Archive for the ‘Religion in American Life’ Category

Discussion on Pragmatism

Go to the link from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pragmatism/ to help you understand the material on pp. 618-9 in your textbook.

Pragmatism was born from the meeting of a group of thinkers centered around Harvard University called “The Metaphysical Club” (Metaphysics is that branch of philosophy which attempts to understand the nature of being and reality– what is at the essence of things, how do we determine what is real, what existence IS, etc. In other words, mind-blowing stuff.) They were seeking to reconcile scientific theories with man’s need for religious belief.

Thus, they certainly did not believe that ideas were largely worthless.They believed that we could value ideas based upon their practicality, among MANY other things. Be ready to discuss this at the next class meeting.

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Biblical passages on Slavery

Just a few used to talk about slavery from a Biblical standpoint:Biblical slavery passages

Chapter 15 questions

Chapter 15 Questions

Remember to answer in your own handwriting, in your own words, and fully and completely.

1. What were the three revolutions that took place in America during the first half of the 19th century, according to your text? What were the characteristics of the “third revolution?”
2. Explain how American religious practices changed during this time period, including explanation of Deism and Unitarianism. How had common religious beliefs changed since the time of the Puritans, especially in terms of diversity?
3. What were the main causes and characteristics of the Second Great Awakening? How did revivalists such as Charles G. Finney influence American religious practice? How did the 2nd Great awakening reshape American religion? Which denominations gained the most membership, and how did class and region play an influence?
4. What were some uniquely American religions that began during this time period? Explain their main beliefs and founders? What link is there to the current presidential election? What did William Miller believe?
5. Why were Mormons often viewed with suspicion by their neighbors?
6. How was education impacted by the 2nd Great Awakening? How did a Webster make a difference? Consider both elementary and collegiate education. How were women impacted?
7. What is the difference between temperance and prohibition (look it up)? What factors led to drives to ban alcohol, and where and when were these drives successful? What organizations sought to limit alcohol consumption?
8. How and why were women involved in these reform movements, and how did their participation echo traditional women’s concerns? What did Dorothea Dix work to reform? In what two areas were women thought to be superior to men? What about rape laws in the US? What reform movement eclipsed the emphasis on women’s rights?
9. What were the main beliefs of the communal living movements? Make a chart outlining some of the main groups, their founders, and their characteristics. Were any of these groups successful? Explain. Which one was the weirdest in your opinion, and why?
10. What changes took place in American medicine during this time (including regarding mental health)? What scientific and philosophical achievements took place during this time?
11. What uniquely American artistic movements were there, and what were they trying to express? Who was the one influential southern writer? Why is Poe different than most of these other writers?
12. Explain the main writers and beliefs of the transcendentalist movement? Was it rationalist? Explain. What were the main points of “On Civil Disobedience” and “Self-Reliance”? What utopian movement was associated with transcendentalism?
13. How did the rising nationalism after 1812 affect American arts and letters (writers)?

Excerpt: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

This is an excerpt of the famous sermon by the Rev. Jonathan Edwards. It was given in Enfield, Massachusetts (which is now in Connecticut) in 1741. This is a good example of the types of sermons used to revive religious piety during the First Great Awakening. Here is a link (http://edwards.yale.edu/major-works/sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-god/) to other works of Jonathan Edwards from Yale University.

As you read, consider what Edwards is trying to do with his descriptions, and note the vivid imagery employed.

Jonathan Edwards, 1741
…The observation from the words that I would not insist upon is this. “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.” By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God’s mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment. The truth of this observation may appear by the following considerations.

1. There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up. The strongest have no power to resist him, nor can any deliver out of his hands. He is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily do it. Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a great deal of difficulty to subdue a rebel, who has found means to fortify himself, and has made himself strong by the numbers of his followers. But it is not so with God. There is no fortress that is any defence from the power of God. Though hand join in hand, and vast multitudes of God’s enemies combine and associate themselves, they are easily broken in pieces. They are as great heaps of light chaff before the whirlwind; or large quantities of dry stubble before devouring flames. We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; so it is easy for us to cut or singe a slender thread that any thing hangs by: thus easy is it for God, when he pleases, to cast his enemies down to hell. What are we, that we should think to stand before him, at whose rebuke the earth trembles, and before whom the rocks are thrown down?

2. They deserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way, it makes no objection against God’s using his power at any moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth such grapes of Sodom, “Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?” (Luke 13:7). The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God’s mere will, that holds it back.

3. They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They do not only justly deserve to be cast down thither, but the sentence of the law of God, that eternal and immutable rule of righteousness that God has fixed between him and mankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they are bound over already to hell. “He that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3:18). So that every unconverted man properly belongs to hell; that is his place; from thence he is. “Ye are from beneath” (John 8:23). And thither he is bound; it is the place that justice, and God’s word, and the sentence of his unchangeable law assign to him.

4. They are now the objects of that very same anger and wrath of God, that is expressed in the torments of hell. And the reason why they do not go down to hell at each moment, is not because God, in whose power they are, is not then very angry with them; as he is with many miserable creatures now tormented in hell, who there feel and bear the fierceness of his wrath. Yea, God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth: yea, doubtless, with many that are now in this congregation, who it may be are at ease, than he is with many of those who are now in the flames of hell.

So that it is not because God is unmindful of their wickedness, and does not resent it, that he does not let loose his hand and cut them off. God is not altogether such a one as themselves, though they may imagine him to be so. The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them.

5. The devil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their souls in his possession, and under his dominion. The Scripture represents them as his goods (Luke 11:12). The devils watch them; they are ever by them at their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and expect to have it, but are for the present kept back. If God should withdraw his hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one moment fly upon their poor souls. The old serpent is gaping for them; hell opens its mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost.

6. There are in the souls of wicked men those hellish principles reigning, that would presently kindle and flame out into hell fire, if it were not for God’s restraints. There is laid in the very nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments of hell. There are those corrupt principles, in reigning power in them, and in full possession of them, that are seeds of hell fire. These principles are active and powerful, exceeding violent in their nature, and if it were not for the restraining hand of God upon them, they would soon break out, they would flame out after the same manner as the same corruptions, the same enmity does in the hearts of damned souls, and would beget the same torments as they do in them. The souls of the wicked are in Scripture compared to the troubled sea (Is. 62:20). For the present, God restrains their wickedness by his mighty power, as he does the raging waves of the troubled sea, saying, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further;” but if God should withdraw that restraining power, it would soon carry all before it. Sin is the ruin and misery of the soul; it is destructive in its nature; and if God should leave it without restraint, there would need nothing else to make the soul perfectly miserable. The corruption of the heart of man is immoderate and boundless in its fury; and while wicked men live here, it is like fire pent up by God’s restraints, whereas if it were let loose, it would set on fire the course of nature; and as the heart is now a sink of sin, so if sin was not restrained, it would immediately turn the soul into a fiery oven, or a furnace of fire and brimstone.

7. It is no security to wicked men for one moment, that there are no visible means of death at hand. It is no security to a natural man, that he is now in health, and that he does not see which way he should now immediately go out of the world by any accident, and that there is no visible danger in any respect in his circumstances. The manifold and continual experience of the world in all ages, shows this is no evidence, that a man is not on the very brink of eternity, and that the next step will not be into another world. The unseen, unthought-of ways and means of persons going suddenly out of the world are innumerable and inconceivable. Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen. The arrows of death fly unseen at noonday; the sharpest sight cannot discern them. God has so many different unsearchable ways of taking wicked men out of the world and sending them to hell, that there is nothing to make it appear, that God had need to be at the expense of a miracle, or go out of the ordinary course of his providence, to destroy any wicked man, at any moment. All the means that there are of sinners going out of the world, are so in God’s hands, and so universally and absolutely subject to his power and determination, that it does not depend at all the less on the mere will of God, whether sinners shall at any moment go to hell, than if means were never made use of, or at all concerned in the case.

8. Natural men’s prudence and care to preserve their own lives, or the care of others to preserve them, do not secure them a moment. To this, divine providence and universal experience do also bear testimony. There is this clear evidence that men’s own wisdom is no security to them from death; that if it were otherwise we should see some difference between the wise and politic men of the world, and others, with regard to their liableness to early and unexpected death: but how is it in fact? “How dieth the wise man? even as the fool” (Eccl. 2:16).

9. All wicked men’s pains and contrivance which they use to escape hell, while they continue to reject Christ, and so remain wicked men, do not secure them from hell one moment. Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon himself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what he is now doing, or what he intends to do. Every one lays out matters in his own mind how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he contrives well for himself, and that his schemes will not fail. They hear indeed that there are but few saved, and that the greater part of men that have died heretofore are gone to hell; but each one imagines that he lays out matters better for his own escape than others have done. He does not intend to come to that place of torment; he says within himself, that he intends to take effectual care, and to order matters so for himself as not to fail.

But the foolish children of men miserably delude themselves in their own schemes, and in confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust to nothing but a shadow. The greater part of those who heretofore have lived under the same means of grace, and are now dead, are undoubtedly gone to hell; and it was not because they were not as wise as those who are now alive: it is not because they did not lay out matters as well for themselves to secure their own escape. If we could speak with them, and inquire of them, one by one, whether they expected, when alive, and when they used to hear about hell, ever to be the subjects of that misery: we doubtless, should hear one and another reply, “No, I never intended to come here: I had laid out matters otherwise in my mind; I thought I should contrive well for myself: I thought my scheme good. I intended to take effectual care; but it came upon me unexpected; I did not look for it at that time, and in that manner; it came as a thief: Death outwitted me: God’s wrath was too quick for me. Oh, my cursed foolishness! I was flattering myself, and pleasing myself with vain dreams of what I would do hereafter; and when I was saying, Peace and safety, then suddenly destruction came upon me.”

10. God has laid himself under no obligation, by any promise to keep any natural man out of hell one moment. God certainly has made no promises either of eternal life, or of any deliverance or preservation from eternal death, but what are contained in the covenant of grace, the promises that are given in Christ, in whom all the promises are yea and amen. But surely they have no interest in the promises of the covenant of grace who are not the children of the covenant, who do not believe in any of the promises, and have no interest in the Mediator of the covenant.

So that, whatever some have imagined and pretended about promises made to natural men’s earnest seeking and knocking, it is plain and manifest, that whatever pains a natural man takes in religion, whatever prayers he makes, till he believes in Christ, God is under no manner of obligation to keep him a moment from eternal destruction.

So that, thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up one moment; the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the fire bent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out: and they have no interest in any Mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of; all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.

APPLICATION
The use of this awful subject may be for awakening unconverted persons in this congregation. This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ. That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.

You probably are not sensible of this; you find you are kept out of hell, but do not see the hand of God in it; but look at other things, as the goodstate of your bodily constitution, your care of your own life, and the means you use for your own preservation. But indeed these things are nothing; if God should withdraw his hand, they would avail no more to keep you from falling, than the thin air to hold up a person that is suspended in it.

Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a fallen rock. Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun does not willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air does not willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of God’s enemies. God’s creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and do not willingly subserve to any other purpose, and groan when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their nature and end. And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of him who hath subjected it in hope. There are black clouds of God’s wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God, it would immediately burst forth upon you. The sovereign pleasure of God, for the present, stays his rough wind; otherwise it would come with fury, and your destruction would come like a whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff of the summer threshing floor.

The wrath of God is like great waters that are damned for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose. It is true, that judgment against your evil works has not been executed hitherto; the floods of God’s vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the mean time is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are constantly rising, and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, that holds the waters back, that are unwilling to be stopped, and press hard to go forward. If God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God, would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.

The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God. However you may have reformed your life in many things, and may have had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and closets, and in the house of God, it is nothing but his mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction. However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear, by and by you will be fully convinced of it. Those that are gone from being in the like circumstances with you, see that it was so with them; for destruction came suddenly upon most of them; when they expected nothing of it, and while they were saying, Peace and safety: now they see, that those things on which they depended for peace and safety, were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you were suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment….

Christine Heyrman on the 1st Great Awakening

The First Great Awakening
Christine Leigh Heyrman
Department of History, University of Delaware

from http://www.nhc.rtp.nc.us:8080/tserve/eighteen/ekeyinfo/grawaken.htm

What historians call “the first Great Awakening” can best be described as a revitalization of religious piety that swept through the American colonies between the 1730s and the 1770s. That revival was part of a much broader movement, an evangelical upsurge taking place simultaneously on the other side of the Atlantic, most notably in England, Scotland, and Germany. In all these Protestant cultures during the middle decades of the eighteenth century, a new Age of Faith rose to counter the currents of the Age of Enlightenment, to reaffirm the view that being truly religious meant trusting the heart rather than the head, prizing feeling more than thinking, and relying on biblical revelation rather than human reason.

The earliest manifestations of the American phase of this phenomenon–the beginnings of the First Great Awakening–appeared among Presbyterians in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Led by the Tennent family–Reverend William Tennent, a Scots-Irish immigrant, and his four sons, all clergymen—the Presbyterians not only initiated religious revivals in those colonies during the 1730s but also established a seminary to train clergymen whose fervid, heartfelt preaching would bring sinners to experience evangelical conversion. Originally known as “the Log College,” it is better known today as Princeton University.

Religious enthusiasm quickly spread from the Presbyterians of the Middle Colonies to the Congregationalists  (Puritans) and Baptists of New England. By the 1740s, the clergymen of these churches were conducting revivals throughout that region, using the same strategy that had contributed to the success of the Tennents. In emotionally charged sermons, all the more powerful because they were delivered extemporaneously, preachers like Jonathan Edwards evoked vivid, terrifying images of the utter corruption of human nature and the terrors awaiting the unrepentant in hell. Hence Edwards’s famous description of the sinner as a loathsome spider suspended by a slender thread over a pit of seething brimstone in his best known sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

These early revivals in the northern colonies inspired some converts to become missionaries to the American South. In the late 1740s, Presbyterian preachers from New York and New Jersey began proselytizing in the Virginia Piedmont; and by the 1750s, some members of a group known as the Separate Baptists moved from New England to central North Carolina and quickly extended their influence to surrounding colonies. By the eve of the American Revolution, their evangelical converts accounted for about ten percent of all southern churchgoers.

The First Great Awakening also gained impetus from the wide-ranging American travels of an English preacher, George Whitefield. Although Whitefield had been ordained as a minister in the Church of England, he later allied with other Anglican clergymen who shared his evangelical bent, most notably John and Charles Wesley. Together they led a movement to reform the Church of England (much as the Puritans had attempted earlier to reform that church) which resulted in the founding of the Methodist Church late in the eighteenth century. During his several trips across the Atlantic after 1739, Whitefield preached everywhere in the American colonies, often drawing audiences so large that he was obliged to preach outdoors. What Whitefield preached was nothing more than what other Calvinists had been proclaiming for centuries–that sinful men and women were totally dependent for salvation on the mercy of a pure, all-powerful God. But Whitefield–and many American preachers who eagerly imitated his style–presented that message in novel ways. Gesturing dramatically, sometimes weeping openly or thundering out threats of hellfire-and-brimstone, they turned the sermon into a gripping theatrical performance.

But not all looked on with approval. Throughout the colonies, conservative and moderate clergymen questioned the emotionalism of evangelicals and charged that disorder and discord attended the revivals. They took great exception to “itinerants,” ministers who, like Whitefield, traveled from one community to another, preaching and all too often criticizing the local clergy. And they took still greater exception when some white women and African Americans shed their subordinate social status long enough to exhort religious gatherings. Evangelical preachers and converts rejoined by lambasting their opponents as cold, uninspiring, and lacking in piety and grace. Battles raged within congregations and whole denominations over this challenge to clerical authority as well as the evangelical approach to conversion from “the heart” rather than “the head.”

So the first Great Awakening left colonials sharply polarized along religious lines. Anglicans and Quakers gained new members among those who disapproved of the revival’s excesses, while the Baptists (and, in the 1770s, the Methodists) made even more handsome gains from the ranks of radical evangelical converts. The largest single group of churchgoing Americans remained within the Congregationalist and Presbyterian denominations, but they divided internally between advocates and opponents of the Awakening, known respectively as “New Lights” and “Old Lights.” Inevitably, civil governments were drawn into the fray. In colonies where one denomination received state support, other churches lobbied legislatures for disestablishment, an end to the favored status of Congregationalism in Connecticut and Massachusetts and of Anglicanism in the southern colonies.

Guiding Student Discussion
Now let’s cut to the classroom. You’ve sketched out the story of the first Great Awakening–its beginnings in the mid-Atlantic, its transit to New England, and its culmination in the South, its legacy of debate and division. And you’ve emphasized that it was only the colonial manifestation of a religious revival of much broader geographic scope–it spread the length of British North America (where, indeed, the only public figure whose name was known to virtually all colonials was George Whitefield!) and reverberated throughout the Protestant countries of Europe as well.

So your next move might be to pose the question: What could account for the tremendous appeal of evangelical Christianity to men and women living on both sides of the Atlantic during the latter half of the eighteenth century?

Chances are that most students will simply look confused at this inquiry–although some Christians among them might suggest that divine providence inspired large numbers of people to embrace “true Christianity.” If that happens, you have a prime opportunity to point out that while such an explanation might well be persuasive from the standpoint of faith (that is, the perspective of a believer), historians (no matter what their personal religious convictions might be) strive to explain the IMMEDIATE causes of why things happened without reference to acts of God. (Otherwise they’d all be out of business, since the ULTIMATE cause of every historical event, from the standpoint of faith, is the will of God.)

With a little luck, those remarks will return the class to thinking about the SPECIFIC HISTORICAL CIRCUMSTANCES that might have enhanced the appeal of evangelical Christianity, with its formidable array of emotional consolations and moral certitudes, to large numbers of people in the eighteenth century.

To keep the discussion on that track–and to make such connections more accessible to students–you might try tossing out the observation that religious culture in America today bears many resemblances to that of the eighteenth century. As many commentators, both scholarly and popular, have noted, recent decades have witnessed an evangelical revival–what some regard as yet another “Great Awakening.” Since the 1960s, membership in conservative evangelical Protestant churches has grown dramatically, while the membership of national organizations like the Promise Keepers and local bible study groups have also expanded at an astonishing rate. Some of your students will be aware of those trends–and therefore will have greater confidence when it comes to speculating about the social sources of contemporary evangelicalism’s popular appeal–the transient lives of many Americans as population shifts to the South and West, the high incidence of family fragmentation in the face of staggering divorce rates, the uncertainty over gender roles fueled by feminism, the threats that recent scientific discoveries and “secular humanism” are perceived by many to pose to “traditional values,” and so forth.

Okay, here’s the payoff lurking at the end of this seeming digression into the religious culture of the late twentieth century: by now at least some students will see the connection between popular religious inclinations and broader social trends. So this is the moment for you to steer them back into the eighteenth century by noting that this, too, was an era of extraordinary upheaval and crisis for ordinary people. Remind them that England was entering the Industrial Revolution and that evangelicals like the Methodists attracted large numbers of converts among miners and factory workers. Remind them that northern Ireland and Germany, other hotbeds of evangelical enthusiasm, were wracked by warfare, famine, or both–harsh conditions that prompted hundreds of thousands to migrate to British North America. And, finally, remind them that in the American colonies, the same epoch witnessed a massive internal shift of population to the embattled frontiers of the South and West, where ordinary families endured hardscrabble, rootless lives and the ever-present threat of attack from dispossessed Indian tribes. Such circumstances also thrust women into newly responsible roles for the survival of migrating households as families were fragmented by movement and death.

It follows that men and women faced with such stark challenges might have sought opportunities for fellowship, solace, and emotional release–and that is exactly what evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic offered. Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists touted their churches as havens from all the evils afflicting ordinary people–as islands of disciplined stability and Christian charity in a churning sea of social chaos and cultural confusion.

If you’d like more information about the First Great Awakening, the first book to consult is Patricia Bonomi’s Under the Cope of Heaven. This is probably the best overview of religious history in the American colonies, and it offers a superb discussion of both the First Great Awakening and how it bore upon the American Revolution. Another key source is J. M. Bumsted and John E. Van de Wetering, What Must I Do to Be Saved? For a vivid evocation of how revivalism flourished on both sides of the Atlantic during the eighteenth century, you could not choose a better book than Leigh Eric Schmidt’s Holy Fairs. Finally, for a magisterial survey of the sweep of spiritual awakenings throughout America’s past, you should take a look at William McLoughlin’s American Revivalism.

Historians Debate
There are two notable trends in recent scholarship on this subject. The first is represented by those historians who argue that the revivals became a means by which humbler colonials challenged the prerogatives of their social “betters”–both by criticizing their materialistic values and undermining their claims to deference and respect. The strongest case for this interpretation in the North has been advanced by Gary Nash in The Urban Crucible, a wide-ranging study of major seaports in the eighteenth century; a similar view of the Awakening in the upper South appears in Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790. Indeed, some scholars like Harry Stout (The New England Soul) have argued that the first Great Awakening radically transformed and democratized modes of mass communication, thereby setting the stage for the emergence a new popular politics in the revolutionary decades that followed.

But this interpretation has been sharply criticized by other scholars like Christine Leigh Heyrman (Commerce and Culture) and Christopher Jedrey (The World of John Cleaveland) who view the first Great Awakening, at least in the North, as an essentially conservative movement, a continuation of earlier religious traditions. As for the South, even those scholars who credit the potentially radical implications of early evangelical teachings in that region argue that challenges to slavery and class privilege faded quickly in the wake of the revolution; see, for example, Christine Leigh Heyrman, Southern Cross, and Rachel Klein, The Unification of a Slave State.

That skepticism about the social and political effects of colonial revivalism is shared by another scholar who has offered the most sweeping rejection of the long-held view that the first Great Awakening marked a watershed in early American history: Jon Butler, in his essay, “Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretive Fiction,” Journal of American History, 69 (1982-83), 305-25.

Anne Hutchinson: Rebel/Theologian?

Go to this site for a brief discussion of Anne Hutchinson’s role in colonial Massachusetts Bay: http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h577.html .

Her greatest crime was in suggesting that actions did not really matter –as much as did faith, but that part often gets overlooked. Her argument threatened the authority of the ministers/leaders of Massachusetts Bay, particularly as some influential people seemed attracted to her discussion sessions that she led in her home, which was in itself shocking. What did some of the religious leaders of Massachusetts have to say about her?

I look at her as a dangerous instrument of the devil, raised up by Satan amongst us to raise up divisions and contentions and take away hearts and affections, one from another.–Reverend John Wilson (assigned minister to the Boston militia that conducted the Pequot war)

Governor John Winthrop called Anne Hutchinson an American Jezebel who was given the chance to repent but instead kept a back doore to have returned to her vomit again.

Deputy Governor Thomas Dudley stated: I am fully persuaded that Mrs Hutchinson is deluded by the devil would inspire her hearers to take up arms against their prince and to cut the throats of one another.

Reverend John Cotton said, Your opinions fret like an Gangrene and spread like a Leproise, and infect far and near, and will eate out the very Bowells of Religion, and hath soe infected the churches that God knows when they will be cured.

(Quotes found at http://www.annehutchinson.net/nindex.shtml)

Tennessee Evolution Statutes

Note the date on each law…

Tennessee Evolution Statutes

PUBLIC ACTS

OF THE

STATE OF TENNESSEE

PASSED BY THE

SIXTY – FOURTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY

1925

CHAPTER NO. 27

House Bill No. 185

(By Mr. Butler)

AN ACT prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory in all the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, and to provide penalties for the violations thereof.

Section 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.

Section 2. Be it further enacted, That any teacher found guilty of the violation of this Act, Shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction, shall be fined not less than One Hundred $ (100.00) Dollars nor more than Five Hundred ($ 500.00) Dollars for each offense.

Section 3. Be it further enacted, That this Act take effect from and after its passage, the public welfare requiring it.

Passed March 13, 1925

W. F. Barry, Speaker of the House of Representatives

L. D. Hill, Speaker of the Senate

Approved March 21, 1925.

Austin Peay, Governor.

______________________________________________________

PUBLIC ACTS

OF THE

STATE OF TENNESSEE

PASSED BY THE

EIGHTY – FIFTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY

1967

________

CHAPTER NO. 237

House Bill No. 48

(By Smith, Galbreath, Bradley)

SUBSTITUTED FOR : SENATE BILL NO. 46

(By Elam)

AN ACT to repeal Section 498 – 1922, Tennessee Code Annotated, prohibiting the teaching of evolution.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee :

Section 1. Section 49 – 1922, Tennessee Code Annotated, is repealed.

Section 2. This Act shall take effect September 1, 1967.

Passed : May 13, 1967

James H. Cummings, Speaker of the House of Representatives

Frank C. Gorrell, Speaker of the Senate

Approved : May 17, 1967.

Buford Ellington, Governor.