The Obama Doctrine: American Civil Spirituality

The Obama Doctrine: American Civil Spirituality

“The Obama Doctrine:  American Civil Spirituality.”

As always, I find Diana Butler Bass[1] on the cutting edge of the “changing shape of American Religion” with her recent piece, “The Obama Doctrine:  American Civil Spirituality.”  As one of Obama’s greatest achievements as he transitioned into his second term as president.


“President Obama is helping to reinvent American civil religion, the way we think about God and national purpose. Call it the Obama doctrine of American civil spirituality…….His presidency has coincided with one of the most dynamic, transformative periods of religious life in United States history, and he is responding to this era of profound change.”


Backed with a foundation of statistics, Diana Butler Bass moves into a thought provoking discussion backed with relevant statistics:


“Although the United States is still a majority Christian nation, its historic Protestant center has collapsed, including an unanticipated decline in evangelical church membership among Anglo-Americans. The nation’s large Catholic minority is in spiritual disarray with 1 in 10 citizens claiming to be “former Catholics.” American Judaism is under significant stress, having gone from 4% of the population in 1950 to just under 2% last year, and is facing serious issues, especially related to intermarriage and childbirth rates. More than one third of young adults under 30 claim no religious identity; another third belong to new immigrant faiths (either ethnic Christian minority traditions or non-Western religions).”


There is a clear evolution taking place between Obama’s election in 2008 and his second inaugural


“Obama’s spiritual-but-not-religious politics

In 2008, presidential candidate Obama generally drew on the older form of civil religion, proving himself comfortable with biblical language, social justice evangelicalism, and the themes of Christian theology, with an occasional nod toward Islam or Buddhism. By 2012, however, President Obama’s tone had changed. His speeches included a far more embracing view of God, along with an appeal to a wider faith audience.”

While Christians would easily find the gospel within this speech, people of varoius religious perspectives could easily identify with what he says. 

“In the second inaugural, President Obama proposed that the American journey is not aimless. Instead, it is a journey toward a deep realization of community, prosperity, mutual care, stewardship of the Earth, peacemaking, and human rights. These six ideals form an American creed, the fundamental aspects of the democratic project. Each one of these could be interpreted as Christian or Jewish (as they have traditionally been) or could be much more widely understood through other religious perspectives. The address ended with a call to action: Serve the poor, have hope in the future, renew your hearts. Make new the nation’s ancient covenant of justice and equality in this uncertain world. Create a new American future.”

This is a good article—worth taking the time to read.  I look forward to giving more thought to the changtes we are experiencing in American religious culture.


[1]Diana Butler Bass holds a Ph.D. in American religious history from DukeUniversity. She is the author of eight books in religion and spirituality, a regular contributor to Huffington Post, and a popular speaker and consultant to religious and non-profit organizations. Her most recent book, “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening” (HarperOne, 2012), focuses on the changing shape of American religion. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia.


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