Sunday, August 01, 2010

More on Denominations

Last Sunday I wrote about how denominationalism and civil religion are complements.

My friend Barry Ensign-George asked, quite reasonably, for some elaboration. He particularly wanted some explication of my claim that denominationalism "really can only be fully embraced by people who do not think the differences between denominations matter." Fair enough.

My focus was on religion as a basis of social integration. This is why I contended that civil religion is the necessary complement of denominationalism. To be a denomination is, of necessity, to be part of a larger whole, and to accept the equal legitimacy of the other parts. This is most clearly so when talking about different denominations of the same religion, as with the Presbyterian Church and the Catholic Church. We have also extended this idea to include the equal legitimacy of different religions, as among Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist religious institutions.

To accept that other denominations are legitimate religious institutions does not mean that we think all denominations teach the same thing, or that the differences are not significant to some extent. But to be a denominationalist - to be a citizen in a denominational society - is to accept that the differences among the denominations are less important than their common embrace of the concept or doctrine of denominationalism. Denominations are tolerant; they tolerate other denominations. Religious institutions that do not accept the principle of denominationalism put themselves at odds with the whole culture. If they act upon that rejection against other religious institutions in a physical way by, say, burning heretics or blowing up infidels, they put themselves outside the civil order religiously.

The main argument I was making in the previous post is that a mere belief in denominationalism is not enough of a religious faith to hold a society together. Therefore, civil societies also need some kind of positive cult (in the Durkheimian sense) - some active beliefs and rituals shared with other citizens as citizens. This is where the civil religion comes in, and why it is necessary.

Presbyterians, such as Barry and myself, can be good Presbyterians and good citizens because we accept denominationalism. We can hold that the Presbyterian understanding of the faith is correct - as long as we also accept the legitimacy of other denominations in our society.

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