Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Religion Rose Sharply in the United States of the 1700's

The following is from an article published on the website of the United States Library of Congress called "Faith of Our Forefathers." It should put to rest the belief by many today that religion was fading out by the 1700's. When I went to elementary school (probably not so true today), I was taught that the early settlers were quite religious and came here for religious freedom. But not much was said about religious activities after that time, so one could infer that it had faded.

Religion in 18th Century America

Recently, scholars have changed their opinion about the condition of religion in 18th century America. Against what had become a prevailing view that 18th century Americans had not perpetuated the first settlers' passionate commitment to their faith, scholars now stress the high level of religious energy in the Colonies after 1700. According to one expert, religion was in the "ascension rather than the declension"; another sees a "rising vitality in religious life" from 1700 onward; a third finds religion in many parts of the Colonies in the 18th century in a state of "feverish growth."

Figures on church attendance and church formation support these opinions. It is estimated that between 1700 and 1740, 75 percent to 80 percent of the population attended churches, which were being built at a headlong pace. Anglican churches increased from 111 in 1700 to 406 in 1780; Baptist from 33 to 457; Congregationalist from 146 to 749; German and Dutch Reformed from 26 to 327; Lutheran from 7 to 240; and Presbyterian from 28 to 475.

Deism made its appearance in the 18th century. It was a religious movement, promoted by certain English and continental thinkers, that attracted a following in Europe toward the end of the 17th century and gained a small but influential number of adherents in America in the late 18th century. Deism rejected the orthodox Christian view of Christ, often viewing him as nothing more that a "sublime" teacher of morality.

Deism and some strains of "liberal religion," which stressed morality and questioned the divinity of Christ, found advocates among upper class Americans, conspicuous among whom were Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin, but supporters of these views were never more than "a minority within a minority" and were submerged by evangelicalism in the 19th century.

Read the entire article here.

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