Philosophical Musings

Philosophical Musings

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Spiritual Awakenings

One of the great flaws of a secular education is the ignoring of spiritual movements in history. Great effort is made to interpret the actions & thoughts of people through the lens of purely secular motivations. But this ignores the very real & very significant impact of spiritual beliefs in society. It would be like future historians trying to explain the current terrorist actions without the driving belief system of Islam. You can explain everything with a purely secular view, but it misses some important factors in our interactions.

I won't be going back too far. Any discussion about spiritual awakenings has to include the biggest one in human history: The reformation. Some people view this as just political maneuvering. But they ignore the great volume of written works that provided the ideological basis for resisting the established religious institution. The Anabaptists, the Huguenots, & the concurrent protestant revival that swept through Europe unhinged the status quo, & threatened their power base. The establishment fought vigorously against it, killing, torturing, & undermining this spiritual awakening, for it not only upset the basis for their rule, but it went against their core beliefs. The divine right of kings, a professional priesthood, an aristocracy of privilege, & their right & duty to control the rest of humanity were all under attack by this awakening.

So they fought it. They killed the apostates. They gave them 'second baptisms' by drowning them. They tortured them to deny this new found faith in late night inquisitions. They burned them openly at the stake, to deter any more departures from the status quo. But it did not work. Instead of nipping this new awareness in the bud, it spread like wildfire. The priesthood of believers, not a professional religious class. The authority of scriptures, not the ruling elite. The equality of man, not a divine order of elitism. These were earth shaking revelations. It changed the course of history, & opened up the enlightenment era of reason, human freedom, & human equality. Philosophers began to question the authority structures, & called for them to be based on Natural Law, not mandates from a monarchy. The king was a mere man, & was not above the law.

About this same time, the new world was being settled with refugees & rejects from the European inquisitions. Quakers, Presbyterians, & Puritans moved en masse to start their religious utopias. They fled the intolerance & oppression of the European status quo, but at first, kept the intolerant part, demanding strict conformity to the tenets of their faith. Many religious colonies formed in the new world.

Massachusetts- Puritan separatists, with some English congregationalists.
Pennsylvania- Quaker, Mennonites, Moravians, Calvinists, Lutherans & more. A large segment from Germany came here.
New Amsterdam- Primarily a trading port, it become more diverse than some of the others. Jews, Lutherans, Scandinavian & Dutch fortune seekers mingled with the varied religious beliefs.
Virginia- Anglicans, loyal to the church of England were the bulk of the colonists there.
Maryland- In the irony of the reformation, English Catholics were no longer comfortable in protestant England, & many came to Maryland.
Rhode Island- The famous 'religious tolerance' colony, where outcasts from all the other colonies could come. It was not a large colony, but significant as a refuge for dissenters.

Almost all the colonies had some kind of religious basis.. they were formed as religious utopias, where the faithful could practice their beliefs without fear of persecution; all of them a direct result of the reformation. But after a few generations, the original religious fervor waxed cold, as it always does. Heartfelt piety gave way to ritual instruction, & the power of spiritual living waned.

But by the mid 1700s, a significant movement began sweeping across protestant Europe, & it found its way to the new world. This was the first Great Awakening. George Whitefield, a preacher in this time, drew huge crowds in New England, & Benjamin Franklin, a non Christian, was so impressed with his speeches that he printed the text in his newspaper. It was a movement that emphasized PERSONAL spirituality.. a living relationship with God, & centralized Jesus as the way of salvation. It was characterized by great emotion, often with tears.. 'white gutters' on the cheeks of weeping coal miners. The idea of the priesthood of believers was rekindled, & itinerant preachers fanned out across the new world bringing the message of salvation. Lost souls were their targets, & they sought to bring people back to God. Race was immaterial to many of these preachers, & many targeted plantations & slaves, & included them as equals in the Kingdom of God.

This Awakening led DIRECTLY to the American revolution, the Declaration of Independence, & the writing of the constitution. Reformation concepts, such as the equality of man, Natural Law, & individual sovereignty found its collective expression in the revived spiritual climate of America.

Thus was born the Experiment in self rule. These was not academians, pontificating about dry concepts of philosophy, but fiery eyed true believers, filled with zeal for God & inspired to LIVE and DIE for a cause higher than themselves. It was religious revival that sparked the American revolution, that brought not only the philosophical basis for the beliefs, but the earnestness & passion that is needed for any social change.

It should be clear that the earnest beliefs of the early American Christians did not predispose them to intolerance.  They saw the value in FREEDOM, & preferred that over partisan theology.  That is why so many of the founders did not support a Christian based govt, but only in the principles of freedom & Natural Law.  Multitudes of reference were given to God, as the Creator, or the Lord of Nature, but defining Him in denominational terms went beyond their desire.  They saw the State as the enemy of religion, & THAT was the basis for the separation clause, not that religion was in enmity toward the state.

The inclusion of the spiritual condition of the people provides a much clearer, insightful analysis of history, rather than trying to force humanity to act from purely secular motivations. The reformers in Luther's time, & the Awakening in the mid 1700s provide a better foundation for the actions of the people, their motivations, & their ideological basis. Man is not a pure animal, but acts from his beliefs. It is ridiculous to ignore those beliefs when learning from history.

After the American Revolution came another period of slow spiritual decline.  The first Great Awakening in the US brought vigorous activity: the founding of universities, outreach to the Indian tribes, & conversion of African slaves.  But the subsequent generation had only the stories of the revival, & were not smitten by 'holy ghost power' like their predecessors.  So expediency trumped idealism, & acceptance of moral decline became the norm.

Slavery as a symbol of human oppression was not widely embraced, until the next Great Awakening, which occurred early in the 19th century.  There was some reaction to the advent of Deism & the age of reason, where skepticism & cold rationalism became a popular mode of communication, writing, & speaking.  The second awakening was characterized by more emotion & romantic views of life & God, & not just the cold, calculating reasonings of the logicians.  Intermingled in this was the view that the Advent, or the second coming of Christ was imminent, & some believed it was their Christian duty to prepare the way, by promoting social change & legislating morality.  Abolitionism exploded during this time, & radical actions were taken by some to usher in this era of moral purity.  The civil war was the ultimate expression of the second great awakening, & the north, especially, carried the banner of Jesus & took the moral high ground.

Consider the lyrics & even the tune of the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic'.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword,
His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps,
His day is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His Judgement Seat.
Oh! Be swift, my soul, to answer Him, be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me;
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

The significance of this 'hymn' cannot be overlooked.  The tune comes from 'John Brown's body', a pop tune ridiculing abolitionists.  'John's Brown's body lies a moldering in his grave', was replaced with the coming glory of the Advent.  The call was for the faithful to follow Christ's example, & 'die to make men free'.  The south lacked this moral high ground, & was much more laid back in their religious overtones, though they still tried to rally the troops to die for the southern cause.  But it was not as altruistic as dying for the freedom of Man, in service to the Almighty.  For the common soldier in the south, dying so the plantation owners could keep their way of life did not have the same appeal.  Of course there were many factors for the south's loss, but the spiritual drive of the northern moralists was certainly one of them.

But the second great awakening laid the foundation, morally & spiritually, for not only the abolition of slavery in the US, but throughout all of Europe, where the same spiritual fires were burning.  That movement went on to be the source of classic liberalism, fought for women's suffrage, the banning of alcohol, & promoted moral purity in schools & public life.  Education was hailed as a great tool for instructing morality & the foundation of their views, & literacy exploded in the nation.  History, science, & religious instruction went on simultaneously, with no conflict.  The second great awakening moved into our collective social structures farther than the previous awakenings had.  Earlier ones concentrated on individual piety, & the personal transaction of salvation between God & man.  The second awakening included social activism, & was the logical next step for a nation of self rule taking charge of their governance.

This religious revival early in the 19th century had a profound impact on not only the fledgling nation, but the world.  'Manifest Destiny' was the belief in not only America's right & duty to conquer & subdue savage people, but was the basis for European imperialism.  Add to that the mix of Darwinism, that took off mid 19th century, & the moral imperative was clear for the white man to subjugate the uncivilized world.  The western culture was one of science, technology, & moral superiority, & they forced the whole world into the modernization of the 20th century.  With expanded travel methods, global communication, & a superior war machine, no one could argue that the white Europeans (which included America) had every right & duty to civilize the world, & bring order, justice, hygiene, & Law to the uncivilized, barbaric worlds they invaded.

Early in the 20th century, the Nazis & American eugenicists took it to the next logical step, that of purifying the human race into better suited, more highly evolved beings.  This same ideological movement into social activism extolled the virtues of a centralized State, empowered to enable the superior social engineers to do their necessary job of managing the inferior masses.. supported, of course, by these same masses.  It was a return to aristocracy, or maybe just a simple changing of the guard.  The jumbling together of religious morality, righteous indignation, social Darwinism, & the new concepts of collectivist atheistic Marxism, coalesced into the perfect storm of progressive, liberal thought.  This is the mismatched jumble of ideology that progressives try to combine into a single ideology, & provides the charges of irrationality that are so often thrown their way.  They have conflicting ideals, but cling to them with the same religious fervor that their predecessors had.

I get it.  This is not  a popular subject, especially in a post Christian, revisionist age, where the past is viewed through the prism of secular humanism, & all advances are proclaimed to be from atheistic scientists.  But that is an illusion, & it too will pass.  IMO, there are other awakenings before us, yet to occur, that will revive the soul of the nation & return America to her spiritual roots.  But that is a future hope.  This is an analysis of the past.  Let us continue.

During the period from the late 19th century into the early 20th century, there were not any major spiritual revivals.  The 'gay 90s' was a time of abundance & affluence for many, & the cult of youthful idealism took off.  Parties & socializing became a mainstream event.  Epicurean ideals of pleasure & self gratification rose, replacing the age old monastic, austere values of more difficult times.

Technology & mechanization took off during this time, as travel & communication shrunk the world.  Great ships made ocean voyages easy, & the internal combustion engine changed the world forever.  One man with a tractor could out produce 10 men with horses.  Food production exploded & became cheaper.  Wealth building of the nation grew, as more money was available for consumer items, & new industries burst onto the scene every year.  Change & advancement became the norm, & modernism swept the civilized world.  The old notions of spirituality were fading, & the self made man burst onto the scene.  Man makes himself, & is not subject to provision from God or gods.  A brave new world was forming before everyone's eyes, & nothing was impossible.

Political upheaval continued in Europe through the 19th century, & into the new millennium. Monarchies continued to fall, & enlightenment thinking regarding Natural Law & Absolute morality lost traction.  Collectivist Marxism & social Darwinism replaced the trend toward human freedom & equality.  Among the intelligentsia & social elite, the concepts of a Creator granting 'unalienable rights' seemed old fashioned & quaint.  This was a new age of elitism.  The highly evolved rose to the top.  Their technology & knowledge of machinery & harnessing the laws of physics seemed boundless.

The Russian revolution began the national experiment of Marxism, a totalitarian system of collectivism, that claimed to be the wave of the future.  They held the keys to the future, & would usher in a human utopia, free from oppression, war, famine, & any of the typical fears of man.

Imperialism became the duty of these new elite.  They were bound by nature to lead all humanity into their brave new world of technology, hygiene, medical advancements, & civilized rule.  The new ruling elite brought a world of order & control, & the British hegemony exemplified the European's burden to civilize the world.

This was a time of European expansionism, & included America & her responsibility of manifest destiny.  But with great social pride & elitism came competition among the major players.  Large central power was the new god.  More area.  More colonies.  More expansion.  The world was not enough, so they began to covet their neighbor's turf.

The Kaiser began expanding Germany to his view of superior domination.  He was the first grandson of Queen Victoria, ironically, but envied & hated the British hegemony.  Power was the only true god.  Massive war machines were built, & the first world war ushered in a global conflict, where the imperialistic nations battled for supremacy across the globe.  In less than a blink of an eye, historically, the world went from WW1 to WW2, as the Germans again pursued their right to dominate the world, based on their evolutionary superiority.  The Nazis blended the collectivist, state centered ideology of Marxism with the ideals of Darwinism & the duty of the highly evolved elite to manage & control the earth.

Many people in America supported the National Socialists in Germany.  It was good & proper, they reasoned, for the more highly evolved among us to weed out the inferior stock.  Everyone knew who the elite were.  They were the white Europeans, who held the keys of power & technology.  Their weaponry was proof of that.  Their intelligent harnessing of technology was proof to the world of their right & duty to dominate.  God & gods are always appealed to by despots, but these new power mongers worshiped the god of technology, & the fear of that god swept the world.  The Japanese added to the fear, as they also used their cultural superiority to vanquish the lessor beings.

This set the stage for a new spiritual awakening, not based on the typical philosophical concepts of the individual soul, but on national survival.  Across Europe & much of the world, a cry to heaven arose to deliver them from the godless aggressors.  This was a mini awakening, but it became the mainstream view.  Church attendance boomed, & talk of God & religious devotion became mainstream again.  Politicians & civic leaders openly prayed & acknowledged God in their civil duties.  'There are no atheists in foxholes', & in a time of national crisis, the call was for mercy & strength to face the evil foe.  For a time, the rise of modernism stalled.  Their victories in the Scopes trial in 1925, where evolution won the right to be taught alongside of creation was forgotten, & calls to the Creator for deliverance drowned out the rising global elitism.  WW2 became a symbol of God fearing traditionalists vs godless elitists.  It was 'God vs the Devil', in this never before seen global conflict.

I don't really consider the early 20th century revivals 'great awakenings', on par with previous ones.  They were significant, but they were more of a reaction to world events, rather than shaping them, as the earlier ones did.

No comments:

Post a Comment