cultural and institutional transformation," can foster community and spiritual
fulfillment. From Zen Buddhism to New Age-ism to feminist theology, all proper
religions share hostility toward neocapitalist America's economic individualism.
As to those who believe in the more traditional notion that God's will is revealed
in the Bible, such believers must recognize that the Bible is the collection of
texts that Jews and Christians have used through history to make meaning."34
Religion is a means by which we decide what we shall value and how we shall
pursue these things. It is a means by which we determine what is right and what
is wrong, and so create morality. Likewise, history is a means by which we create
our past. In reinterpreting our past and our understanding of God we reconstruct
models of proper conduct and principles on which to build our community. Thus
democratic participation itself becomes the highest good because it makes one a
participant in the process of communal self-creation. A community has no past
beyond the time of its creation. Thus a persistently re-created community effectively has no past at all, save that which it gives to itself. Lacking a God or
transcendent order that is beyond our ability to re-create, we lack constraints on
our desire to change our past and ourselves. We lack any need for objective
history, and any basis on which to believe it exists.
See my "Robert Bellah and the Politics of Civil Religion" in Political Science Reviewer 14 ( 1992): 148-218.
Of course, Bellah's claims in this area at one time reached much further. The title Habits of the Heart is a literal translation of
Tocqueville term "mores," and in this work Bellah purports to present a Tocquevillian analysis of the habits of belief and action
constituting contemporary America's disjointed character or way of life. Indeed, Bellah's
work, a series of interviews with individuals -- including a Vietnam war deserter, an environmental activist, and a nurse who has named her "faith" after herself -- "not unrepresentative" of active Americans, is seen by its authors as "a detailed reading of, and
commentary on, Tocqueville" ( Robert Bellah,
William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and
Steven M. Tipton, Habits of the Heart, updated edition [ Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996], 306). I have argued elsewhere (see note 1) that such
claims are indefensible. Apparently Bellah and his co-authors agree. The readings in Individualism and Commitment in American Life ( New York: Harper and Row, 1987) contain
only one selection from Tocqueville's two-volume work on Democracy in America -- three
pages on individualism. And in their more recent works, including The Good Society (New
York: Knopf, 1991) and the new introduction to Habits of the Heart, the claims to be Tocqueville's heirs are much more muted and narrow in scope.
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, translated by
George Lawrence (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969), 506.
Bellah et al., Habits, 335.
Bellah et al., Individualism and Commitment, 6; Bellah et al., Habits, viii.
Bellah et al., Habits, 39.
See ibid., 217-218, for Bellah's use of Schwartz to argue that " 'people's political