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  An American Manifesto
Sunday November 29, 2015 
by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter













Mutual aid






Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15


Chapter 6:
Popular Religion in the Nineteenth Century

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Why did the ranks of Methodists and Baptists and American Catholics increase so rapidly?  And why did the old Puritan churches—the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians—and the Anglican Church not grow?  Why did the proportion of churched Americans increase from 17 percent in 1776 to 35 percent in 1850 and to 45 percent in 1890?  The study of social institutions is the province of sociology, and among sociologists of religion nobody has produced more provocative work than Rodney Stark and his collaborators.  In a number of books he has developed a sociology of religion rather different than the secular assumptions of those in his profession that have expected the end of religion for most of the one hundred years since its founding by Karl Marx, Auguste Comte, and Max Weber.  

In Stark’s system, religious movements begin as a sect or cult.  A sect in his definition is a breakaway group, splitting away from an existing church, usually because its leader and its members find the church grown too secular and too comfortable with a sinful world.  Sects always keep a distance between themselves and the surrounding community, and the surrounding community usually returns the compliment.  Sects are in tension with the surrounding culture; they define themselves and preserve their community by sharpening this tension.  The disciplined life of the sect, the abstention from social diversion such as drinking and dancing, propels the members into modest prosperity.  Their tension with the surrounding society starts to ease; they begin the process of secularization that converts their high-tension movement into a church, a religious institution with low tension between its members and the society at large.

Methodism began as a sect, an attempt to purify the Church of England.  It began in the North American colonies in the Great Awakening with the revivalist campaign of George Whitefield.  But the Great Awakening was no spontaneous event.  It was planned.  Whitefield was “a master of advance publicity who sent out a constant stream of press releases, extolling the success of his revivals... to the cities he intended to visit.”  Benjamin Franklin published many of Whitefield’s sermons and derived a significant income from them. (Finke 1992 p88)  But Methodist revivalism did not die out with Whitefield.  It became a principal method of Methodist recruitment for the next century.  It was refined by Charles Grandison Finney and others so that the Methodists soon had a manual of revivalism that specified exactly how revivals were to be run, for how many days, how camp meetings should be set out, and how the preaching should be scheduled.  In 1866, C. C. Goss set out the Methodist recipe for success.  “A Methodist [preacher] addresses himself directly to the heart...  [He] comes directly from the people...  The sermons have been delivered in plain, simple language.”  (Finke 1992 p105)  The Methodists preachers were not settled, but itinerant, “circuit-riders” riding from one community to another.  “As they have no certain dwelling-place, they are rightfully called itinerants.”  Methodist preachers were paid much less that the educated, middle-class ministers of the better-established Puritan churches.  The new style of preaching spoke to the people.  According to revivalist Barton Stone,

when we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakening from the sleep of ages—they 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 1992 p99)

Faced with an ignorant, unchurched multitude in the second half of the nineteenth century, the Irish Catholics in the United States used the same tools of recruitment as the Protestants.  And their remarkable achievement was to church the nominally Catholic immigrants from all across Europe with an overwhelmingly Irish hierarchy.  Appealing to a broad spectrum of ethnic background in many cases they provided vernacular services to the newly arrived.  In 1916, for instance, a religious census found that about half of Catholics attended services where a language other than English was spoken in the sermon.  The Irish Catholics who ran the church were acutely sensitive to the need to present the church in a comforting way to the immigrants and meet their need for connection with their native culture.  And they also managed to persuade the European immigrants to support their churches with substantial tithes.  Max Weber was shocked to find German immigrant lumberjacks contributing $80 per year out of a $1,000 annual income to the church. (Finke 1992 p115)

Of course, the Catholics didn’t call their revivals “revivals,” and they didn’t call their evangelists “evangelists.”  Revivals were called “parish missions” and they were scheduled about as frequently as in the enthusiastic Protestant churches.  Parish missions were planned months in advance, used traveling preachers who specialized in revivals, and used the same emotional appeal as Protestants.  They used a good cop/bad cop routine.  The traveling preacher could say things that the local priest was too nice to say: that everyone would go to hell unless they went to confession and told the truth for a change. (Finke 1992 p122)  The noted Jesuit revivalist Francis X. Weniger traveled over 200,000 miles to preach at more than eight hundred Catholic parish missions.

One of those affected by the religious best practices of the Second Great Awakening was a young boy growing up in the village of Palmyra, New York, along the route of the Erie Canal, and right in the center of the Burned-over District, the region of New York State that responded again and again to the revivals of the era’s religious entrepreneurs.  The Smith family was "by all accounts, a close and loving family, greatly given to religious discussion and experimentation.” (Stark 2004 p100) Distressed by his sense of sinfulness and unworthiness, 14 year-old Joseph Smith experienced one day a vision while praying in a field.  He related his vision to his family, and they encouraged him.  The support of his family and subsequent visions led him to found the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the Mormons—that, after intense episodes of persecution, found a permanent home in Utah.  The Mormons started off as a sect, in the sense defined by Rodney Stark.  They kept themselves separate from society and were persecuted for their difference.  In their beliefs, the Mormons followed the relaxation of the strict Calvinist doctrine of predestination that characterized the Second Great Awakening.  Believers were not just helpless before the divine and cast into hell if they weren’t picked as one of the elect; they could work out their salvation themselves.  The Latter-day Saints developed a three-tier doctrine of salvation.  Christian believers went to the highest celestial kingdom of Heaven.  But “people of good will who did not accept the gospel went to the ‘terrestrial kingdom,’” and even the wicked got to go to a low level “telestial” kingdom of heaven.  On top of that, using the doctrine of baptism for the dead, Mormons were able to redeem those who had died without accepting the gospel.  The church is organized hierarchically into wards and stakes, with 200 to 800 members per ward, and up to ten wards in a stake.  However each ward is run by an unpaid bishop appointed from the membership to a term of three to four years, and each stake is run by an unpaid president who serves a similar term.  Thus all members are expected to shoulder the burden of leadership in the church.  The church has no paid clergy; instead all the adult males belong to one of two priesthoods and are expected to lead worship, perform sacraments, and provide unpaid service to the church as requested throughout their lives.  The church structure and organization is similar to the fraternal mutual-aid organizations that grew and flourished in the nineteenth century.  This is not remarkable.  Joseph Smith’s father was a Mason, and the church leaders in its early years were almost all Masons.  They naturally used methods of governance that they understood and already knew how to use.

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Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they 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

Mutual Aid

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

Living Under Law

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

German Philosophy

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 inadequate. 
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.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

Democratic Capitalism

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


©2007 Christopher Chantrill