28 August 2010

75. The Great Awakening

The Great Awakening, 1720-1760: Religious Revival Rouses Americans' Sense of Individual Liberties - Monroe Stearns

I read this book because I wanted to try and get a feel for the place religion was playing in the American colonies prior to the Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War and the writing of the Constitution. What was society like at that time? What were the norms and what were the views of the fringes? If I can understand that it makes it a lot easier to understand what the Constitution's intent was and therefore, if we are following that intent or have gone of on a tangent of manipulation of that Document.

This book told the stories of a number of itinerant preachers in the colonies at that time. They came from Pennsylvania, New England, Virginia, and others. It was not some localized hysterical event worthy of writing off as a one time thing. This "Great Awakening" happened over four decades with numerous players and participants.

"The free and personal religion strengthened the founders of American colonies to brave the perils of the sea and the wilderness in order to worship God as they chose. The spirit of that early religion, however, drained away as prosperity and ease of life came to the colonies. Rituals replaced the old sense of closeness of God to his people; preaching grew cold and stereotyped."

That was prior to the Great Awakening period.

"Then a new group of ministers began to stir the hearts of those impoverished, poorly educated, politically powerless Americans, restoring to them the comfort of a personal spiritual experience which gave them a new sense of dignity, worth, and above all, joy. This restoration of faith, the Great Awakening, aroused Americans to a recognition of an individual man's capacity to be a free person and to an understanding of how spiritual dictatorship can become political tyranny."

Who were these guys?
Theodorus Frelinghuysen (1691-1747)
Jonathan Edwards (1703-58)    I am a direct descendent! :-)
George Whitefield (1714-70)
Samuel Davies (1723-61)
Gilbert Tennet (1703-64)
James Davenport (1716-57)
Charles Chauncy (1705-87)

Some of these guys, notably Frelinghuysen, Edwards and Whitefield, were, in my opinion, pretty cool. I think some of the others went a step or two too far.

Yes, I do think the religious beliefs of the day had a lot to do with the wording and intent of the founding of our country.

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