosa, who commands the albino to blindly obey the Teacher’s directives. He is told that his unconditional obedience will save the Church. Silas is unknowingly being manipulated by the obscure Teacher to find a mysterious keystone in the possession of the Priory of Sion, of which Saunière was the last surviving member and Grand Master. The Teacher’s goal is to take possession of the keystone with the intention to reveal to the world its secret content and the identity of the Holy Grail. A secret so startling that it could destroy the Roman Catholic Church.

The Teacher who single-handedly plots to destroy the Church is non other than Leigh Teabing an expert on the Holy Grail and former British Royal Historian, a peer of Robert Langdon. He has vowed vengeance against the Priory of Sion for having rescinded on their promise to reveal the secret of the Holy Grail at the end of the millennium. Having said this, we should not be surprised to find out that the Teacher, with his evil intentions, is deliberately spreading inaccurate facts about early developments of the Church and its canon.

The following are among a few of the many discrepancies outlined by the Teacher:

Jesus Christ’s life was not “recorded by thousands of followers across the land”. Scholars now agree that none of the writers of the Gospels new or ever met Jesus. These account were written in koiné ─Greek, roughly between 70 to 100 AD, more than 30 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. They were written by Jewish scribes who were living in a culturally Hellenized Palestine under Roman occupation. In all probability Jesus spoke Aramaic ─part of a northwest Semitic group of languages which includes Hebrew. And in all likelihood Jesus did not read or write. The same applies to all of his apostles, who were for the most part mere fishermen and peasants. In ancient Judaism, reading and writing was a closely guarded craft and privilege held by the scribes and priests.

There were not “eighty” gospels that were considered for the New Testament as stated by the Teacher. And Constantine did not commission a “new Bible”. The New Testament –twenty seven book canon─ as we know it today, was first documented as a list of books that were felt appropriate to read, and put together by Athanasius the bishop of Alexandria, circa 367 CE.

The Dead Sea Scrolls ─also known as the Qumran documents─ were not “found” in the 1950’s but in 1947. They were not among the earliest “Christian records” but were a description of rules of conduct of an early Jewish community, most likely the Essene. This community was primarily made up of single celibate men who dedicated their lives to spiritual purification in preparation for the impending “end of time”. A time when God would intervene to overthrow the forces of evil and reward the righteous. Some scholars have surmised that Jesus had a similar apocalyptic world view as the Essenes and might have shared their rule of conduct. Consequently, contrary to Teabing’s assertion, Jewish custom did not forbid men to be unmarried.

There is no scholarly evidence or proof that Mary Magdalene was connected to the House of Benjamin or that she was a descendant of King David. Even less so that she was pregnant at the crucifixion.

Moreover, Q is not a book written by Jesus. And it is not a surviving source being secretly guarded by the Church. Q ─an abbreviation from the German word quelle meaning “source”─ simply refers to a hypothetical “source” of Jesus sayings that scholars have found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

And lastly: The Gnostic Gospels does not refer to a collection of the Nag Hammadi and the Dead Sea Scrolls documents but is the title of a book written by Elaine Pagels.

As it happens these discrepancies do not interfere with the book’s core premise about the fact that some of Leonardo’s clues about the feminine mystique highlight the overshadowed and discredited Mary Magdalene…

Mary Magdalene

Although Jesus speaks consistently of his absent Father, it is his mother that is present at the most crucial moments in his life. First and foremost, she gives birth to Jesus. As his mother she is responsible for his education that will eventually prepare him for his divine mission. She is present at the wedding at Cana when she asks Jesus to perform his first miracle instigating his public ministry. She is present in the background following her son throughout his preaching. She has the painful fate to witness her son’s humiliating crucifixion under the hands of the Roman occupying power. Having said that, it is another Mary, and none of the 12 apostles, that has the privilege to witness the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1)

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In 1969, shortly after the conclusion of Vatican II, the Catholic Church officially disclosed that the enduring belief that identified Mary Magdalene as a prostitute was not based on any factual or scriptural evidence, henceforth clearing her name. The magisterium also asserted that Mary Magdalene should not be confused with Mary the sister of Lazarus, from the town of Bethany. Mary Magdalene should be identified with a person from a town called Magdala located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

There is no scholarly consensus as to the origin of the surname Magdalene. The Church’s position is that it refers to a place named Magdal ─meaning tower or fortress. However, such a place on the banks of the Sea of Galilee no longer existed at the time of Jesus. In the first century such location was overtaken by the prosperous Greek city of Taricheae.

The surname “Magdala” ─Hebrew Migdal = tower, fortress; Aramaic Magdala─ should be viewed as a symbolic attribute in terms of “fortitude”. Similar in fashion to John who was also known as John the Baptist. Or Simon who was given the metaphorical name the “rock” by Jesus and became henceforth known as Peter ─meaning rock.

During Jesus’ ministry, a number of women followed their teacher but typically stayed in the background of the 12 male apostles. In Mark (15:40-41) and Luke (8:1-3) we find out that these women, including Mary Magdalene, provide financial support to Jesus’ ministry. And in break with tradition, Jesus (Luke 10:38-42) encourages Mary, sister of Martha, in her decision to attend his teachings rather than stay home to take care of her household duties.

At the time, women were regarded as the property of men, or as being under their jurisdiction. The only exception were women of wealth. In that era men and women worshiped in separate places. And as part of their morning devotion, men were thankful to God for not being “born a woman”.

Early on Jesus cures Mary Magdalene of her possession of seven demons. Possession was a term used to imply an illness for which there was no known explanation or cure. Somehow this is still valid today.

The Gospels recounts that in the town of Bethany a woman with an alabaster jar anoints Jesus’ feet with “very expensive ointment” ─some estimate the value at one year’s wages. The description of the scene is to say the least very sensuous. At Jesus’ request she is told to keep the remainder of the “costly” oil for his burial. And the woman that will be present with the ointment at the burial turns out to be Mary Magdalene. The apostles however, are scandalized by such an act of devotion and waist. They question why so much money should be spent so frivolously instead of feeding the poor. Furthermore, it is considered a disgrace for a woman to touch an unmarried man. Jesus tells them to leave her alone, because she has done for him a good work. And Jesus probably knew better than to argue with a wealthy Jewish woman. The surprising part about this episode is that it is recounted in all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Only three other stories are shared by the four Gospels: the baptism of Jesus, the multiplication of loaves, and the crucifixion.

The Hebrew word messiah means anointed. In Jewish tradition the anointment is typically performed by a priest during the sacred coronation of a king. The story about Jesus’ anointment in the Gospels is starling to say the least. One could interpret the passage as the anointment by a woman of Jesus the Messiah. A symbolic act of total devotion and respect. It is not performed by any of Jesus’ twelve male apostles who considered the act as scandalous and against Jewish tradition.

In the eight times a list of women is mentioned in the Gospels, on every occasion except one Mary Magdalene’s name appears first. Only at the crucifixion is Mary the mother of Jesus mentioned first and Mary Magdalene last. The Mary whose womb gave birth to Jesus is present at his death. Whereas it is Mary of Magdala who discovers the empty tomb that is a witness of the risen Christ.

In all four Gospels, the women that accompany Jesus during his last week are also present at the crucifixion. They alone remain present until the end, whereas all male disciples flee. It is also stated that the female followers were the first to witness that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb. In the Gospel of John it is Mary Magdalene alone who acknowledges the empty tomb. While in the other versions it is Mary Magdalene accompanied by other women.

I have seen the Lord, and he said these things to me. (John 20:18)

Mary Magdalene is the first to witness the risen Lord. She is also chosen as a messenger to spread the good news ─ gospel. As it happens, the root word apostle in Greek means messenger. Therefore, Mary Magdalene and the other women are to be equally considered apostles.

The Metaphor as Code

The whole premise of The Da Vinci Code is the quest for the Holy Grail : the legendary cup at Jesus’ Last Supper. Alternatively described as a holy cup, royal blood or holy bloodline. Brown’s mystery has proposed some controversial ideas about Mary Magdalene and the meaning of the Sangraal.

We would like to introduce at this point the role of the metaphor in terms of symbolic significance that might hold the key to the Holy Grail:

I am the door ─gate  (John 10:9)

I am the way (John 14:6)

In other words, Jesus in the Gospels uses the metaphor to reveal his message.

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my community ─Church. (Mat 16:18)

Jesus tells Simon that he is a rock ─peter literally means rock─ and he will be known as the rock on which Jesus will build his community. An additional indication that the metaphor holds a vital role in the meaning of the Holy Grail.

The last supper is where Jesus shares his last meal, breaks the bread and drinks from the sacred cup. The scene is the center of the whole Catholic faith. And the Eucharist is a sacrament that faithful Catholics partake in Church with the holy communion. At the Last Supper Jesus shares the bread and wine with his apostles and says these words.

This is my body…This is my blood (Mark 14: 22-24)

Again we would like to stress the importance of the metaphor as the great code that offers additional clues as to the secret of the Holy Grail.

The metaphor is a figure of speech that implies a shift in meaning and a spiritual code. A break in the normal use of language. Simultaneously breaking with the normal social conventions and religious practices. Simply put, the metaphorical interpretation of the Gospels could be considered as a keystone behind the last supper and the Holy Grail. What the cup holds is not wine but the metaphorical sacrificial blood. It could be added that the metaphor is a stark contradiction to the literal interpretation of the Bible.

Furthermore, if Simon is the metaphorical rock on which Jesus will build his Church, is Mary Magdala, who was the first to witness the risen Lord, to be considered the metaphorical tower that will be built on that rock ─foundation. In addition, the name Madgal-eder also appears in Micah (4:8-10) and refers symbolically to a tower or stronghold of the flock. Mary Magdalene then, will stand on the rock as the stronghold for all future Christian communities.

The quest for the Holy Grail is the quest to kneel before the bones of Mary Magdalene. A journey to pray at the feet of the outcast one.

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The Real Mary Magdalene; The National Geographic Channel – YouTube.com

(1) I would like to emphasize that my interest in the subject does not stem from my personal beliefs in or devotion to the sacred feminine, but is based on the observation that the goddess principle has been overshadowed in the Judeo-Christian sacred narratives. This leads me to conclude that our so-called western civilization lives by some type of perceptual scotoma ─a blind spot in a visual field of reality. This cultural and religious trait is part of my ongoing study and interest.

My interest also stems from the fact that Pope Pius XII, in the dogma of the Assumption, refers to the Mother of God as the Heavenly Queen. And in the Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women, dated June 29 1995, Mary is referred to as the Queen of heaven and earth. In several passages of the Old Testament we can readily find a goddess named Ashera who is permanently chastised by a jealous God. Ironically, that same goddess is also known by the title of Queen of Heaven.

Corporatism

Michael A. Rizzotti

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.

James Madison

Many articles have been written about the growing similarities between the rise of Italian fascism ─corporatismo─ and the current US ideological swing to the right. We propose some additional observations about the prevailing corporatist ideology and its hold on Washington DC. Noting some continental differences between the political exaltation of Italian politics and a corporatist claim to a global Imperium.

The word fascism comes from the Italian fascio meaning bundle. Mussolini was attracted to this ancient Roman symbol of the fasces representing strength and authority. It was meant to symbolize the different regions of Italy and guilds bound together to create a stronger country. The slogan “united we stand” fills similar political aspirations.

In order to understand fascism one has to keep in mind that Italy has been a country only since 1861, following what is known as il Risorgimento. Prior to the unification, Italy had been ruled by a dominant Church in Rome, by kingdoms and powerful city states and finally by foreign powers. Today Italy is made up of 20 regions, some of which are divided into two or more provinces. Each of these regions have their own dialect and distinct foods. They have little in common except Italian as an official language. Which was imposed to the whole country by banning the teaching of dialects in schools which were under Church control. These dialects could very well be considered languages as they are incomprehensible to the inhabitants of other regions. Friuly, where I come from, is proud of its language and is part of a region with strong separatist inclinations. Friulani for instance, don’t understand a word of Sicilian and vise versa. You could say that Italy was, and still is, a cauldron of multiculturalism. This agglomeration of regional rivalries prompted Mussolini to remark: “It is not difficult to rule Italy, it is useless.”

Mussolini was born in 1883 in Dovia di Predappio in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, famous for its Ferraris, Maseratis, parmegiano and prosciutto. He was a turbulent student but got good grades. His father was a socialist and his son was too. In 1902 Mussolini emigrated to Switzerland in order to escape his military service. Not an uncommon trait among our more bellicose leaders. During is stay in Switzerland he became an active member of the socialist movement of the country. Benito later came back to Italy and dabbled in journalism and eventually founded a newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia ─The Italian People. In 1917 he was called up for military service and was wounded in a grenade accident during a training exercise. The incident allowed him return to editing his newspaper and avoid the service.

Mussolini made his early mark in the world of politics mostly by fighting anarchists and communists. He eventually became prime minister with the help of King Victor Emmanuel III. The King was fearful that if he did not choose the fascist leader, Italy which was prone to regional discord, would end up in a civil war. Mussolini was quickly able to consolidate his power by exploiting fears of division in an environment of postwar depression and a general feeling of anxiety among the middle-class.

Mussolini had been an active socialist member until he abandoned the idea of class struggle in favor of stati corporativi. A similar concept was promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum in1891. It was issued to counter the growing influence of socialism and class struggle. Instead the Church promoted its own Catholic trade unions managed by  “corporate bodies” as an alternative to class conflict. Mussolini’s change of heart made him appealing to a greater number of voters and powerful institutions. Under his leadership business owners, workers, trade unions, professionals, and other economic groups were organized into 22 associations—or guilds. They were given representation in a legislative body known as Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni.

The symbol of the fascio was meant to indicate the unifying strength of all the guilds and corporations. The unifying body also integrated a geographically fragmented and diverse Italy into a greater market area. This idealistic union led to a totalitarian political system that became known as fascism.

Prior to Italy’s move to fascism, the country had been a liberal democracy. Mussolini’s claim to be a compassionate leader helped him get the backing of the Liberals in parliament. With their support Mussolini introduced strict censorship laws and changed the rules of elections in 1925 and 1926. His victory helped him assume dictatorial powers and proceeded to discredit all his political adversaries. With the support of his corporatist allies he skillfully used his control over the press to create the myth of Il Duce ─ The Leader. A godlike image of a man who didn’t need any sleep and who was always right. A hero who never made or admitted to a mistake and could solve any problems for his country. Il Duce demanded total loyalty from his subjects and any resistance was dealt with his fascist militia called the Brownshirts. He eventually succeeded in securing complete power. However, under his regime his government became too centralized, incompetent and corrupt.

In 1929 Mussolini signed a concordat with the Vatican that recognized the sovereignty of Vatican City. In return the Church also recognized Italy as a State. The name Benito, meaning “blessed”, is an appropriate depiction of a mutual anointment by the Church and State. Il Duce then promoted the idea of a New Roman Empire that made him increasingly popular. However, dreams of a grand empire did not extend farther than the bombing of Corfu, the invasion of Albania and later Ethiopia.

In June 1940 Mussolini declared war on Britain and France. He attacked Greece in October and as a result lost a great portion of Albania. Undeterred, he declared war on the Soviet Union in June 1941. Shortly after in December, he declared war on the United States. An act that would eventually seal his downfall. Meanwhile, the US was fostering a deal with the mafia allowing the 1943 invasion of Sicily by an Anglo-American coalition to be met without resistance. Il Duce might have forgotten that in 1866 Palermo revolted against Italy. And to this day they do not consider themselves Italian but Sicilian.

Common Signs

Among the noteworthy similarity between pre-war Italy and the US today is the subsidizing of big business by the government. Most of it at the expense of small business and the poor. As a point of reference, Mussolini consistently demanded wage reductions from labor. The  one-time socialist leader also abolished the inheritance tax, a measure that resulted in further subsidizing of the wealthy by the poor. Eventually wages and living standards for the average Italian dropped sharply.

Mussolini allowed huge amount of money to be spent on public works and toward the heavy industry and a growing “military industrial complex”. However, Mussolini who at the onset privatized a great number of state owned assets, later began reverting these policies and demanded strict centralized control over the country’s industries.

Likewise, laws enacted by Congress in the past two decades have been substantially more valuable to big business. The gradual erosion of antitrust legislation resulted in corporate mergers and consolidation. Ironically it took a Democratic President ─Bill Clinton─ to repeal federal antitrust laws that had been in place since the Great Depression.

A similar cartelization process that made fascism possible in Italy was sealed in the US in 1988. Executive Order 12631–Working Group on Financial Markets (WGFM) ─also known as the Plunge Protection Team (PPT)─ decreed by President Reagan set a blueprint for the merger between the Security and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission ─or their “designees”─ with the FED and the Secretary of the Treasury ─or their “designees”. The decree allied corporate and political elites into a single controlling body with covert powers over key financial and futures markets. Irrevocably altering the healthy separation between Wall Street and Washington and making the coronation of US corporate kingdoms inevitable.

Since the Executive Order, the US has seen a transfer of savings from the majority of the population into the stock market, to excessive consumption and an unhealthy accumulation of debt. Leaving people chasing bubble after bubble in an illusive quest of wealth. This erosion of savings was compounded by relentless tax cuts in favor of the rich. With the nefarious effect that the bulk of the country’s economy was diverted in the hands of a small group of majority shareholders, fund managers and CEO’s.

John Perkins, the author of  “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”, reveals some startling statistics:

Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporations; of those, 47 are U.S.-based

The overall share of federal taxes paid by U.S. corporations is now less than 10 percent, down from 21 percent in 2001 and over 50 percent during World War II; one-third of America’s largest and most profitable corporations paid zero taxes ─ or actually received credits ─ in at least one of the last three years (according to Forbes magazine).

Back in 1980 the average American chief executive earned 40 times as much as the average manufacturing employee. For the top tier of American CEOs, the ratio is now 475:1 and would be vastly greater if assets, in addition to income, were taken into account. By way of comparison, the ratio in Britain is 24:1, in France 15:1, in Sweden 13:1.

Pre-Civil War slaves received room and board; wages paid by the sweatshops that today serve many U.S. industries will not cover the most basic needs.

In the beginning of the US Republic, only men who owned property could vote. Today the rulers of the “ownership society” determine the outcome of an election. The process of cartelization and concentration of power is such that both parties are subservient to a corporatist agenda. And even if the majority of Congressmen and women are honest people, and we believe they are, only a minority of controlled swing votes can determine the outcome of important legislation favorable to special interests or big business.

Bundled Inc.

In the US, the corporation is considered a legal person. And all corporations have a similar legal structure and abide by the same accounting rules and practices. Corporations may sell or produce different things but in respect to their legal structure, they are one similar legal entity ─person. The agglomeration of different mega-corporations is depicted here as a bundle and represents one incorporated body, subverting and denigrating by its unabated growth the essence of the human being.

As noted, this legal person is not a human being. Although they have the same rights as a regular citizens their responsibilities toward society or nature can be bypassed through lobbying. Civil duties could be deferred indefinitely by putting their enormous financial resources into endless litigation or by declaring bankruptcy and morphing into another corporate entity.

It should be stressed that the corporation plays an essential part in our economic development and is beneficial to society as a whole. However, we make a distinction here between the good corporation and a malignant corporatism. When the corporation becomes bloated through mergers and acquisitions and eliminates competition and diversity with the help of derivatives, then it becomes counter evolutionary. When these bundle-corporations align themselves together with the government and the war industry, they can become a malignant threat to civilization.

Since the Reagan years the process of cartelization of big business has been steady and relentless. The US citizen is loosing more and more of his rights and is now relegated to a gentile consumer. The President has become but a disposable mask of the incorporated body. His role relegated to the perception management of desinformocracy and the false advertising of democracy.

One must remember that US corporatism is also subsidized by a powerful US arms industry used to expand its corporatist agenda. Yet the bulk of the military expenditure are paid for by taxes levied on the ordinary citizen. And so are the casualties of war. History reveals that the economic survival of an empire rests on the ability to tax other nations not its own people.

Furthermore, the great leaps of technology made over the centuries are now being used to enforce a regressive corporate tribalism. One of the most overlooked consequences of the process of cartelization is the induction of a corporate feudalism. These new corporate kingdoms represent a devolution of human governance. They reinstate tribalism at the expense of universal principles of human rights developed during a long and arduous road to implement democracy.

Consequently, corporatism is defined as a political agenda to organize society in the image of the “corporation” or an artificial person, in order to override the sovereignty of the citizen: all for the benefit of the majority shareholder. Minimizing the autonomy of nations and creating in the process the Investor State.

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We owe the term corporatism to an Italian philosopher named Giovanni Gentile who defined it as the “the merger of state and corporate power”. In retrospect the fascist era can be summarized as an alliance of corporate interests represented by the Church in Rome, the aristocracy who had shifted its wealth from feudal to corporate share holding, a rising and powerful group of industrial entrepreneurs (heavy machinery and armaments) and the anointing of a charismatic leader, in this case a former journalist and socialist, chosen to unify and consolidate the geographical boundaries of the state in order to control and delineate an economic market for the benefit of the corporatist body. Once in power Mussolini rebelled against the ruling powers that anointed him. This led to the unraveling of the fascist power scheme and the liberation, or the invasion depending on who you ask, by the US.

My father who was briefly in the Italian forces during the war still has fond memories of Il Duce, because he explains: “He instilled discipline in Italians”. He omits to add that he also instigated Italy’s collapse. Mussolini however, did leave one lasting legacy: Italian trains to this day run on time.

An Italian proverb was created after Mussolini’s death and it goes like this: “Those who are always right and never admit to being wrong will end up hanging upside down in piazza Loreto”

 

Lady Di: A Media Consecrated Icon

Michael A Rizzotti

Diana Spencer was launched onto the world stage when it became known that Prince Charles chose her to be his wife. Who can forget a first sight of Diana stretching her long legs out of a Mini Austin, her body unfolding in front of a horde of cameramen lying in wait. A slim five feet ten inches tall blond with a wry smile, instantly made the headlines news around the world. In retrospect, who could have conjured a more tragic story than the one about her short and luminous life.

The fairy tale began when Prince Charles, being of a certain age, was feeling the pressure from the Queen to finally settle down and provide the kingdom with an heir. There were several prospects among the eligible ladies. For his choice the Prince had to abide by certain requirements. He could not marry a Catholic. She would have to be a Protestant, preferably a member of the Church of England. The bride to be was expected to have aristocratic background. And she would also have to be a virgin. Diana Spencer met all of the qualifications. Once the requirements were met he would need the royal court’s approval.

They married at St Paul’s Cathedral on July 29th 1981. The ceremony was viewed by a global audience of close to a billion viewers. It turned out to be among the most watched religious ceremony ever broadcasted.

From her obscure life as an aspiring ballerina, and later a part-time aide at a nursery school, Diana was swiftly swirled into the limelight. Lifted out of lonely anonymity, and cast into the royal intrigue of Buckingham Palace. Ironically Diana would eventually be baptized with the nick name Lady Di, a homonym that spelled out the omen of her tragic destiny. Unaware that she would be irreversibly ensnarled in the abyss of fame, the victim of her own popularity.

To this day it is hard to determine whether Diana was lonely girl or solitary woman. Either might have been due to the fact that she had been a motherless teenager. This may explain why she then dedicated her life to search of a knight in shining armor. Not an uncommon trait among teenage girls. She did find one eventually, to the envy of millions of women around the world.

Part reality show and part Sleeping Beauty, the stage was slowly being set for a most enduring postmodern fairy tale. A rivalry between a beautiful and stylish young princess and a severe Queen mother-in-law. Both competing for the attention of a prince and favorite heir. Unbeknown to them that Charles was in love with another woman. The discovery of the love affair would eventually spark all around feelings of betrayal and recrimination.

From the start Diana indulged in the fame game. Faced with the infidelity of her husband, she used the media to her own advantage. She deliberately courted the paparazzi when she felt abandoned by the royal family after her separation. How else could she stand up to the most powerful woman of the land. Although she used the media she also blamed the paparazzi for the lack of privacy she sought. The ambivalent quest for fame and privacy would eventually lead to her tragic death.

Lady Di had a knack for cultivating her image of accessibility and vulnerability that charmed her devoted fans. Her increasing popularity and openness made her an outcast from the royal family who were sinking in popularity in the eyes of their royal subjects. The humorless, orderly and sheltered images of the royal life where no longer popular and remnants of the past. While Lady Di was portrayed as passionate, fun loving and vulnerable. A star quality that led to her adoption by the media who crowned her with an aura of fame.

Diana embodied the dual nature of a saint and sinner. Saint, to the great majority of world fans who were devoted to her. Sinner, to the aristocracy who shunned her for her public spotlight and personal disclosure. The upper crust is known to be a conservative lot. They believe that royalty should behave properly by setting a good example of stoic composure and stiff upper lip.

A Postmodern Celebrity Cult

It was with her tragic death on August 31st 1997 that Princess Diana was consecrated as a popular icon. In her essay Lady Di et Mère Teresa, Christine Pina makes a persuasive analysis of the funeral ceremony of Diana viewed by billions of spectators. She sees the event as a rediscovery of a cultic practice in a post-modern world. These observations according to Pina, point to a “media” induced form of religiosity. What Jacques Ellul described as the shifting nature of the sacred that morphs into other modes of cultic expression.

Among the noted dignitaries attending the funeral service, was a visible Prime Minister Tony Blair, an emotional Elton John and Diana’s brother who vented out his frustration in an eulogy full of reproach in front of an applauding crowd. A service that included readings from the Bible, prayers and moments of silence. All viewed by billions of viewers who participated in a service typically reserved for an intimate few. Making the ceremony one of the most viewed religious service in history, surpassing the Princess’ wedding ceremony.

The broadcasting of people, some in tears, some visibly moved, laying their bouquet of flowers over a huge floral display in front of a gated Kensington House, are visible signs of heartfelt sorrow, a viewers’ communion of sort, a novel brand of religiosity. What to say about the bridge of Alma in Paris, where Diana’s car fatally crashed in its underpass, which by some twisted turn of fate is the Latin word for “soul”. A place which has since the accident been a popular shrine where devoted fans congregate to commemorate the death of their beloved princess.

The princess’ trademark of walking among the lepers, aids patients, holding maimed infants with a passionate embrace rekindled the old English tradition called “touching” the sick. The practice was associated with the king’s magical healing powers over his subjects by laying a hand on them. He being the earthly representative and the embodiment of divine power. The practice dates back to the medieval times and went out of fashion at the turn of the 19th century.

All the while, the drama is unfolding under a Queen’s reign who happens to be the head of the Church of England, a similar role as the pope in Rome, blurring the separation between the temporal and the religious.

Mother Teresa

Barely six days after Diana’s tragic death, Mother Teresa passed away on September 5th 1997. Worn out by years of humble service dedicated to the outcasts in the slums of Calcutta. The overwhelming popularity of Diana’s tragedy overshadowed the death of an old and exhausted nun. Unable to compete for attention, the funeral had to be postponed for three days. Prompting a local journalist to write that there were hardly any tears left for a little and unassuming nun who died in silent anonymity. In stark contrast to a life at the Ritz, a speedy car chase and the violent death of a young and rich princess, a world away from the glitter and hordes of paparazzi.

Shortly after her death, Mother Teresa was beatified by John Paul II, the second step towards sainthood. The nun was known to be a staunch Roman Catholic with an uncompromising position on abortion. She faithfully submitted to the teaching of the Church with a stoic acceptance of poverty and the established order. These positions raised criticism about the real nature of her missionary work that were seen as a promotional flagship for a Church mired in sexual scandal and declining popularity. As for the people of India, they were weary of a Catholic nun displaying to the world the slums of Calcutta as if there were none in other countries.

By 2007 Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity resulted in a ministry that included approximately 450 brothers and 5,000 nuns worldwide, operating missions, schools and shelters in over 120 countries. In 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work. A remarkable accomplishment for a tiny nun born in the obscure town of Skopje in the Republic of Macedonia on August 26th 1910.

The two funeral ceremonies revealed two worlds, literally poles apart. The first in London, the center of the British Empire of old, the second, in a former British colony. The princess’ Anglican ceremony was all glitter and mass appeal and was televised to a good portion of planetary viewers. On the opposite side of the globe, a Catholic mass attended by 15,000 people at Netaji indoor stadium in Calcutta. Two funeral services each with their own religious historical backgrounds. Both exhibiting a comparable postmodern media induced form of religiosity.

Funeral Ceremonies

The funerals reveal two distinctive Christian displays of ritual expression. A simple and rudimentary example of the difference between Catholics and Reformed can be illustrated by the symbolism of the crucifix and the cross. The figure of Jesus-Christ typically appears on the cross for Catholics whereas for the Reformed the cross is in some cases bare and absent of an agonizing body. The first stresses sacrifice, suffering and the surrender to God’s will. The second suggests an absent body of Jesus who has conquered death and heralds a resurrected body of Christ. The former entails an acceptance of suffering and submission to fate. The latter implies redemption and the glory of the risen Lord.

Two different mediated forms of salvation suddenly come to the fore in succeeding funeral services: In one, an exalted princess presented in all her glory. Reigning on a global audience, crowned by the media with a halo of fame. The other, images of sacrifice and poverty, a visible imitation of Jesus’ presence among the powerless and outcasts.

Sainthood

Both heroines point to a postmodern reinterpretation of sainthood. The term saint typically refers to an individual whose motives and actions reflect the will of God. One who possesses some powerful divine attributes. A person who is a model of religious behavior. Miracles attributed to the candidate after his or her death is an important criteria for sainthood. It reveals the saint’s ongoing saving presence of God. This is especially valid in the case of a martyr or someone who died a tragic death.

In a postmodern sort of way we can make an analogy of Diana’s posthumous miracle in terms of the influence she had on the British parliament on the favorable outcome of banning land mines. Also, soon after her death, the Parliament refused to cover the expenses of the royal yacht Britannia paid for by the commoner’s taxes.

As for Mother Teresa, the Vatican is currently reviewing the instance of a miracle that occurred with her intercession. The healing of a tumor of an Indian woman named Monica Besra, who attributes her cure to the application of a locket containing the nun’s picture.

Since her death, Mother Teresa’s personal letters became public and revealed a person with a deep sense of doubt about her faith. Disclosing long periods of longing to feel the presence of Jesus Christ. A presence she sought more than anything else. The letters reveal moments of “darkness” and “loneliness” which she could not dispel. In the end, these doubts did not alter her dedication and commitment to God’s will embodied by her presence among the poor and outcasts.

Sacred Media & Profane Audience

One can narrow the meaning of religion, or religio as the Romans called it, as the cultus deorum (the cults of the gods). Defined as the scrupulous performance of prescribed rituals to the gods. They include a rigorous separation between what belongs to the gods and the mortals. All implemented by a strict juridical boundary between the sacred and the profane. This separation is illustrated by the boundaries set by the templum or the pomerium (religious boundaries). A boundary that the mortals cannot cross or transgress. Any transgression is enforced by the vengeful wrath of the gods. And is also implemented by the unforgiving punishment set by the law. Additionally, sacrare signified to segregate what belongs to the sphere of the humans in order to be consecrated to the gods.

This key aspect of the separation between the sacred and the profane can be found in most world religions and agnostic beliefs. In a postmodern world, the arbitrary separation between the sacred and the profane is seen as being imposed by the media’s technological boundary. This separation is even more radical than the one imposed by the Romans through mythical or juridical means.

As Pina points out, the funerals would not have been omnipresent without the help of the media. As a result, the media has juxtaposed itself onto the world as the gateway to the sacred. A self-ordained tele-vision of religiosity. And in the process transformed the home into media controlled sanctuary. Keeping the separation between the sacred icons and the profane audience complete. Making the sacred physically inaccessible to the profane viewers that lay outside its boundaries.

True religious experience is lived by a process of communication between the human and the divine. And is based on a set of sacred instructions and ritual practices inherited by historical tradition. Spiritual experience can only be authentic if communication, community and communion are present. With the broadcasting of the funeral services, the media has displaced traditional religions as the purveyor of ritual. As a result it has fragmented the idea of communication, community and communion.

As such the media is a quasi-religious content provider. Quasi indicates a genuine similarity, without sharing religion’s ultimate spiritual goals.  Whose credo can be summarized in “seeing is believing” (there is something to be said about how the experience of seeing that could be construed as a true religious experience).

A Media’s Icon

Tony Blair who is a gifted politician, referred to Diana as the “people’s Princess”. He recognized in Lady Di a talented ambassador to England. The glamor, the fashionable image and the paparazzi promoted an ongoing fairy tale. She became the greatest national export since the Beatles and other British rock bands that followed.

The Prime Minister interceded on behalf of Lady Di’s fans in the showdown about the protocol of lowering the flag at half-mast at Buckingham Palace. The public showed a similar impatience in respect to the Queen’s long awaited TV address. Signs of remorse and grief were finally seen in Prince Charles’ tears and the Queen’s visit at the floral display at the gates of Kensington House.

Since Diana’s death the movie “The Queen” was released absolving the royals. Tony Blair has since left public office. He is working as a public relations person for some of the biggest corporations in the world with a multi-million dollars a year compensation.

*

To conclude, it seems that Diana would have been content in being a passionate wife and loving mother. Her discovery that Charles was in love with another woman shattered that legitimate dream.

It turned out that the adulation of her fans made her an outcast of the royal court. Perhaps because no matter how much status or money one has, it cannot buy you grace. It’s a gift. Keeping in mind that Diana came from a sheltered background. She hardly had to work in her life. Her charity work was largely a product of circumstance rather than character. And in her ordeal with the Royals, she was left with a generous settlement. And because she was married to a royal, she was able to meet and date the son of a billionaire.

Diana was sacrificed at the altar of the established order. She was guilty of temporarily blurring the lines between the aristocracy and the commoners, the sacred and the profane. A separation that must not be breached.

Since the tragedy, Prince Charles married his former lover Camilla. The Queen is still among us. She rules alongside a sovereign media who inconspicuously dominates as a quasi-religious medium. Relentlessly searching for another disposable victim to be sacrificed at the altar of ratings and advertising.

Religio and American Civil Religion

Michael A Rizzotti

In memory of my grandmother Augusta

With this essay we propose a reassessment of American civil religion developed by Robert N. Bellah. The term was originally coined in 1967. The idea was expanded in his books Beyond Belief and Broken Covenant published in the nineteen seventies. The recent Religious Right’s political activism has somewhat changed the landscape of American civil religion, inaugurating a state of religious and political exceptionalism, shattering the idea of a cultural and political inclusiveness inherent in civil religion. As a result of the changes, a reevaluation was deemed appropriate. To do so we examine Roman religio as a case study of civil religion.

American civil religion consists of references to God or divine providence present in The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the content of inaugural speeches delivered by American Presidents.

Although American civil religion has Judeo-Christian tenets and background, Bellah dispels any suggestion that it has rigid traditional Christian doctrinal content or origin, or is a substitute for Christianity. He contends that civil religion has a similar unifying role and function as religion, but is specifically political. As such, it appeals to all the people with different religious backgrounds.

To Bellah, American civil religion is an expression of the American experience in terms of a transcendental ethical vision.This interpretation of the universal and transcendental is only meaningful if made in relation to the origin and destiny of the U.S. political model of freedom and democracy. Bellah further points out that the God of civil religion is a God of order and freedom rather than of love and forgiveness. It is a God mostly concerned with the history and destiny of the United States of America.

The term “civil religion” was taken from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract. It referred to a belief system that supports the political authority of the State. In order to favor the endorsement of civic authority Rousseau recommended the development of social harmony through the Roman concept of pietas –piety. A term that has a wider meaning than “religion” and extends to the correct relations with parents, friends, fellow-citizens and the gods: “Piety is justice with regards to the gods” wrote Cicero –On the Nature of the Gods.

Let’s direct our attention to the Roman model of civil religion defined as religio.

Religio

The history of Roman religion is a complex subject that spans a period of over one thousand years. One that deserves a more elaborate study than the one provide by the following synopsis. Regardless, our goal is to outline some basic reference to illustrate the development of Roman religio in order to relate some elementary analogies with American civil religion.

Roman history encompasses a period from the creation of Rome and its growth. It spans from its mythical foundation in 754 BC, to the establishment of the Republic in 509-27 BC and to the expansion of the Empire 27 BC-AD 476.

The Roman civil religion consisted in the knowledge that the gods were benevolent partners of the mortals in the management of the world for the benefit of all citizens. It relates to the traditional honors paid to the gods by the state and was based on the liberty of its citizens to establish beneficial relations with the gods founded on reason rather than fear.

For the Romans, the most favored forms of myth was history, more specifically Roman history, beginning with Rome’s mythical foundation by Romulus and Remus. The two brothers who were nurtured by a she wolf –a symbolic representation of discipline and of cooperation of pack hierarchy against a prey or an adversary. The symbol also attests to the power of collective bond, where the individual does not exist except as a member of the community.

According to the myth, Remus was the first sibling who saw a flight of six vultures, inaugurating the practice of auspices performed by the magistrates. But it was Romulus who saw twelve birds. As a result, Romulus was given the honor to found the city and give it his name. He then proceeded to draw with a plow the sacred boundaries of the Palatine. This prompted Remus to jump over the “wall” to spite and ridicule his brother. Seeing this, Romulus leaped on Remus and killed him, saying; So perish whoever henceforth crosses my walls! From then on, the scrupulous respect of prescribed boundaries has been the foundation of sovereignty and sacer as “set apart”.

The term religion is derived from the Latin religio, described by Cicero as the pious cult of the gods. The etymological meaning of the word is still a matter of debate and contention. The word has two different connotations. On one hand it implies religare, meaning “to bind” or “ritual link”. On the other hand it implies relegere, “to pick up again” or “to re-read”. The first emphasizes the ritual links between the gods and the mortals. The second underlines the need for a scrupulous observance of religious ritual practices.

Giorgio Agamben points out in Profanations [1] that religio emphasizes relegere. A scrupulous separation between what belongs to the gods and what belongs to the mortals: A strict juridical boundary between the sacred and the profane. Hence, the religious system of the Romans was not founded on dogma but on the scrupulous observances of prescribed rituals. For the Romans it was not so much the lack of faith that was scandalous to them but the lack of meticulous application of ritual procedure: The negligent observance of what separates the sacred from the profane. Hence, Religio did not designate any direct, personal or sentimental relation between an individual and the gods, but the correct performance of prescribed rituals bequeathed by tradition.

The opposite of religio was superstitio: The irrational fears and excessive devotion to rituals and the gods that might threaten the stability of the religio of Rome. People were referred to as superstitious in respect to their excessive behavior for being under the blind control of their gods.

By the end of the second century AD the word superstitio began to be used in respect to the religious practices of foreign people. Although the Romans had no trouble with Christian or Jewish beliefs, and in general tolerated them, they nevertheless classified them as superstitio. The principal accusation against the Christians and Jews was the slighting of Roman religio.

There were numerous Roman gods. Each had its own specific function and profile. None of the gods were individually all-powerful. Romans were typically open to other gods. All non-Roman deities were accepted as long as they also respected public order, the liberty of other practices and the preeminence of Roman public cults. Some foreign gods were also integrated in the Roman pantheon. Baal and Isis for instance, where venerated as supreme deities in their own cultures and were accepted as such in Rome yet shared their power with other gods. Romans were respectful of other religions and were careful not to insult foreign deities. When referring to foreign gods they used the formula Siue deus siue dea –god-or-goddess–  in order not to offend a deity whose name was unknown or was not yet revealed to the Romans. [2]

Roman gods each had their own function and collaborated with each other. The more important ones had more prominent temples and greater festivities. The most powerful gods were the Capitoline triad consisted of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Jupiter’s epithet was optimus maximus, meaning “the best and the greatest”. His favorite weapons were thunder and lightning. All other gods were terrified of him. He was fearsome and fearless. It is said that that the only person he feared was his wife Juno. Juno’s function was defense and childbirth. Her epithet was “the Queen”. The last member of the triad was Minerva, whose function was technology. She supported the artisans and doctors. The following is a short list of some known deities:

Deity and Function

Apollo   >  Good order

Diana   >  Procreation

Great Mother  >   Warding off catastrophe

Isis  >   Safety

Janus   >   Beginnings

Mars  >  Warrior violence

Mercury   >   Journeys

Mithras   >    Hope of support

Neptune   >  Underground streams, the sea

Venus   >  Irresistible charm

The gods legitimized the power of mortal kings and emperors. They represented the eternal essence of power in contrast to the mortal nature of Rome’s rulers. They symbolized order and continuity of the power system.

The Romans were not known to be irrational people. However, one aspect of their religious practice known as auspices, might have been perceived as such. The term originally meant the observation of the flight of birds –mostly vultures. Eventually the choice of the more manageable chickens and the observation of their eating patterns were used by the magistrates. Auspices, referred to a technique that revealed the will of the gods to mortals. Especially in reference to important political, military and economic decisions facing Rome.

Auspices were regarded as a formal procedure necessary for any decision to be legitimate. Magistrates typically performed them. The technique was not used to seek the gods’ advice, but consisted of a recitation of a prayer that confirmed the gods’ agreement with the official who consulted them. Auspices were more like a divine endorsement of the decision already made by the magistrates. It was a formal way of legitimizing a verdict. The decision however could be challenged by an official of the same or superior rank. If contested, the judgment typically rested with the official with the highest rank in the civil hierarchy.

The Latin word sacer means sacred: Trebatius a contemporary of Cicero defined it as, All that is the property of the gods was “sacer”. Sacred is not be understood in the sense of a power possessed by a being or an object. But as a quality that “men” attribute to beings or objects. Sacer was not a “magic force” but a juridical quality defined by property. Divine property, like public or private property, was considered inviolable. Any violation, especially in regards to divine property was met with the gods’ wrath and their awful vengeance. Hence, the meaning of sacrilege was defined as the infringement of the gods’ property.

The Roman definition of legal boundaries is termini [3]. The square shaped fields were surrounded by a narrow buffer area of uncultivated land which was sacred, or the property of the gods, and could not be owned by mortals. The sacredness of these boundaries was regularly renewed through sacrifice and rituals that legitimized the re-marking of the termini. The boundaries separated and cushioned the sacred land belonging to the gods from the profane fields owned by individuals. As such the gods were benevolent guardians of their property as well as the mortals’. It might be inferred that the gods were guarantors of the inviolability and legality of property rights.

The opposite of sacer was profanus. Any sacred object that was ritually removed from the realm of the gods and move to the sphere of the mortals was profane. Profanare meant “to bring out” the offering from where the sacrifice was performed. And profanum meant what was “in front of the temple precinct”. The temple being a location set apart by a wall and surrounded by a space available for profane use –profanus.

Sacrifice was at the center of Roman religious activity. It consist of a sacrificial killing where the offering was separated from the profane use by “making it sacred”. In most cases the immolated animal was a bovine, a sheep or a pig. The entrails were consecrated –the process of making something sacred– to the gods and were burned on an altar. The rest of the meat was then “rendered profane” simply by “seizing” it. Laying the hand on the sacrificial offering made it suitable for consumption. Throughout the celebration the participants would remind the gods of their function and ask for favors. Prayers were also part of a ritual sacrifice and in a public celebration they would always contain the words “for the Roman people”.

These sacrifices were made during major religious festivals. They were offered by male leaders in their respective jurisdiction and community. Magistrates –or their delegates– could perform public rituals. Every father performed their domestic sacrifice. There were no basic differences between public and private celebration of the ritual sacrifice. The only general guiding principle of sacrificial banquets was the respect of privilege, rank and status. The sacrificial banquet was the solemn occasion for mortals to consult with their divine partners and deal with the more pressing business matters of the day.

Although there were many priestly orders, priests were not in charge of performing all major rituals. Rituals were celebrated by rulers, magistrates and the heads of families. Each celebrant had its own jurisdiction. They represented respectively public, community, institutional and family rituals. All male officials that held authority in public life were also responsible for the cult of the institution or the community that they led. Every father acted as a priest in the performance of the cult of his domestic family. And it could be said that the family constituted the basis of Roman religio.

The city of Rome was the center from which the elite ruled over all civic powers. The gods worked in conjunction with the rulers for the benefit of all citizens. At its core rested the old ruling class and their families –the patricians. The power flowed from the top to the magistrates–the elected officials. The next level of social stratus was the equestrians and plebeians, followed by ordinary citizens who did not partake in the politics of Rome. Subjugated to the rulers were the free non-citizens and the slaves, whereas, for those who came to Rome voluntarily, they lacked any formal status.

At the height of its power Rome’s population reached almost a million people. To put this figure in perspective, London’s population surpassed that number in 1801, and Paris’ in 1846. The empire included most of Europe, the middle-east and North Africa. The population of Rome was highly diverse ethnically, culturally and religiously. Indro Montanelli explains in History of Rome that its inhabitants, unlike the more sophisticated Greeks, were not avid fans of drama or theater [4]. The population was too diverse linguistically, with a majority speaking little or no Latin. The people preferred spectacles of vulgar pantomime and variety shows such as the popular Circus Maximus held at the Coliseum.

Among the legacies left behind by the Romans are bridges, roads, aqueducts, temples, stadiums, sewer systems, running water, heating systems, public baths, etc. Some of the original fountains built by the Romans are still running today. The empire had over 100,000 km (60,000 miles) of roads that were widely used giving birth to the saying: Every road leads to Rome. To this day these feats of engineering show the extent of the visible contribution left by the Roman Empire.

Montanelli explains that Rome used a highly developed form of capitalism even tough it had no great industry of its own. And except for a few small businesses, the city thrived on commerce and speculation. The bulk of the economy was derived from its politics. Wealthy citizens spent a great deal of money to build their political career and once in power found ways to get richer at the expense of the provinces and colonies.

The economy was based on a disciplined and controlled monetary system linked to coins, mostly precious metals. The state could not and would not print money to pay for their expenditures. The empire survived and expanded by collecting taxes from its colonies. Romans were well aware of what inflationary risks could do to the economy.

Tiberius found out that deflation could be as devastating as inflation. To remedy a depression that took hold during his reign he disbursed the equivalence of billions of Imperial Coins to the banks and ordered them to lend the money free of interest for five years. The scheme turned out to be successful and shows the level of efficiency attained by its capitalist system.

One of the main aspects that made the rise of the Roman Empire possible, was the involvement of its rulers in battle during the conquest and expansion of the Empire. The most strategic and resourceful locations were ruled by a governor defended by centurions, paid for by taxes collected from the occupied people. History reveals that the economic survival of an empire rests on the ability to tax its colonies.

Romans conquered and expanded their empire not because they were physically stronger than their enemies but because they believed that Rome was founded by the gods. The citizens were indebted to the gods since birth with a tacit obligation to sacrifice their lives for the greatness of Rome. This was reinforced by the solemn act of sacratio where a commander consecrated his life by given it exclusivity to the gods in order to insure victory.

The Romans applied a great deal of ruthlessness when it came to the destruction, carnage and pillage of their conquests. The ruling conquerors were always first to benefit from the fruits of their invasion. Yet they were dutiful in paying their fair share of taxes to the state that was proportionate to their wealth. They dedicated ten years of their lives to military service. And only men who completed their military duty could enter politics. When it came time to choose between their own personal interests and those of the state, its citizens always put the interest of Rome first.

Prior to the publication of the Laws of the Twelve Tables (462-450 BC), Rome was essentially a theocracy in which the king was also the pope. He was the sole medium between the divine and the mortals with the power to interpret the will of the gods in private religious ceremonies. The king also had the authority to decide and settle civil legal matters. The advent of the Twelve Tables resulted in the separation between civil law and religious law. It shifted the power away from the strict control of the priesthood and relegated it into an institution subservient to the state, a function without any political power. This separation between the civil and religious code of law became the backbone of the Republic.

The publication of the Laws of the Twelve Tables was considered so important that it was taught to all Roman children who knew it by heart. The reading, interpretation and the juridical application of rituals to the gods became the basis of Roman religio.

Religious festivals or feriae –holiday– were originally based on two calendars. The natural, or agrarian calendar, was based on the rising or setting of the zodiac signs revealing heavenly signs that ruled plant cycles and agriculture. The other was described as the civic calendar, the calendar of magistrates and citizens. The latter was improved and adopted under the rule of Julius Cesar. It was appropriately called the Julian or Caesarean calendar and is still in use today. The calendar set the division between the days dedicated for the gods and the days that allowed the profane activity of the citizens. Days designated for the gods were called nefasti. On those days the activities of mortals were not allowed in public places. Days that were fasti were open for human activity.

American Civil Religion

The transition between Rome and the United States of America is made easy by the numerous Roman legacies that have been adopted by the United States and its capital. The Capitol is a reference to Rome’s Capitoline Hill, the site of the Capitol temple dedicated to the Capitoline triad: Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. The Greek-Roman architecture adorned by many government buildings are a visible sign of that legacy. The use of the Julian calendar, with many names of days and months dedicated to the gods of Rome, is another mark of this heritage. The Roman alphabet and the use of the Law is a continuing tribute to the Law of the Twelve Tables and jurisprudence –Justinian.

Inaugural speeches reveal the ongoing essence of American civil religion. They are meant to establish an ideological consensus among a population with diverse ethnical backgrounds and religious traditions. To unify a nation politically while consecrating the authority of the state and its rulers. We have seen how Roman civil religion played a similar role in respect to the establishment of order, the rule of law and civic harmony. American civil religion is not a theological discourse meant to reinforce a theocratic rule, but a civic creed whose function is to integrate and harmonize diverse conflicting religious beliefs of society. As Robert N. Bellah explains in Civil Religion in America:

The words and acts of the founding fathers, especially the first few presidents, shaped the form and tone of the civil religion as it has been maintained ever since. Though much is selectively derived from Christianity, this religion is clearly not itself Christianity. For one thing, neither Washington nor Adams nor Jefferson mentions Christ in his inaugural address; nor do any of the subsequent presidents, although not one of them fails to mention God. The God of the civil religion is not only rather “unitarian,” he is also on the austere side, much more related to order, law, and right than to salvation and love. Even though he is somewhat deist in cast, he is by no means simply a watchmaker God. He is actively interested and involved in history, with a special concern for America. Here the analogy has much less to do with natural law than with ancient Israel; the equation of America with Israel in the idea of the “American Israel” is not infrequent. What was implicit in the words of Washington already quoted becomes explicit in Jefferson’s second inaugural when he said: “I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life.” Europe is Egypt; America, the promised land. God has led his people to establish a new sort of social order that shall be a light unto all the nations. This theme, too, has been a continuous one in the civil religion. We have already alluded to it in the case of the Kennedy inaugural. We find it again in President Johnson’s inaugural address…

As such the oath of office is eminently ceremonial:

This public religious dimension is expressed in a set of beliefs, symbols, and rituals that I am calling American civil religion. The inauguration of a president is an important ceremonial event in this religion. It reaffirms, among other things, the religious legitimation of the highest political authority.

George Washington’s first inaugural address April 30, 1789;

That Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every defect…

The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment intrusted to the hands of the American people.

Thanksgiving is a compelling example of American civil religion’s ritual: A legal holiday, where the activities of the mortals cease in order to make room to celebrate and share a meal at home with family and friends. On that day it is traditional to invite a stranger or persons who are less fortunate to join in the union. Although it is considered a “secular” holiday with no references to religious doctrine or dogma, it is nonetheless a civic communion. It is a time to give thanks and express gratitude for the security, social benefits and the material comfort one has. The thanksgiving is nonetheless implicitly directed to an invisible power as the benefactor of these benefits.

Just as Thanksgiving Day, which incidentally was securely institutionalized as an annual national holiday only under the presidency of Lincoln, serves to integrate the family into the civil religion, so Memorial Day has acted to integrate the local community into the national cult. Together with the less overtly religious Fourth of July and the more minor celebrations of Veterans Day and the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln, these two holidays provide an annual ritual calendar for the civil religion. The public school system serves as a particularly important context for the cultic celebration of the civil rituals.

The Speeches

The inaugural speeches we are about to examine were delivered in January. The name of the month is derived from word Janus, the Roman god of doors, passage ways and beginnings. Unlike most of the gods of the pantheon, Janus was an original Roman deity. Janus embodied the rite of passage. He was the god endowed with the privilege of being invoked first in ceremonies. Janus was made famous for being depicted on coins with two faces and in sculptures with two heads, representing the opening and closing, the past and the future. A sanctuary with an altar was provided in his honor in the old Forum. And according to whether the doors were open or closed indicated the state of peace or war –Livy.

President George W. Bush’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 2001

Through much of the last century, America’s faith in freedom and democracy was a rock in a raging sea. Now it is a seed upon the wind, taking root in many nations…

Our democratic faith is more than the creed of our country, it is the inborn hope of our humanity, an ideal we carry but do not own, a trust we bear and pass along. And even after nearly 225 years, we have a long way yet to travel…

The quotes above represent tenets of American civil religion as defined by Robert N. Bellah with the notable exceptions of the following reference:

I know this is in our reach because we are guided by a power larger than ourselves who creates us equal in His image

The attribute “a power” is a substitute to the appellation God. The phrase reveals an allusion to the creation narrative of Genesis I and II. In Genesis God creates man in is His image, whereas the President describes it as “a power” who creates “us equal” to “His image”. The word “equal”  might be attributed to the reference in the Declaration of Independence where “all men are created equal”.

A Bible search revealed no match to “a power larger than ourselves”. Typically the word “power” is used as an attribute of God as in; the power of God, the power of Jesus Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, etc. In reference to God, the attribute “greater” is usually used instead of “larger”. Etymologically, the word “power” has a legal and political connotation. As for the word “ourselves”, it implies “self” as a “person”.

In the later days of the Roman Republic the word “corporation” was used in documents in the same sense as collegium. The term referred to a form of legal association consisting of at least three persons. The collegium was also described as having a “body” –corpus habere. The corporation possessed the legal right of holding property in common. It shared a treasury and could sue or be sued. The property of the corporation was liable to be seized and sold for its debts. According to Roman law, what was due to the collegium was not owed to the individuals composing it. And what was an indebtedness of the collegium was not the debt of the individuals.

The Roman concept of “corporation” was adapted by the early Christian ecclesiae –churches– as a legal form of protection in periods of persecution. It was mostly used as a legal means of holding and transferring the churches’ property. Corporations were later adopted by varied religious monastic orders. In the Middle Ages life was largely “corporate”, in the sense that religion was defined by “corporations” of monks and friars. It was considered a secure way of protecting ecclesiastical property especially in times of feudal warfare.

These corporations in the course of history survived and prospered. The concept was improved with the introduction of “corporation sole” defined by English law, where a “sole” or single religious office holder could transfer the same position with identical powers to his successor.

In the US the corporation is an association defined by civil law as an “individual” or “artificial being”. Chief Justice Marshall of the Supreme Court describes the corporation as follows:

A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it, either expressly or as incidental to its very existence. These are such as are supposed best calculated to effect the object for which it was created. Among the most important are immortality, and, if the expression may be allowed, individuality; properties by which a perpetual succession of many persons are considered as the same, and may act as a single individual. They enable a corporation to manage its own affairs, and to hold property without the perplexing intricacies, the hazardous and endless necessity of perpetual conveyances for the purpose of transmitting it from hand to hand. It is chiefly for the purpose of clothing bodies of men, in succession, with qualities and capacities, that corporations were invented, and are in use. By these means, a perpetual succession of individuals are capable of acting for the promotion of the particular object, like one immortal being.

Based on the above definition, this “individual” is invisible, intangible and immortal. As such it exceeds normal human powers and is construed to be supernatural. This “artificial being” is “larger” than its constituent parts, with “a power larger” than the individuals comprising it. The “corporation” as we know it today surpass in power and wealth any human person on this planet. Although it was originally created by a human being it has become so powerful that it can create a world in its own image.

And some needs and hurts are so deep they will only respond to a mentor’s touch or a pastor’s prayer. Church and charity, synagogue and mosque lend our communities their humanity, and they will have an honored place in our plans and in our laws…

As Jonathan Z. Smith noted, the President’s use of words and their sequence of “Church and charity, synagogue and mosque” relates to the “Abrahamic tradition”, one that “maps Christianity at the center, Judaism the near neighbor, and Islam the far.” [5]. Most notable is the absence of the inclusion of “world” faiths and varied religious beliefs and movements.

Sometimes in life we are called to do great things. But as a saint of our times has said, every day we are called to do small things with great love. The most important tasks of a democracy are done by everyone…

The words of the undisclosed “saint” can be traced to Mother Teresa. Although the Vatican began a process of beatification, Mother Teresa is not canonized yet. The use of the word “saint” with a lower case is in all likelihood meant as an attribute. The spelling with a capital letter is typically reserved for canonized Saints. In passing, Mother Teresa was known to be a staunch Roman Catholic with an uncompromising position on abortion who faithfully submitted to the teaching of the Catholic Church. As such the quote can be seen as implicitly placing the Catholic Church at center of the “Abrahamic tradition”.

After the Declaration of Independence was signed, Virginia statesman John Page wrote to Thomas Jefferson:  “We know the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm?”

This work continues. This story goes on. And an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm.

God bless you all, and God bless America.

The reference to “saint”, “angel” and “God” are considered to be in line with examples of American civil religion stated previously.

President Sworn-In to Second Term, January 20, 2005

America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth.”

The quote above is a reference to the Nicene Creed, 381 AD: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…”. Most of the Christian denominations adhere to the creed with the notable exceptions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Church of the New Jerusalem, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. One can infer by the reference that Christianity is again placed as a central premise of the “Abrahamic tradition”.

In America’s ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character – on integrity, and tolerance toward others, and the rule of conscience in our own lives. Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self. That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran, and the varied faiths of our people

What exactly is meant by “truths of Sinai” is left to conjecture and open to interpretation. The Egyptian Sinai Peninsula is a vast desert area between the Gulf of Suez and Israel. The most obvious relation to Sinai would be Moses where he roamed for 40 years with the chosen people of God in search of the promise land. Mount Sinai is where he received the Ten Commandments from Yahweh. Moses died before he reached his destination. It was Joshua who was called to lead the people to its promised destination.

The relation to the Sermon on the Mount, contrary to the fuzzy “truths” of the Sinai, points to a precise location, era, subject matter made by Jesus Christ. Again Jesus Christ is mapped at the center of the religious discourse with the vagueness of the Sinai of Judaism as its near neighbor.

The other religious reference is to the sacred book the Koran, and by extension to the prophet Mohammed, also placed at the limits of the Abrahamic tradition.

The list ends with a description of “the varied faiths of our people” more inline with typical tenets of American civil religion.

The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it.

We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul. When our Founders declared a new order of the ages; when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty; when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner “Freedom Now” – they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty

May God bless you, and may He watch over the United States of America.

The excerpt above implies an analogy between “a chosen nation” and the “chosen people” of Israel. The juxtaposition “nation” with “people” is not an uncommon connection to American civil religion as described by Bellah.

Conclusion

Roman civil religion consisted in the knowledge that the gods were benevolent partners of the mortals in the management of the world for the benefit of all citizens. It was based on the liberty to establish beneficial relations with the gods founded on reason rather than fear. The gods were benevolent guarantor of law and order for he sake of Rome’s stability and growth. Religio’s function consisted in integrating and harmonizing the varied and conflicting cultures and faiths living in Rome and throughout the empire. Although Rome’s civil religion was polytheistic, its religious system was essentially monolithic, in the sense that everything gravitated around Rome and its citizens as the center of power.

The President’s references to Mother Teresa, The Nicene Creed and the Sermon on the Mount, is placing Christianity at the center of the “Abrahamic tradition”. By doing so he is attempting to establish a precedent in respect to American civil religion. These specific comments have no historic antecedent and are a break from American civil religious’ tenets. As Bellah points out, John F. Kennedy who was Catholic did not make any references to Jesus Christ or the Catholic Church. He limited himself to reference to God as the deity of an American civil creed, one that embraces inclusiveness rather than exceptionalism.

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[1] Giorgio Agamben, Profanations, New York, Zone Books, 2007, p. 75.

[2] John Scheid, An Introduction of Roman Religion, Indiana, Indiana University Press, 2003

[3] Jonathan Z. Smith, Relating Religion, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2004, p. 105.

[4] Indro Montanelli, Histoire de Rome, Paris, Editions Mondiales, 1959.

[5] Jonathan Z. Smith, Ibid. p. 381.

President Obama Inaugural Speech and American Civil Religion

Michael A Rizzotti

This essay is a follow-up to Religio and American Civil Religion” in response to President Obama’s inaugural speech. The contents will reveal a continuity with traditional themes delivered by past Presidents. The speech also includes some departures that show a novel development in respect to typical tenets of American civil religion.

American civil religion was developed by Robert N. Bellah. The term was originally coined in 1967. The idea was expanded in his books Beyond Belief and Broken Covenant published in the nineteen seventies. American civil religion consists of references to God or divine providence present in The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the content of inaugural speeches delivered by American Presidents.

Although American civil religion has Judeo-Christian tenets and background, Bellah dispels any suggestion that it has rigid traditional Christian doctrinal content or origin, or is a substitute for Christianity. He contends that civil religion has a similar unifying role and function as religion, but is specifically political. As such, it appeals to all the people with different religious backgrounds.

To Bellah, American civil religion is an expression of the American experience in terms of a transcendental ethical vision. This interpretation is only meaningful if made in relation to the origin and destiny of the U.S. political model of freedom and democracy. Bellah further points out that the God of civil religion is a God of order and freedom rather than of love and forgiveness. It is a God mostly concerned with the history and destiny of the United States of America.

The term “civil religion” was taken from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract. It referred to a belief system that supports the political authority of the State. In order to favor the endorsement of civic authority, Rousseau recommended the development of social harmony through the Roman concept of pietas —piety. A term that has a wider meaning than “religion” and extends to the correct relationships with parents, friends, fellow-citizens and the gods: “Piety is justice with regards to the gods” wrote Cicero —On the Nature of the Gods.

At the turn of the millennium the Religious Right’s political activism had somewhat changed the landscape of American civil religion, inaugurating a state of religious and political exceptionalism. Shattering the idea of a cultural and political inclusiveness inherent in civil religion. The change was reflected in the inaugural speeches delivered by George W Bush. Every four years the inauguration is reenacted as a ritual of democracy. President Obama’s inaugural speech allows us to review to what extent he abides by traditional tenets of American civil religion.

President Obama’s Inaugural Speech

On the solemn day of January 20th 2009 the author was on jury duty, fulfilling his unconditional responsibility as a US citizen. The call began at 7:45 AM. After jury instructions he joined an attentive audience gathered around a television set in an adjacent room. The crammed room blocked the view of the President but not the words of the ongoing speech. It was an emotional experience in a kafkaesque setting. At the end of the President’s elocution the women sitting next to your captive listener began to weep (1).

The gathering of over 1.5 million people coming from all parts of the country was unprecedented. The congregation that filled the National Mall can be qualified as a pilgrimage. The assembly, which is another word for “church”, congregated under a cold winter sky along a park containing a triad of the capital’s landmarks: The Capitol, the Washington National Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. All gathered to witness a historical political “change”. A change that for many meant a redemption of injustices of the past.

The inaugural speech was labeled by some journalists as a “sermon”, reinforcing the nature of the ceremonial as a ritual of American civil religion (2). The word sermon is usually reserved for a discourse delivered from a pulpit based on a text of the Scripture for the purpose of religious instruction. The term is not typically used to describe inaugural speeches. The correlation reveals to what degree the elocution evoked a spiritual significance to the listeners, validating in the process the enduring essence of American civil religion.

The first reference to religion and the constitution are related in the following paragraph:

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

The general term of Scripture is used rather than New Testament. The words “childish things” is taken from 1 Corinthians 13:11. Depending on which New Testament version is used, the passage is translated either into “childish things” or “childish ways”.

The words “pursue” and “happiness” is a reference to the Declaration of Independence: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. And the words “God-given promise” is an implicit connection between the “promise” of God to his chosen people and the ongoing “promise” of God to the nation founded by the Founding Fathers. This type of correlation is typical of American civil religion and has been made by many previous presidents.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

One can only guess what Albert Einstein would have thought of being labeled a “non-believer” (3). Einstein denied the “belief” in a personal God, but did acknowledge the existence of a “high degree of order” and “the harmony of the Universe”. And we can only surmise what notable atheists like Daniel Dennett, Noam Chomsky, Sam Harris, to name only a few, think of being labeled as such. In the US it is still taboo to refer to “non-believers” by their proper designation of atheists. More so in an inaugural speech. Especially if one keeps in mind that approximately 50% of the US population has a “negative” view of people who don’t believe in God.

In referring to Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus, the President left out close to 40% of the world’s religious belief systems. Most prominent of which is the Chinese moral and philosophical tenets based on ancestral respect and Confucianism.

Buddhism, not mentioned, is now the fastest growing religious belief system in the United States. Hank Johnson the newly elected congressman of Georgia, who is African American, is a Buddhist. And Mazie Hirono, congresswoman of Hawaii, is also a Buddhist by way of her Japanese cultural upbringing.

Hank Johnson is a member of Soka Gakkai, a Japanese New Religious Movement (NRM). The designation is used by scholars of sociology of religion to describe the more recent alternative religious forms of expression other than the traditional religions. It is used as a substitute to the more pejorative definition of “cult”. Some noted examples of NRM are: Bahá’í Faith, Christian Scientists, Jews for Jesus, PTL  and TBN (Tele Evangelism), Moral Majority Inc, The Rapture and Left Behind.

Among the other forms of religious expressions not alluded in the elocution are ancestral world religions representing a myriad of aboriginal cosmologies. These native religious belief systems can be found in every corner of the land and have a deep connection to the Spirit and nature. They are a living legacy of the world’s religious forms of expression.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy…

The President then proceeds to address the moral and political issue of Islam especially in connection with the US military involvement in the Middle-East. Recent surveys reveal that two thirds of the Muslims living in the US are foreign born. Most have immigrated to the US since 1990. One third of Muslims are converts. And the majority of these converts are African Americans. A notable example is the recently elected Andre Carson who will join the first Muslim Keith Ellison in Congress.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Faith, correlated to the American people, the government and nation are integrated into a spiritual whole. Faith here, is understood as an abiding feature of man’s or woman’s mode of existence as a person: A human being open to all levels and manners of communication. Every person is a potential believer and already in possession of the endowment to believe —to freely accept— “something greater than themselves”. This feature is inextricably linked with history. As a result, the inference can be made that faith, the American people and the government is a collection of dynamic components that make up the civil and religious “body” that defines a nation (4).

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

The brave American soldiers currently fighting abroad are given as an example of the guardians of liberty “that embody the spirit of service”. They represent what it means to believe in “something greater than themselves”. The exact meaning of “greater” remains elusive and is open to interpretation. What is made clear, with somber implication, is the President’s call to all Americans to be ready to match the spirit of service of these men and women.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

Every American citizen has the responsibility to shape the destiny of the United States. More so in uncertain and uncharted times. As the President explains, the call to duty is not only made by the holder of the highest office in the land but also by God. It is only with this commitment that liberty is possible and can thrive. Only with freedom can a nation mature and prosper.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall

As the elocution reaches its conclusion, several key words stand out and gravitate around a central theme. What they imply is simultaneously characteristic of American civil religion but also carry an underlying spiritual tone. Especially in view that the President used the word spirit five times, the same number of times as he uses the word God. One might infer that he is equating spirituality and religion in terms of importance and value.

The faith —or creed— of the American people is founded on the liberty of every man and woman, child of every race and faith, to join in celebration together in this metaphorical “Mall” called the nation. We the People is the incipient and ongoing celebration of the mystical body comprised of all of its citizens.

The last words end with a reminder about the responsibilities of the elders toward their children and future generations, that they may share the same benefits of freedom the nation gave their parents and the past generations. And calling on God’s grace to protect the freedom of the people for generations to come..

Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America

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(1) After a long wait in the main sitting room our group of potential jury candidates were directed to courtroom number 45 at 2:30 PM. Further instructions were given to us. Following a long period of time outside the courtroom we were finally invited in as an audience. The judge explained to us, in an eloquent and charming manner, that our services would not be required for the case. The defense and the prosecution agreed to settle out of court. The judge explained that although we were not called to fulfill our jury service we were nevertheless instrumental in the conclusion of the legal process. The young man sitting next to his lawyer who was accused of a criminal offense would be given a proverbial second chance and released on parole. The outcome was an uplifting ending that absolved the long wait and the waste of one’s day. We were then asked to return to our waiting room until we were finally dismissed at 4:30 PM, exempt to serve jury duty for another year.

(2) Arianna Huffington’s description Obama’s Sober Sermon on the Steps. “For me, the most compelling moment of the speech came when he quoted the Bible. While we remain a young nation, he said, “the time has come to set aside childish things.”  Robert Fisk: “More a sermon than an Obama inaugural, even the Palestinians in Damascus spotted the absence of those two words: Palestine and Israel. So hot to touch they were, and on a freezing Washington day, Obama wasn’t even wearing gloves.”

(3) “The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive. However, I am also not a “Freethinker” in the usual sense of the word because I find that this is in the main an attitude nourished exclusively by an opposition against naive superstition. My feeling is insofar religious as I am imbued with the consciousness of the insuffiency of the human mind to understand deeply the harmony of the Universe which we try to formulate as “laws of nature.” It is this consciousness and humility I miss in the Freethinker mentality.” Sincerely yours, Albert Einstein. —Letter to A. Chapple, Australia, February 23, 1954.

(4) Paul of Tarsus, the author of “childish things” quote in the speech, is perhaps the second most important person in Christendom after Jesus. He is the author of the most enduring definition of the church as the mystical body of Christ: “in the same way, all of us, though there are so many of us, make up of one body in Christ” (Rm. XII, 5).