Religion (American Indians Ready Reference)
Article abstract: American Indian religions are varied, but they generally contain concepts that stress harmony and the interrelatedness of all life and existence; a wide range of activities may be considered religious, because American Indian religions are not based on the division into sacred and secular realms that is characteristic of many modern religions
Until relatively recently, descriptions of American Indian religions have been written from the perspective of Europeans and their American descendants, ranging from the earliest explorers and missionaries to modern anthropologists. Discussions tended to be framed by a number of questions that reflected the European tradition, including whether American Indians had religion at all, what type of religion they had, and what they held sacred. Another problematic aspect to the study of Indian religions is that there is no way to determine what American Indian religions were truly like before contact with Europeans; there is no way to recover the stories, rituals, norms of behavior, and organizational norms as they existed before they were influenced—sometimes subtly, sometimes radically—by Europeans.
The first written details of American Indian religion were recorded by French and Spanish Catholics or English Protestants. For them “religion” meant the Christian religion, and specifically their own version of it. One either had this...
(The entire section is 3038 words.)
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Religion (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
The FIRST AMENDMENT to the U.S. Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The first part of this provision is known as the Establishment Clause, and the second part is known as the Free Exercise Clause. Although the First Amendment only refers to Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT makes the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses also binding on states (Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 60 S. Ct. 900, 84 L. Ed. 1213 , and Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 67 S. Ct. 504, 91 L. Ed. 711 , respectively). Since that incorporation, an extensive body of law has developed in the United States around both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.
To determine whether an action of the federal or state government infringes upon a person's right to freedom of religion, the court must decide what qualifies as religion or religious activities for purposes of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has interpreted religion to mean a sincere and meaningful belief that occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to the place held by God in the lives of other persons. The religion or religious concept need not include belief in the existence of God or a supreme being to be within the scope of the First Amendment....
(The entire section is 7087 words.)
Religion (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
Religious people are not only the victims of mass killings, they also can be the perpetrators of violence. Although it would be much too simplistic to suggest that religion causes genocide and crimes against humanity, it nevertheless is true that religious people, prompted by religious motivations and employing religious symbols, have committed mass atrocities. A long tradition of this exists in Europe, with early examples being the Crusades, the destruction of Jewish communities and the Inquisition's bloody assaults on the Cathars of Montsegur and Montaillou.
Although religion has been implicated in mass killings, there is often a reluctance to acknowledge its role; indeed, religions themselves typically deny their complicity. In fact, it is even controversial to suggest the role that religion and religious communities may have played in atrocities. For example, the Nazi state is typically portrayed as atheist; religious people of the period are often considered either as heroes, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the clergy who spoke out against Adolf Hitler, or as victims, such as the Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses. Generally, accounts do not emphasize the fact that the vast majority of those who committed the crimes against humanity were Protestants and Catholics. Thus, the Holocaust is depicted in terms of Nazi crimes and not crimes committed by Christians. In the twenty-first century, however, the historical literature has increasingly focused on the role of Christian anti-Semitism underlying the Third Reich and the role of military chaplains providing spiritual comfort to the perpetrators of crimes. (Simultaneously, as allies of
Nazi Germany, many Catholic clergy in Croatia during World War II bore responsibility for supporting the Ustashe in the killing of Muslims, a circumstance that the Roman Catholic Church continues to deny or downplay.)
The Bosnian genocide provides a different type of example. In Bosnia, unlike Nazi Germany, state political and military leaders intentionally employed Christian religious language and symbols to stimulate popular violence and justify military slaughter. Although studies of Bosnia may suggest, for example, that the ethnic cleansing of Muslims was a "result of the political contest behind the wars, not ethnic or religious hatreds," (Woodward, 1993, p. 243), it is far more likely that political leaders deliberately manipulated religious imagery from Serbian history to suggest Orthodox Serbs were innocent victims of Muslim atrocities. (Sells, 1996, 2001). Many within the Slavic Orthodox churches continue to insist that the Serbs were the real victims and deny their complicity other than some understandable but limited overreactions in a "civil war."
As yet another example, the Rwandan genocide did not break out along religious lines, but religious institutions and personnel were used to promote the massive killing of Tutsi by Hutu. There have been many reports of Hutu religious leaders urging Tutsi to seek sanctuary in churches against rampaging Hutu mobs, only to learn that the supposed sanctuary was simply a planned gathering place to make the slaughter of the Tutsi more convenient for the perpetrators. Further, high officials in the Catholic Church of Rwanda allegedly participated in the organization of the genocide, in this case against other Catholics who were Tutsi. As in the other examples given here, the Protestant and Catholic churches have been reluctant to acknowledge the roles of their local leaders in the violence.
Although religious beliefs certainly are not necessary to prompt mass killings, as the history of Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, and Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge demonstrate, religion can play an important role in providing perpetrators with a sense of a God-ordained mission to cleanse the world of evil, offering solace to those who commit violence, or justifying actions taken by others. In this way, when religion provides a rationale for zealotry, religious people can be seduced into becoming murderersust as in cases of religiously inspired terrorism and other forms of religiously inspired violence.
Religion does not, of course, play only a negative role in atrocities. Many courageous religious leaders have found spiritual inspiration that has moved them to sacrifice their lives in defense of others. Though less known than the stories of killings, devout and committed religious believers have risked and lost their lives sheltering Armenians in Turkey, Jews in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, and Muslims in Bosnia and Serbia. Religion also can play a valuablend sometimes decisiveole in reconstruction and reconciliation after the atrocities end.
SEE ALSO Catholic Church; Religious Groups
Bergen, Doris L. (2001). "Between God and Hitler: German Military Chaplains and the Crimes of the Third Reich." In God's Name: Genocide and Religion in the Twentieth Century, ed. Omer Bartov and Phyllis Mack. New York: Berghahn Books.
Gellately, Robert, and Ben Kiernan, eds. (2003). The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Neier, Aryeh (1998). War Crimes: Brutality, Genocide, Terror, and the Struggle for Justice. New York: Random House.
Sells, Michael A. (1996). The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Steigmann-Gall, Richard (2003). The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Woodward, Susan L. (1993). Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution.
T. Jeremy Gunn
Religion (American History Through Literature)
Antebellum literature and culture reflected the energy and diversity of American religious experience. The era began with religious forms largely inherited from Europe, but its events placed a uniquely American stamp on both mainstream denominations and new faiths. The dominant tone was triumphant Protestant evangelicalism, but the religious diversity that erupted eluded any comprehensive theological label. For most Americans from 1800 to 1865 spiritual reality permeated everyday life in conscious and unconscious ways. Powerful conservative and liberal religious movements jostled for influence, stirring deep debates about the nature of God and the divine-human relationship. Dramatic religious revivals inspired some and appalled others and the era produced an unprecedented outburst of religious experimentation and innovation. American history has not seen anything like it since.
THE AFTERLIFE OF PURITANISM
American Congregational and Presbyterian Puritanism provided a long foreground for antebellum American literature and culture. Although Puritanism's institutional relevance ended with the death of the revivalist Jonathan Edwards in 1758, its thought, already cultivated for more than a century in New England and elsewhere, lived on in the imaginations and intellectual habits of orthodox and unorthodox Christians as well as those who had come to doubt the existence of God.
Puritanism was survived by its capacity to connect the literal and the symbolic. Puritan typology fused literal objects in nature with spiritual concepts, and it influenced much of the writing of American Romantics, including Herman Melville's (1819891) symbolic vision, Nathaniel Hawthorne's (1804864) self-conscious use of types and allegories, Henry David Thoreau's (1817862) observations of nature, and Ralph Waldo Emerson's (1803882) linguistic theory.
Puritan views of human nature and theodicy, the problem of evil, emphasized the fallen condition of humans and their inability to achieve salvation through individual effort. Early-nineteenth-century writers responded vigorously, either through the elevation of a more hopeful view of human self-reliance, as articulated by Emerson, or in Hawthorne's grudging acknowledgment that only depravity, albeit without salvation, could explain the darkness he saw in the human soul. Puritans perceived God as an active agent in his creation, a preoccupation shared by Emerson and other transcendentalists, Emily Dickinson (1830886), and orthodox antebellum poets such as William Cullen Bryant (1794878).
One of the most enduring intellectual and aesthetic legacies of Puritanism was its jeremiad rhetoric. Spoken by the first Puritan immigrants and honed in the pulpits of second- and third-generation divines in the seventeenth century, the jeremiad vividly painted sublime terrors awaiting the unrepentant. Its underlying tenor, however, was optimistic, picturing the rewards available when the sinning stopped. This ability to criticize American culture harshly from within while alluding to the rewards awaiting clarified vision and reformed behavior pervaded works by leading nineteenth-century writers such as Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Melville.
Puritan orthodoxy, formed by an ethical rationalism inherited from Plato and a pietistic awareness of religious experience, underlay the mainstream Protestantism that Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811896) learned from her Presbyterian father, the Reverend Lyman Beecher (1775863). This worldview was reflected in novels such as Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) and The Minister's Wooing (1859). The colonial religious heritage of New England also provided a broadly familiar context for works such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's (1807882) poem "The Courtship of Miles Standish" (1858).
While Puritanism cast a long shadow over early-nineteenth-century literature, competing beliefs left lingering effects as well. The rites and practices of free-masonry allowed rationalism to cohabit with occultism. The mid-eighteenth-century mystic Emanuel Swedenborg taught that the world of spirits posited by orthodox Christianity could be entered by living humans. Franz Mesmer, the Austrian father of hypnosis, insisted that "animal magnetism" and hypnotic suggestion could restore physical health and reveal the answers to cosmic mysteries. The "Rochester Rappings" described by Margaret and Catherine Fox in 1848 encouraged many Americans that the world of spirits was capable of talking back. The spiritualist writer Andrew Jackson Davis, who had studied Swedenborgianism and practiced mesmerism, published The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelation and a Voice to Mankind (1847). The practices of some spiritualists were related to Native American shamanism and some early mediums were of Indian descent. These preoccupations held particular appeal during the great age of sentimentalism in the 1840s and 1850s when families disrupted by disease and infant mortality sought comfort in spiritual reunion. Many believed that continued communication with the spirit world would lead to spiritual progress and even closer ties between heaven and earth.
THE AGE OF UNITARIANISM
The more liberal, rationalistic side of Puritanism embodied in the preaching of Charles Chauncy underlay the development of Unitarianism in America. Its confidence in the ability of human reason to unravel scriptural mysteries, its emphasis on the morality and ethics of God as exemplar rather than judge, and its reliance on Christ as a model for humans rather than as a substitutionary savior appealed to intellectuals who were uneasy about revivalism and religious enthusiasm.
Not long after Unitarianism acquired a defining articulation of beliefs (William Ellery Channing's 1819 sermon at Jared Sparks's ordination) and an organizational structure (the American Unitarian Association, founded in Boston in 1825), a group of Unitarians led by Emerson expressed dissatisfaction with its underlying empiricism and sought more reliance on intuition, founding the Transcendentalist Club in 1836. According to Perry Miller, transcendentalist literature is "a protest of the human spirit against emotional starvation" (p. 8). Emerson led the transcendentalists to embrace Swedenborg's ideas about the correspondence between spiritual ideas and natural facts, a pantheistic view of God's presence in nature, and familiarity with Eastern religions. While it never became a denomination, transcendentalism was emphatically religious. Its adherents were few, but its emphasis on nature and individualism resonated throughout the antebellum period and set the tone for American liberalism.
The transcendentalist heyday coincided with a broader movement that cultivated American Romanticism in religion. Inspired by the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher's assertion that religious faith was based on immediate experience of the presence of God, American theologians such as Horace Bushnell (1802876), the "American Schleiermacher," reinvigorated Congregationalism by providing an alternative to revivalism and asserting a Romantic theory of language emphasizing its symbolic, literary aspects. While disavowing Unitarian rationalism, Bushnell welcomed its emphasis on the moral influence of Jesus Christ rather than on the forensic function of the atonement. Although he rejected transcendentalist pantheism, Bushnell held that the natural world was infused with supernatural influences. Bushnell brought religious liberalism to conventional pulpits much as Emerson introduced philosophical liberalism to audiences in drawing rooms and lecture halls. To some extent, the religious world of Bushnell touched the lives of American writers such as John Greenleaf Whittier (1807892), Dickinson, Hawthorne, and Melville. Other Romantic writers, including Longfellow, James Russell Lowell (1819891), Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809894), and Bryant, were nurtured in Unitarianism but evolved a Romantic concept of nature.
Revivalism in the nineteenth century was another debtor to eighteenth century Puritanism, particularly as it was modeled by Jonathan Edwards during the Great Awakening. The Second Great Awakening, germinating in Connecticut, swept New England at the turn of the nineteenth century and encouraged a series of revivals in the frontier. Edwards's own grandson, Timothy Dwight (1752817), and Dwight's student, Nathaniel William Taylor (1786858), shaped the theology underlying the revival: humans were sinful because of their own acts, not because of an existing state they had inherited. Such departures from earlier Puritan understandings placed more emphasis on the power of the individual to choose freely and to accept accountability for his or her actions, creating an orthodox religious basis for individualism. Lyman Beecher took Taylor's theology west to the Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati.
Charles Grandison Finney (1792875) migrated westward from his Connecticut roots to absorb a rural version of Presbyterianism and become the prototype of modern revivalists. Revival focus moved away from attempts to discover the mysterious will of God and toward emphasis on the potential of human effort to reach out toward God. Finney and others also stressed the human potential to achieve holiness that had shaped Wesleyan faith in the eighteenth century. The human capacity of choosing to keep Christ dwelling in the human heart made possible the victory over sin. This availability of salvation to vast numbers of humble urban dwellers and frontier folk coincided with the broad new vistas of Jacksonian democracy. On the frontier, Kentucky led the vanguard of revivalism, with large camp meetings in 1800 and most notably at Cane Ridge in 1801, where 20,000 congregants experienced dramatic conversions. Movements sparked by these revivals made the antebellum period a triumphant era for Protestant evangelicals.
As the Second Great Awakening settled down, wave after wave of diverse religious revivals continued to spread over upstate New York, which became known as the "burned-over district." Millennialism, an emphasis on the Second Coming of Christ and a thousand-year reign of peace and prosperity, dominated many of these movements. Premillenialists saw a gloomy future dominated by accelerating evil behavior and cataclysmic events until Christ intervened at the Second Coming to rescue a righteous remnant, who would then enjoy the millennium. Postmillennialists, who tended toward a liberal outlook interested in social improvement, believed that humanity would better itself until it achieved the millennium, after which Christ would return.
Several new religious denominations emerged from this fertile period. Alexander Campbell (1788866) and his Christian restorationist, or Campbellite, followers held that their scrupulous adherence to New Testament Christianity would hasten the millennial age. The group, initially cool toward formal organization, eventually took the name Disciples and later, Disciples of Christ. Postmillennialist optimism helped to shape the American notion of Manifest Destiny, a vision of progress that encouraged Christian settlement of the entire North American continent in hopes of ushering in the millennium.
Into this environment around 1818 stepped a lay preacher, William Miller (1782849), whose prophetic biblical interpretations led him to establish a time for the second coming of Christ, finally determined to be 22 October 1844. After preaching to hundreds of thousands and converting thousands in the 1830s and 1840s, Miller and his followers endured the Great Disappointment of 1844. Many Millerites, although disillusioned with attempts to set an exact date for the return of Christ, maintained their premillennialist beliefs and eventually became Advent Christians, members of various branches of the Church of God, or Seventh-Day Adventists. The latter group, one of the most successful products of the burned-over district, enthusiastically embraced temperance and reform movements but maintained an ambivalent stance toward the United States and its role in biblical prophecy. Adventists feared that American freedoms and opportunities could be threatened by groups ranging from Catholics to labor unionists.
Another product of the burned-over district in New York was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The most successful product of American religious innovation, Mormonism was intended to build on Christianity as Christianity had built on Judaism. Its founder, Joseph Smith (1805844), translated the Book of Mormon from "reformed Egyptian" in 1827829. The book provided an American context for the faith, describing how the Jaredites emigrated from the Tower of Babel, and later how the Lamanites (Native Americans) extinguished all of the virtuous Nephites except for Mormon and his son Moroni, who buried the scriptures Smith later translated. Smith's followers saw themselves as the spiritual progeny of the Nephites. When Smith's successor, Brigham Young (1801877), led the faithful to the Great Salt Lake basin and founded the colony of Deseret, a succession of new towns thrived, with Utah achieving statehood in 1896. Mormon beginnings reflect many currents of the innovations in American religion in the early nineteenth century: revivalism, communitarian experiments, alternative social structures (including, for a time, polygamy), millennial intensity, and the expectation of a special role during earth's final days.
Postmillennialist expectation and the holiness aspects of revivalism also reflected hope for the perfectability of human behavior. The antebellum years were characterized by many reform movements tied to various religious groups and reflected in American literature and culture. The goals of the temperance movement, women's rights activists, and abolitionist groups often intersected, and underlying them all was a desire to achieve widespread moral reform. The ethical stance of the Quaker faith led to prominent action on behalf of temperance, labor rights, peace, and abolition.
Reform movements encouraged religious denominations to develop interdenominational voluntary associations in many fields: The American Bible Society (1816), the American Sunday-School Union (1824), and the American Tract Society (1825) sought to evangelize America and the rest of the world with a flood of publications emphasizing the belief that the United States and its religious culture were agents of the millennium.
Some reformers sought to express their idealism in new social combinations and new ways of life. The antebellum period teemed with communal experiments dedicated to a vision of social progress. The United Society of Believers, the Shakers, saw their industrious, celibate colonies as the vanguard of the millennium. Drawn by religious intensity and economic security, several thousand members populated eighteen colonies from Maine to Kentucky by 1826, and the group became the most sustained communal experiment in the United States.
Attempts to restructure society in a communal way drew criticism from established churches in the United States. Robert Owen (1771858), an advocate of communal living, bought a colony from a German group, the Rappites, at New Harmony, Indiana, and opened several additional colonies. Like the socialist colonies built by the followers of Charles Fourier (1772837), Owen's communities were basically secular, but the opposition they stirred up among American churches aided in their demise by 1830. A longer-lived experiment was the Oneida Community, founded in New York by John Humphrey Noyes (1811886) in 1848. Noyes's singular religious doctrine held that once perfection was attained, it could never be lost. He rejected conventional practices and incorporated socialism and complex marriage into his colony. The colony was jeopardized in 1879 when Noyes fled to Canada ahead of legal inquiries into his marriage practices, and it closed in 1881.
Transcendentalists also devised communal experiments. A disenchanted Unitarian minister, George Ripley (1802880), founded a transcendentalist commune, Brook Farm, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1841. Hawthorne participated in its early, experimental phases, later fictionalized in his novel The Blithedale Romance (1852). By 1844 Hawthorne had moved on and Brook Farm was restructured as a Fourierist phalanx, but the experiment was abandoned in 1847. In the meantime, Amos Bronson Alcott (1799888) had attempted another transcendentalist commune, Fruitlands, in Harvard, Massachusetts, from 1843 to 1844.
Energies stirred by revivalism, reform, and doctrinal innovation perhaps inevitably led to vigorous reactions. Competing notions of a chosen people singled out by God also suggested that some would never be chosen. In such an environment, nativist groups flourished, and recent immigrants who were distinctly other than Anglo-Saxon (and Protestant) were singled out for exclusion. Secret societies such as the Masons came under suspicion both because of their rumored rites and their distance from orthodox Protestant Christianity; anti-Masons scoured the burned-over district in the 1820s and 1830s. Protestant luminaries such as Lyman Beecher and Horace Bushnell, perhaps anticipating the moment at the end of the Civil War when Catholics outnumbered any other single denomination in the United States, led a fervent wave of anti-Catholicism. Beecher's well-known Plea for the West (1835) urged Protestants to exclude Catholics from western settlements. The Catholic Church's official silence on the subject of slavery (large Catholic populations lived in New Orleans and other areas of the deep South) also rankled many suspicious northern Protestants. Intolerance became more than an attitude on 11 August 1834, when a mob set fire to an Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts.
Protestant reformers were also suspicious of much of American popular culture during the antebellum years. Melodramatic theatrical productions and countless suspenseful novels captivated a vast audience, and fiction authors were suspected of subversion or worse. In the preface to The Scarlet Letter (1850), Hawthorne half-seriously worried that his Puritan ancestors would not have approved of his vocation. Some authors, however, saw a serious purpose for plays and literature. William H. Smith's drama The Drunkard; or, The Fallen Saved (1844) was both popular and seriously moral. Harriet Beecher Stowe insisted that Uncle Tom's Cabin was a combination of divine inspiration and nonfictional journalism, not to be confused with ordinary novels. She thought long and hard before approving and attending the wildly popular dramatization of Uncle Tom's Cabin staged by George L. Aiken (1852). Millions of evangelical Protestants followed Stowe to that production, which became their introduction to the previously suspect practice of theatergoing.
Many women authors capitalized on the interest in moral reform and the hope that useful lessons could be taught in story form. Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World (1851), Augusta Evans Wilson's St. Elmo (1867), and Elizabeth Payson Prentiss's Stepping Heavenward (1870) were successful best-sellers and achieved a degree of popularity that mystified and eluded Hawthorne, who as early as 1855 had grumbled about "scribbling women" (Works 17:304).
Attempts by American Protestants to improve and reform society through temperance and moral education, however, were dwarfed by the movement to end slavery. Religious groups impatient for the beginning of the millennium found no greater impediment to its advent than slaveholding. Theodore Dwight Weld (1803895), an acolyte of Charles Grandison Finney, was moved by his millennial expectations to fight the institution in 1830. Influenced by the impassioned antislavery preaching of Lyman Beecher, the journalist William Lloyd Garrison (1805879) delivered a Fourth of July philippic against slavery at Boston's Park Street Church in 1829. Within a few months Garrison repented of his momentary support for gradual emancipation and launched his abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator (1831865). In 1854, fed up with his inability to rouse a majority of Americans to abolitionism, he publicly burned a copy of the U.S. Constitution at an abolitionist meeting in Framingham, Massachusetts, on the Fourth of July.
Garrison allied for a time with Weld and the wealthy merchant Lewis Tappan (1788873) to found the American Anti-Slavery Society, an abolitionist organization, in 1833. For evangelicals like Tappan, belief in the sinfulness of slavery made immediate repentance and repudiation imperative. These notions sifted the uncompromising stance of abolitionism from the more gradual, flexible approach of earlier antislavery movements and provoked an equally intransigent response in the South.
The Quaker faith produced several eloquent women who led the fight against slavery and other social ills. Lucretia Mott (1793880), a northern Quaker schoolteacher and reformer, traveled to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840. Refused recognition as a delegate because she was a woman, she worked with Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815902) to organize the first convention on women's rights in the United States, at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Charleston, South Carolina, produced two influential Quaker sisters who became abolitionists in 1835: Sarah Moore Grimké (1792873) and Angelina Emily Grimké (1805879). Angelina took a courageous public stand against slavery the following year in her book An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. The two sisters relocated to New York City and began speaking publicly at abolitionist meetings. Angelina developed a reputation for eloquence and is remembered as one of the first American women to speak in public. Her marriage to Theodore Dwight Weld in 1838 created a powerful abolitionist alliance.
Abolitionism found its greatest cultural inspiration in the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852. Although Stowe feared her story would be too timid to suit abolitionists, with its displaced northern villains Haley and Legree, its benign southern slave owners (except for Mrs. St. Clare), and its concluding solution of African colonization, the South erupted in rage and abolitionists embraced the book. Whittier, the Quaker abolitionist poet, realized that Stowe's story had done more to advance the cause against slavery than two decades of abolitionist rhetoric. Noting that no mainstream best-selling author since Stowe has written a book claimed to be dictated by God, the contemporary critic Alfred Kazin has observed that "Uncle Tom's Cabin was New England's last holiness" (p. 85).
THE CIVIL WAR AND ITS AFTERMATH
The Civil War era became a backdrop for religious conflicts. The slavery question, which split every major Protestant denomination into northern and southern versions before the war began, openly encouraged disputants to connect armed combat and religious belief. More subtly reflected in the conflict was the argument between orthodox Protestantism and more liberal views. Such disputes were described in Harriet Beecher Stowe's prewar novel The Minister's Wooing (1859) and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's postwar novel The Gates Ajar (1868). Although the trauma of civil war sent many forward-leaning Protestants back to the familiar images of their Calvinist childhood, it also became a watershed for the debate about whether God intervened in human history. When it was all over, the skeptical, more liberal view was significantly more influential.
The war evoked strong responses from religious groups in both the Confederacy and the Union. Confederates identified many signs that they were God's chosen people, noting in particular their spectacular early successes. Defending what they asserted was a legitimate, scripturally ordained way of life, some Confederate theologians and politicians portrayed the North as a coercive, enslaving power tantamount to the Antichrist in the Apocalypse.
Early Union religious response to the war was more chastened than assertive, particularly after the debacle at the first battle of Manassas. The civil religion of the North tended to internalize guilt for Union military failures, ultimately explaining them as God's judgment for tolerating slavery. Optimists looked beyond the disastrous present toward a bright postmillennial future once the evil of slavery had been expunged. Unionists and Confederates alike sought divine reassurance in government-ordained days of fasting and prayer. Both, as Lincoln famously remarked in his second inaugural address, "read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other."
If Uncle Tom's Cabin was New England's last holiness, the Civil War was the United States' last holy warhe last conflict imbued with the confidence that God was personally involved. Herman Melville perfectly captured that moment and its ebbing in his collection of war poems, Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866). Other leading writers of the day also grasped the significance of the war in American civil and religious life, including Walt Whitman (1819892) and the lesser-known Henry Howard Brownell (1820872) in the North, and William Gilmore Simms (1806870) and Henry Timrod (1828867), the foremost Romantic writers in the South. The purest essences of the war's scope and meaning, however, were distilled by writers not regarded during their lifetimes as leading literary lights: Julia Ward Howe (1819910) in "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (1861) and Abraham Lincoln (1809865) in his second inaugural address (1865).
The Civil War devastated Romanticism and religious expectations of God's involvement in human affairs. However, in the South a persistent strain of faith in underlying Confederate motives developed into the potent postwar civil religion of the Lost Cause. Reasons for taking up arms were valorized, and devout military leaders such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson became the cause's patron saints. Reverence for the literal meaning of the biblical text, exercised so frequently in prewar arguments about the relationship between slavery and the Bible, was put to use again when fundamentalism sprouted throughout the country in the early twentieth century.
In the postwar North, conservative Christians found meaning in holiness movements such as the camp meetings in Vineland, New Jersey, in July 1867. In general, holiness practices kept alive the early Methodist tradition of religious leadership for women. Phoebe Palmer (1807874), for example, reminded her audience in The Promise of the Father (1859) that the Old Testament had predicted prophesying by both sons and daughters. Holiness expectations of engagement in good works led to expanded social gospel efforts.
Liberal religion in the North became increasingly diverse. In 1866 the Unitarians stated that they were indeed liberal Christians. Religious liberals who resided outside the realm of orthodox Christianity included members of the Free Religious Association, founded in 1867 by Octavius Brooks Frothingham (1822895), who melded transcendentalist ethics and social gospel concerns. Felix Adler (1851933), who had been a Reform Jewish rabbi, founded the Ethical Culture movement in 1876. These movements reflected the erosion of antebellum Christian religious expectations.
The wane of postmillennial theology brought into question earlier notions of conversion, and newly applied higher biblical criticism questioned biblical certainties about the Apocalypse, heaven, and hell. Theologians and literary writers grappled with the implications of Darwinian evolution. Another challenge was posed by secularism. Robert G. Ingersoll (1833899), a Republican politician, peerless orator, and the "great agnostic," publically skewered conventional religion in front of the largest audiences any American speaker achieved before the age of radio and television. Mark Twain (1835910) demolished platitudes about God and country that had seemed unassailable before the Civil War. Religious and literary culture in the United States emerged from the Civil War more diverse, at times more defensive, and always less capable of a consensus about the relevance of God than it had been in the antebellum years. The possibility of the universe harboring a God who watched over and participated in earthly affairs became more problematic and unlikely.
See also The Bible; Catholics; Jews; Methodists; Mormons; Protestantism; Reform; Transcendentalism; Unitarians; Utopian Communities
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Terrie Dopp Aamodt