ROAD TO THE
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AS WE HAVE SEEN, the nineteenth century was a great age of religion. While the elite in Europe and the United States experienced the death of God as their spiritual needs fell away from the gospel of Jesus Christ, ordinary people in America flocked to churches and responded in their millions to the preaching of modern prophets.
But hasnt the modern industrial era drawn people away from religion, as the proofs of science and the deliberations of German philology invalidated the transcendental claims of the scriptures? That is certainly the received wisdom. Back in the old days, everybody believed in the dogmas of religion as a matter of course. As the Enlightenment shone the light of reason into mens lives they abandoned the superstitions of a pre-scientific age and came to put their trust in reason, science, and democracy rather than God, faith, and priests.
But in America religious observance and adherence has increased since the Enlightenment, not decreased. Contrary to received wisdom, the Revolutionary Americans were not all dour Puritans and dutiful churchgoers. In 1776, only 17 percent of colonial North Americans were religious adherents. But by 1850 the rate had doubled to 35 percent, and by 1890 it had increased further to 45 percent. (Finke 1992 p16) It was a remarkable transformation. Over the seventy five years from 1776 to 1850, when the population of the United States increased from 3.9 million to 23.2 million, the proportion of people who belonged to a church climbed from one in six to one in three, in other words from 660,000 members to 8,100,000. At exactly the period that the educated elites were reading the German philologists and beginning to experience the Death of God, churchgoing and religious belief began to climb sharply among the ordinary American people, both in relative and in absolute terms. By the end of the century, in 1890, the proportion of Americans who were religious adherents had increased by over two and a half times. In terms of actual church members, the numbers had increased from 660,000 to 28 million in a little over a hundred years.
This growth in religious adherence was not exactly spontaneous. It was, as Rodney Stark was written, a supply-side phenomenon driven by religious entrepreneurs. The First Great Awakening of the mid-eighteenth century may have been a startup venture that mainly relied on the skills and the charisma of George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers, but the Second Great Awakening from 1800 to 1830 was run on established principles and written manuals of best practice. In the early nineteenth century the United States was no longer the close-knit community of the colonial era, and the revival movement split into three major parts. In New England, the leading revivalists like Timothy Dwight and Lyman Beecher were concerned about the emotional expression of religious feeling, both because they wanted to ensure that their converts were not just swept up in the excitement of the moment, and because they feared the power of the Unitarians, upscale believers centered around Harvard and Boston, to marginalize their movement. Their movement eschewed excessive emotion and required converts to demonstrate that their conversion experience had taken before accepting them into a regular church community. The Midwest, however, was far removed from the beetling brows of Harvard Square, and Charles Grandison Finney observed of its inhabitants that there are so many things to lead their minds off religion that it was necessary to raise an excitement to get peoples attention. (McLoughlin 1978 p126) In New England and the Midwest, political reform and anti-slavery formed a significant part of the revival message. In the South, anti-slavery would not sell. Revivalists like Peter Cartwright kept out of politics. Southerners did not believe that religion should extend beyond converting people to the basic moral pattern of rural middle-class virtue. (McLoughlin 1978 p137)
But whatever the political dimension of the Second Great Awakening, its religious core was the same in North and South. The Calvinist doctrine of predestination was abandoned. People were in control of their own salvation. All they had to do was repent and accept Jesus Christ and they would be saved. And though the Calvinist rigidity had been abandoned, the basic program was still the same: escape from the meaninglessness of a life of pleasure to a life of meaning as a soldier in Christs army of middle-class purpose and discipline.
The most important institution driving the increase in religious observance was Methodism. Starting from zero in 1750, Methodism grew rapidly in Britain and in the United States. By the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Methodists represented 2.5 percent of religious adherents, but had exploded to 34 percent by 1850. Meanwhile the old Puritan churches declined from 15-20 percent of adherents to 3-4 percent. (Finke 1992 p55) The Baptists increased their share of adherents from 17 percent to 20 percent.
As the numbers show, these new churches were not just grabbing members from the older churches, obtaining a bigger slice of a fixed pie, but represented instead a genuine growth in religious adherence. The old churches maintained their memberships, so the growth in the ranks of Methodists and Baptists had to come from recruitment from unchurched Americans, from the new immigrants from Europe, and from the pioneers on the frontier. By the end of the century, in 1890, the Methodists had lost some market share, declining slightly from 117 adherents per 1,000 population, while the Baptists had increased market share from 80 to 94 adherents per 1,000 population. Meanwhile, the total US population had increased from 23 million to 63 million.
The United States began the nineteenth century as an overwhelmingly Protestant country. As the century progressed, however, a trickle of Catholics began to cross the Atlantic, swelling to a tidal wave as the potato blight sent millions of Irish to North America. In the latter half of the nineteenth century Catholics from other nations, notably Italy, joined the flood. But the Catholic Church in America could not just re-enroll its-co-religionists from the old country. The immigrants were just as unchurched as the revolutionary generation of 1776. In the mid-century, the Irish seemed a lost community, mired in poverty and ignorance, destroying themselves through drink, idleness, violence, criminality, and illegitimacy.(Stern 1997) Yet by the end of the century: the sons of criminals were now the policemen; the daughters of illiterates had become the citys schoolteachers; those who had been the outcasts of society now ran its political machinery, and the educated elites had begun to complain about the Puritanism of the Irish. The Italians were just as bad. Archbishop Corrigan of New York in 1888 noted that of 80,000 Italian immigrants in the city, barely 2 percent went to church. The Irish clergy were uncertain how to communicate their problem to the pope in Rome, for they found the Italians ignorant of religion and immured in a depth of vice little known to us yet. (Finke 1992 p116) In Chicago, the clergy found the Italians of southern Italy and Sicily unexcelled in their ignorance of religion. But the Irish hierarchy was not discouraged. Under their leadership the Catholics managed an explosive growth, from 1 million adherents in 1850 to 7.3 million in 1880. The architect of this remarkable achievement was John Hughes, born in 1797 the son of a poor farmer from County Tyrone in Ireland. His story was told by William J. Stern in How Dagger John Saved New Yorks Irish in City Journal in 1997.
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Click for Chapter 7: The Best Schools
When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of agesthey seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990
In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society
We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.
E. G. West, Education and the State
Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures
The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since
1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and
philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West
Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its
characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then,
once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities
But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie
that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison
I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all.
In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness...
But to make a man act [he must have]
the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove
or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm