“American Democracy as a Religion”

International Journal of Ethics, vol. X, no. 1

(Oct. 1899): 21 – 41.

[Available through JSTOR]



[37] A religion is that which places us in such harmony with our environment that we attain the highest possible development or satisfaction,—development in knowledge, love, and will.  But surely no institution was ever better calculated for this than our republic. …

           [38] But, under the influence of old notions regarding the nature of religion, some will perhaps say that our American ideal lacks two of the essentials of religion: it supplies no god, and promises no immortality.  The answer is, that the old external god, an autocratic spirit among spirits, being incompatible with freedom and ethical life, finds no justification for continued existence as a factor in thought, and must be replaced by the perpetual divinity of every one of us.  God is not a being reflecting barbaric splendor from a cloudy throne, to awe a race of helpless, cringing sycophants, but the sense of right and the strength of will enthroned in every human soul…. Our American ideal, in truth, gives us the only God about whom there can be no doubt, the God whom each one of us knows as the deepest impulse in his own soul.  And as to immortality, the religion of Americanism is the only one that makes it a certainty. …

           I think, then, we may conclude, not only that Americanism is a religion, but that it is the noblest of all religions, that which best insures the realization of the highest manhood and woman-[39]hood, and points them to the highest goal,—a goal which it is their task throughout eternity to approach without reaching. It is a religion, too, that unifies our present life with eternal life, and identifies our civil with our religious life. It is a religion that can be taught to every human being, and that, when taught, will make all men brothers.  It can be made the principle of ethical life in all its phases,—domestic, social, and political. Religion need no longer be banished from our public schools, as a mere matter of individual opinion, when it is really the mainspring of social life. In teaching children to lead the life of true Americans, we shall be leading them in the paths of eternal life. 

[Submitted by James A. Santucci]