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CHANGING ATTITUDES TOWARD RELIGION

The problem with all the education that ministers received in the American colonies (see "Education and vocations" earlier in this chapter) is that they started to question what their own churches believed. The predestination doctrine got harder to support; fewer and fewer people wanted to believe that nothing they could do in life would alter God's judgment about whether they were going to heaven or hell. The Puritans' (see Chapter 7) original belief that predestination meant only a small group of people preselected by God for salvation should get to be in their church didn't leave a lot of room for free will or more church members. They tried the Half-Way Covenant (1662) to let in a few new members who couldn't swear they were members of the elect, but the churches were losing their power over a people busy making a living in the early 1700s.

The Great Awakening was a spiritual revival complete with preaching and conversions that occurred all over the colonies. Spiritual awakening was so important that it actually happened at least twice. The First Great Awakening (1734) began in the 1730s, when the colonies were becoming well established; the Second Great Awakening occurred in the 1820s. First Great Awakening ministers were set up for their success by the toil, loneliness, and heartbreak of life on the frontier. The movement had more power in the country than in the cities, but America was practically all country in the early 1700s. Great Awakening preachers left in their wake a spiritually charged citizenship eager for change. By traveling throughout the colonies, they gave the separate sections a sense of belonging to a whole nation. The Great Awakening set the emotional stage for the American Revolution. Two men in particular were very influential in this movement:

- Jonathan Edwards (1734): The First Great Awakening began with Edwards, a well-educated theologian and Congregationalist minister from Massachusetts. Edwards came from Puritan roots but spoke with the power of immediate, personal religious experience. His fiery sermons, including "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," attracted a large following.

- George Whitefield (1738): Whitefield was even more electric than Edwards. He traveled across the colonies and spoke in the dramatic, emotional style of a modern revival preacher, often in outdoor camp meetings. He was the first nationwide American superstar, accepting everyone into his audiences and preaching a simple message of the power of God. He gave more than 18,000 sermons. Whitefield was the most widely recognized public figure in the 100 years before George Washington.

Edwards, Whitefield, and others who used a similar style started a new trend in American religion. Previously, so-called Old Light ministers droned on in their sermons, using only rationality and arguments from theology. Modern New Light preachers spoke with emotion and showmanship. Princeton, Brown, Rutgers, and Dartmouth were all founded as New Light schools.

On the more open end of spirituality, the Quakers (see Chapter 7) believed God was so close to love that people should be free to worship him in the way that was best for them. Quakers supported women's rights and freedom of worship. They opposed slavery and war, but they did pay taxes and worked to influence local governments. Although some Quakers were actually put to death in New England for their tolerant beliefs, more worked to build a peaceful society in Pennsylvania, the colony established by Quaker William Penn.

As freedom in the colonies grew, so did tolerance for neighbors who may have a different ways of worshiping God. The colonies in the 1750s represented many religious denominations, generally liked the king, opposed aristocrats from England, and were open to settlement by non-English people.

Example

Question: Who were the biggest followers of the First Great Awakening?

Answer: The First Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s appealed more to poor and rural people and less to rich urbanites.

Example

Question: What did the Quakers believe?

Answer: Quakers were against war and slavery; they paid taxes, tried to influence local governments, and supported women's rights and freedom of worship.

Example

Question: Was Quakerism the official religion of Quaker Pennsylvania?

Answer: Because it was founded by Quakers, who believed in freedom of worship, colonial Pennsylvania had no established official church.

Example

Question: What was the political and social atmosphere of the colonies by the 1750s?

Answer: In general, the colonies in the 1750s represented many religious denominations, disliked aristocrats from England but were okay with the king, and were receptive to settlement by non-English people.

 
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