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  An American Manifesto
Wednesday September 2, 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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“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

Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust

Hugo on Genius

“Tear down theory, poetic systems... No more rules, no more models... Genius conjures up rather than learns... ” —Victor Hugo
César Graña, Bohemian versus Bourgeois


“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

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


“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ’merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy

Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006

China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing

Religion, Property, and Family

But the only religions that have survived are those which support property and the family. Thus the outlook for communism, which is both anti-property and anti-family, (and also anti-religion), is not promising.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit


©2007 Christopher Chantrill