What is the English colonies' relationship to American religion today?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The relationship between religion in the British colonies and religion today is complex.  Let us look at two ways in which they are related to show this complexity.

In at least one way, colonial religion was the forerunner of today’s religion.  The Great Awakening was a major religious revival in colonial times.  This revival encouraged a more democratic religion with little hierarchy.  It also encouraged people to have a more emotional relationship with their religion.  These are aspects of religion that are very much in evidence in evangelical Christianity today.  Evangelical churches tend to focus on their members’ personal relationship with God and they tend to be autonomous with no hierarchy that can order their pastors to do anything in particular.

However, in another way, colonial religion was the opposite of religion today.  In a sense, we moved far away from colonial religion when we became independent.  Every colony had an established official religion.  People had to pay taxes to support that religion.  In some colonies, particularly the Puritan ones, town governments were essentially theocracies at some points in colonial history.  These sorts of things were one reason why the First Amendment banned established religions.  In this way, colonial religion was diametrically opposed to our current ways of observing religious freedom.

Thus, our relationship with colonial religion is partly negative and partly positive.