In speaking of philosophical method among the Americans I have shown that nothing is more repugnant to the human mind in an age of equality than the idea of subjection to forms. Men living at such times are impatient of figures; to their eyes, symbols appear to be puerile artifices used to conceal or to set off truths that should more naturally be bared to the light of day; they are unmoved by ceremonial observances and are disposed to attach only a secondary importance to the details of public worship.
Those who have to regulate the external forms of religion in a democratic age should pay a close attention to these natural propensities of the human mind in order not to run counter to them unnecessarily.
I firmly believe in the necessity of forms, which fix the human mind in the contemplation of abstract truths and aid it in embracing them warmly and holding them with firmness. Nor do I suppose that it is possible to maintain a religion without external observances; but, on the other hand, I am persuaded that in the ages upon which we are entering it would be peculiarly dangerous to multiply them beyond measure, and that they ought rather to be limited to as much as is absolutely necessary to perpetuate the doctrine itself, which is the substance of religion, of which the ritual is only the form.1 A religion which became more insistent in details, more inflexible, and more burdened with small observances during the time that men became more equal would soon find itself limited to a band of fanatic zealots in the midst of a skeptical multitude.
I showed in the first Part of this work how the American clergy stand aloof from secular affairs. This is the most obvious but not the only example of their self-restraint. In America religion is a distinct sphere, in which the priest is sovereign, but out of which he takes care never to go. Within its limits he is master of the mind; beyond them he leaves men to themselves and surrenders them to the independence and instability that belong to their nature and their age. I have seen no country in which Christianity is clothed with fewer forms, figures, and observances than in the United States, or where it presents more distinct, simple, and general notions to the mind. Although the Christians of America are divided into a multitude of sects, they all look upon their religion in the same light. This applies to Roman Catholicism as well as to the other forms of belief. There are no Roman Catholic priests who show less taste for the minute individual observances, for extraordinary or peculiar means of salvation, or who cling more to the spirit and less to the letter of the law than the Roman Catholic priests of the United States. Nowhere is that doctrine of the church which prohibits the worship reserved to God alone from being offered to the saints more clearly inculcated or more generally followed. Yet the Roman Catholics of America are very submissive and very sincere.
Another remark is applicable to the clergy of every communion. The American ministers of the Gospel do not attempt to draw or to fix all the thoughts of man upon the life to come; they are willing to surrender a portion of his heart to the cares of the present, seeming to consider the goods of this world as important, though secondary, objects. If they take no part themselves in productive labor, they are at least interested in its progress and they applaud its results, and while they never cease to point to the other world as the great object of the hopes and fears of the believer, they do not forbid him honestly to court prosperity in this. Far from attempting to show that these things are distinct and contrary to one another, they study rather to find out on what point they are most nearly and closely connected.
All the American clergy know and respect the intellectual supremacy exercised by the majority; they never sustain any but necessary conflicts with it. They take no share in the altercations of parties, but they readily adopt the general opinions of their country and their age, and they allow themselves to be borne away without opposition in the current of feeling and opinion by which everything around them is carried along. They endeavor to amend their contemporaries, but they do not quit fellowship with them. Public opinion is therefore never hostile to them; it rather supports and protects them, and their belief owes its authority at the same time to the strength which is its own and to that which it borrows from the opinions of the majority.
Thus it is that by respecting all democratic tendencies not absolutely contrary to herself and by making use of several of them for her own purposes, religion sustains a successful struggle with that spirit of individual independence which is her most dangerous opponent.
It's too bad that authoritarians instinctively ignore anything that threatens their view of the world. The public is, publicly, rejecting their authority, showing and telling them that they have no power. Conservative authoritarians tried to keep a Black man out of the White House and failed. They tried to get rid of Hillary Clinton and failed. They tried to shove gays back into the closet and failed. If you can't demonstrate your power you have none.
Their belief that a conservative sugar daddy will always come through for them and make the bad people go away doesn't work when it comes to making money. They are accustomed to hiding behind the churches' skirts, depending on civil authority to preserve their religious authority. By attempting to reinforce their power, the right has only exposed its weakness.
Now is the time to press back on abortion. Fighting religious authority has always been difficult because both civil and religious authority say "do not kill." The strawman issue of fetus/not fetus distracts from the real issue: we must choose between secular law and religious law, and adopting religious laws regarding abortion is conceding to religious law over secular law. (The religious law of some (but not all) religions.) We have chosen secular law and the authoritarians are very unhappy about that as well.
Catholic doctrine says only God can kill. Secular law (in reality if not always theory) says we can kill if the president says so, if we feel threatened, if the judicial system chooses to execute a criminal, if a woman wants to have an abortion. Women do not need to apologize for choosing civil authority over religious authority. The right never apologizes when it chooses American secular laws over Muslim, Jewish, or any other religious laws.
The religious right will not want to hear that they are obviously weak but they will never believe it until the majority tells them so, as often and as loudly as possible. Civility never won a battle.
The right does not want religious freedom laws They want religious supremacy laws.