The Rebirth of Rituals in America

Celeb Jacobo
Published: Sunday 30 December 2012
We must utilize our reason, all of us from all backgrounds, and create a list of values that are core to us all.

In light of the recent tragedies in America, including the mass shooting of a movie theater and elementary school, we need to examine the kind of society we instill to our youth, because clearly something is wrong. This being an opinion piece, I posit that modern America’s lack of rituals leaves its youth misguided, left to glean their ethics from what they experience on the street; with no ritual providing instilling values to compare them to.

This is not to say we are without rituals. Marriage, for example, is a ritual act that most of us are familiar with. In some cultures weddings last for days, the couple undergoes a spiritual adventure together, and by the end of it they are partners for life. In America you can be married in Vegas for a couple of hundred bucks and an hour of your time. It is no wonder then that marriage is so precarious in America: the ritual has lost its spiritual importance and all that binds the couple is legal status.


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More directly related with the topic of violence, initiation rituals are all but absent in modern America. Certain cultures have initiation rituals like the bar mitzvah, or the quinceanera, but we lack a ritual that initiates young people into productive citizens of the modern society. And today, with technology connecting every corner of the earth, that society includes all people, across all nations. Without a new initiation ritual into our world society, young people have no investment in that society. If they have no investment in the society, they can become indifferent towards it and its people. We then have acts of violence, not only domestically, but across borders as well. 

There is an important transformation that happens to a young person when they are ritualistically initiated into a society. They experience a transformation of themselves. They are no longer functioning children of that society, free from responsibility and care for it, but are now adults, and put childish things away. In some cultures, like that in parts of Papua New Guinea, there is the performance of scarification and different body modifications in their initiation rituals so that the youth that emerges at the end of the ritual is indeed a different body, a different person. I do not suggest that a new initiation ritual include any such violence, but it illustrates the impact that needs to be matched in modern standards to create adults who can function peacefully in their new world society. 

It is imperative that Americans make the development of these new rituals priority in the coming years. The history of America as a nation is relatively new, and all our blemishes: slavery, murder, oppression, are on display for the world. We set out to create a model nation, the city on the hill, for all the world to look up to. The only way for us to reconcile these atrocities is by creating a nation that sets standards for new rituals that will unite all people with their earth and each other; instead of being discorded by our differences, we are harmonized through our similarities. And in realizing these similarities, breeding empathy for one another, and our environment.

Who can create these rituals? Any of us can.

We all have the ability for reason, and therefore we have the capacity for truth. We must utilize our reason, all of us from all backgrounds, and create a list of values that are core to us all. Things like: treat others as yourself, don’t kill each other, don’t destroy your environment. These values are relevant to today and to people from all nations. These are the kinds of values that need to be ritualized in some way to spiritually and socially ingrain these values into our youth. In this way, we can create a sustainable future, not just for America, but for the entire world.


Caleb Jacobo is an independent writer living in Southern California. He runs the New American Scholar Project, an orginization focused on making great works of literature accessible for everyone. You can find out more about Caleb at his blog at You can find out more about the New American Scholar Project here




Comment: Rebuild the Global Ethic (Declaration toward a Global Ethic, issued Parliament of World’s Religion, Chicago, 1993)

Categories Ethics

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