Connecting People Across Cultures and Traditions
Edited by Helle Porsdam
Chapter 3: A Civil Religion of Human Rights?
Paul W. Kahn Can we have a civil religion of human rights? In an interesting chapter in this volume, Helle Porsdam notes that the American civil religion is founded in a ‘reverence for law’ – Lincoln’s term. She suggests that Europe too may now be moving toward a civil religion of human rights law. She connects this newly emerging civil faith to Robert Bellah’s speculations, some 40 years ago, concerning the possibility of a global civil religion that would transcend yet incorporate the American practice.1 In good Hegelian fashion, Bellah saw this as a third moment of the development of an American civil religion: the ﬁrst moment was the Hebraic giving of the law following the Revolution; the second was that of Christian sacriﬁce in the Civil War. In the third moment, the American civil religion is to resolve its tension between the universal and the particular by becoming global. Bellah was not just describing the American civil religion, he was pursuing the terms of that faith. One of its tenets has always been that America has a mission to the world. It is to be the city on the hill that will lead by virtue of its example. This is the old Puritanical faith in the community of saints, coupled to the messianic conviction that America has hold of a universal truth. This is the ‘good news’ of our civil religion. This should immediately make one wary of any proposals for a global, civil faith – at least if they...
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