On a scale of 1 to 10, how faithful would you say you are, in terms of religion?” If you were a Supreme Court nominee and this question were posed to you in public by a senator, as it was to Ketanji Brown Jackson last month, how would you answer?
In American civil religion, it is good to be faithful, but not too faithful. It is good to have religion, but not to have any specific beliefs that might get in the way of your ability to make good judgments. Belief is the answer to everything and has purpose for nothing. It is fundamentally necessary and, at the same time, untrustworthy.
In the theater in which civil religion is performed, some people probe others in an attempt to reveal if there is anything unusual about their religion. It can feel like theater of the absurd.