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The Great Awakenings

The Essence of Contemporary American Religion

Part Twenty-one


By Shlomo Phillips © 1989
(most recent update February 26, 2015)

The Second Great Awakening

Towards the end of the eighteenth century and through the middle years of the nineteenth the spirit of Awakening reemerged. This renewal is often referred to as the Second Great Awakening (generally dated 1790-1830). During this period the still young United States was seriously questioning its Calvinistic roots referenced above.

Implicit in the unfolding 'American Dream' (a term popularized later by James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America, written in 1931) was the Religious Humanist understanding that human beings are limited only by their own imaginations and willingness to apply themselves to their chosen tasks. This widely held conviction of personal responsibility and potential was in direct opposition to Calvinism, with its paradigm of predestinarianism This dichotomy was central during this period.

The remaining 'rationalism' of the Enlightenment also moved people to question Augustine's Catholic Doctrine of Original Sin, the belief that all humans inherit the 'sin of Adam' at conception and that without the 'atoning blood of Jesus' (and blessing of the Mother Church according to Catholicism) everyone is destined to an eternity of torture in Hellfire by the God of Love. While Calvinism made the personal embrace of this belief irrelevant, other Christians stressed it. People of Christian faith were sharply divided on this issue. While Calvinism was fading, Original Sin was becoming a mandatory dogma. Rejection of Hell became synonymous with rejection of Christian salvation. This fearsome belief spread terror of Divine retribution throughout the New World and beyond.

As the Second Great Awakening was emerging, Secular Humanism began replacing the Religious Humanism of the Romantic Era. This spirit-denying world view was establishing itself as the secular scientific religion and philosophy of the upper classes. A new period of anti-religious enlightenment was dawning.

Secular Humanism is a religion. Like zealous missionaries of most religions, the Secularist academicians, scientists, educators, and intelligentsia of the new nation began promoting their ivy league religion and showing more and more destain for the Judeo-Christian world view. These "free thinkers" had grown weary of the ceaseless religious debates and moral principles which their lack of faith could not support and their scientific knowledge could not defeat. The emerging scientific priesthood set for itself the task of disproving and overturning traditional religious beliefs and replacing them with scientific facts and theories. As 'Science' entered this arena it stopped being the intellectual quest for truth and became a religion as dogma based as any other.

While this may seem like a cynical commentary on the motives of the scientists, I believe it is correct in general terms. The claim that secular science is merely the altruistic quest for objective knowledge can only be made as a statement of secular religious faith while wearing blinders! The funding of research, lab appointments, publications in respected journals, the boards overseeing the results and implementations of that research, financial potentials on every level, political pressures of all sorts, social pressures ... such realities define modern scientific dogma far more than objective research for the sake of knowledge.

Pour enough money into an idea and you will achieve the desired results. For example consider the Kinsey Institute studies. Because most people were unwilling to reveal their private lives for these studies due to their religious based modesty, Kinsey and his team mainly interviewed prostitutes and other sexual minorities. His research, once completed, was then presented 'normative American sexual mores' based on that minority perspective as though it reflected the majority. In the years that followed more and more Americans embraced his findings as true and today American society is largely as defined by Kinsey. In other words, in part as a result of the publication of his findings standard American sexual mores today are what was common among sex workers and their customers in his day.

“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it” ~ Adolf Hitler

It is often said that people will 'believe it when they see it' but rather the truth is that people will 'see it when they believe it'. This is a key principle in Advertising. First make the product, then create the market. The Secularists first chose to discredit traditional religious faith, then they determined how best to do it. That is not the scientific method. That is the religious missionary method.

Soon the new scientific doctrines entered the institutions of learning at all levels, students accepted them blindly and the religious paradigms of the nation began to shift. History repeats. From the halls of the new secular temples came clarion voices denouncing traditional religion as outmoded superstitions that no one of intelligence could possibly believe.

Among these critics was Bertrand Russell who delivered his well known talk, "Why I Am Not A Christian" on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society.

Spiritual Awakenings always occur during times of growing materialism and secularism as people of faith seek to address the new realities. Just as the First Great Awakening was sparked by the Industrial Revolution the Second was a response to what we might call the Scientific and Educational Theory Revolution. As a result of this growing trend toward Secular Humanism, coupled with a rising commitment to the principles of 'Americanism', Calvinism began to wane and new religious forms and doctrines were developed, largely by the Protestant thinkers (note 22).

Among the new Christian sects that arose during this shift away from Calvinism and secular materialism were the Missouri Synod, the Norwegian Evangelical Synod, the Church of the United Brethren, the Disciples of Christ, the Millerites (from whom numerous denominations and sects emerged), and Mormonism (i.e. the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) (note 23). Also appearing during the Second Great Awakening was Swedenborgianism (i.e The New Church movement), Taylorism (or Beecherism), Mesmerism, Owenism (Utopian socialists), Fourierism, the Oneida Society, the Mennonites, the Moravians, the Seventh Day Baptists, the Six Principle Baptists and Dunker Baptists, the Free Will Baptists, the YMCA, and many others.

This enlivening of individual responsibility and self worth began once again among the New England Congregationalists (note 24) and soon spread throughout the United States and beyond. Soon evidence of the Awakening was present in all major denominations to some degree. By the mid 19th century however this Awakening likewise faded and was absorbed into the religious structure and traditional dogmas of the new and old denominations (note 25).

In its aftermath however Christianity had been fundamentally altered. People of faith had engaged the new Secular opposition and rekindled their determination to establish a Christian America. Hopes for a "New Zion" were largely abandoned, but Christian America would live on!

The growing Agnosticism and Secular Humanism was preparing for war as the Christians again settled into their pews and returned to inaction.

It should be remembered that these flowerings of intellectual and spiritual awakening do not occur within a vacuum. Each appearance of spiritual renewal is directly tied to the experiences of its predecessors and is witnessed in contrast to the society at large. Despite the number of new denominations that formed and the renewed zeal of the newly awakened 'True Believers', most Americans remained religiously uninvolved and were led by the greater norms of the increasingly secular society in which they lived.

The fires of Awakening were yet again rekindled between the years of 1875 and 1914 as the Third Great Awakening occurred. This one was largely triggered in response to the advances made by Secular Humanists, especially the Darwinians. Some authorities do not see a break between the second and third Awakening as I list them here. As I see things, there was a clear break as the Second Great Awakening faded and a few years of non-revival took place before the Third. The nature of the religious developments that occurred within these two periods were in many ways different. For instance, in the Second it was mainly a movement of congregations while in the Third it was more commonly the dedication to a specific leader as we will see as we continue. It was as though the Second Great Awakening was a premature but unavoidable spiritual birthing for the Third Great Awakening. The religious spark had become so cold that without the rekindling of the Second Awakening the Third may never have taken place.

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