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Out of this Puritan period comes the persistent notion of America as a chosen people, a special nation unlike any other, a special recipient of divine blessing.Moreover, this special nation is viewed as having a divinely appointed role to play—America will enlighten the nations.The roots of American civil religion lie in the Puritan period as thousands of people left England in search of the freedom to worship God as they believed the Bible requires.Moreover, they believed that theirs was a noble and righteous endeavor–they were a chosen people, a “New Israel” establishing a New Jerusalem that would be a light to the world.I presented an earlier version of this material at Erskine College and Seminary three weeks after 9/11.
By the Revolutionary period, America’s population has become much more diverse, but once again we find biblical imagery being used.
One of the more visible ways that Americans sought to make sense of it was through religion.
Across the nation, countless candlelight prayer vigils and church services were held. One particularly interesting religious exercise took place at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC on September 14, 2001.
The struggle between Christianity and Roman civil religion continued until the triumph of Christianity under the Emperor Constantine, and for the remainder of late antiquity and the medieval period it was largely the Christian church that provided the framework of self-understanding for European society. Suddenly, western Europe was no longer united by a single religious tradition and set of authorities.
Wars of religion tore the European continent during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The national task is now is not the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth, but to be a herald of political freedom and democracy.