Posted By Thomas Perez. October 3, 2011 at 8:07pm. Copyright 2011.
The Paradigm of Shifting Faiths
“All religions must be tolerated. Every man must get to Heaven in his own way”
Frederick the Great of Prussia
The glories of the Renaissance – 1420-1517 A.D. (though not covered in this study), led to deplorable excesses in the Western Church, such as the sale of indulgences to raise money for dubious causes. Moreover, superstition, fear, and concepts of a purgatorial fiery damnation led to such causes. As cited by Pope Leo “Since God has given us the Papacy, let us enjoy it” – thus was Leo’s justification in excessiveness, for Leo was a lover of the arts. Martin Luther, a German Theologian, publicly refuted such practices and thus precipitated the Reformation of October 31, 1517. Though, many before Luther expressed the need for reform, they were often silenced by the Church’s inquisitors, interrogations, mocked trials, and as a result; in many cases, they were put to death; simply for refusing to recant their doctrine or protest against popery. Such Pre-Reformation concerns was echoed through the likes of John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, and John Huss respectively.
The intent of the Reformation was to rescue the Church (howbeit, individual men) from tyranny and spiritual bondage within. Their ultimate goal, regardless of theological persuasion, was to draw people closer to God, not to divide or split the Church. But the Catholic Church refused to listen to any proposals, and upon this many left the established Church and became known as Protestants – becoming more Apostolic and Biblical in their approach and belief, establishing Christ as the Head of the Church, not the pope. Essentially, the Reformation was a time of purifying the Western Church and fighting for human and national rights and religious convictions. However, none of these achievements came without human cost.
Yet, few would have anticipated, therefore, that their sincere efforts on behalf of the Kingdom of God would inspire the great thinkers of succeeding generations to turn from religion to other, more humanistic, forms of faith and philosophical thoughts. It is ironic, then, that after so many people had sacrificed their own lives to attain religious freedom, this privilege would result in the next generation questioning the very validity of religion itself during the Age of Enlightenment (1648-1776) that was to follow. This is what Wycliffe feared when he translated the Scriptures in the common language (English). Indeed he was a man ahead of his time. For he saw the benefits, blessings, and the fractions of open interpretations and divisions to come – in the secular world, and even within world of Protestantism.
The Age of Enlightenment
As new trends in philosophical thought were taken up by the wealthy and fashionable classes in the mid-eighteenth century, Christianity increasingly came under attack. For many European leaders, the Enlightenment thinking created a far more secular and therefore attractive climate for winning more power from the churches, both Protestant and Catholic alike. The most powerful and influential leader of the age was the Prussian emperor Frederick the Great (1712-86), who cared very little about religion and who had much respect for the philosophical thought of his time – indeed, he even invited Voltaire (a Deist) as a guest to his court. As far a Christianity was concerned, Frederick was a tolerate man but only because he believed that all religions were absurd.
Meanwhile, critical reactions to Deism were coming from both ends of the religious spectrum. Christians such as Joseph Butler, an Anglican bishop, attempted to defend Christian doctrine. They were very much on the defensive, however, against secular philosophers, the most important of whom were Voltaire, Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant. Kant espoused a sub-adjectives world-view that fostered the conviction that all knowledge of religion or philosophy is confined to pure reason and is completely separate from the knowledge we derive experience and history, so that a person’s conscience is the only true standard of morality. Moreover, during the late 18th century, the writings of European Enlightenment and rationalistic thinkers had become increasingly popular, and had in fact contributed to the popular dissent against English colonial policies which led most immediately to the American Revolution.
The ideas of English philosophers John Locke, and Thomas Hobbes, and French writers Francois Marie Arouet (Voltaire) and Jean Jacques Rousseau, were widely debated in newspaper columns in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg. Local writers and organizers such as Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Adams carefully placed such ideas as “inalienable” rights, “republican” government, and a secularized state before the populace so that they were understood and kept alive in spite of opposition from loyalist colonial governments.
They were further popularized for the “common” reader in Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ (1776). Copies of Paine’s tract were distributed to Washington’s Continental Army soon after their publication, to infuse fighting courage in an otherwise ill-equipped army. And once it appeared that the Revolution had been won, Thomas Jefferson was quick to introduce his Statute for Religious Freedom in Virginia.
As a result, the theological implications of the Enlightenment / Rationalistic philosophy began to become evident by the end of the 18th century, with the rise of Unitarianism (not to be confused with proper Universalism) in New England.
Several leading congregational (formerly Puritan) churches in New England began espousing a very modern and intellectually sophisticated but unorthodox theology. Led by Henry Ware and William Ellery Channing, Unitarians conceived of God as a distant and impersonal Creator who had no immediate and direct relationship with the creation, and preached that humans were essentially good rather than sinful – needing moral reform and guidance rather than redemption – This too is also known as Deism
This trend in religious thought was exemplified very well in Thomas Jefferson’s rescension of the Gospels, in which he created a version of Jesus’ life more palatable to modern thinkers by cutting out all the miracles or claims to Jesus’ divinity. Jefferson’s pan-religious sensibilities are reflected well in the statuary honoring him at the entrance to the quadrangle of the University of Virginia, where an angelic figure holds a stone tablet on which is engraved several names of the supreme deity from major religious traditions – God, Jehovah, Ra, Atman, Allah, Brahma, etc.
This system of thought gave birth to The Second Great Awakening and Revivalism. This great awakening is called the “second” to differentiate it from the 1st (not spoken of here in this study) noticeable awakening during the 1730’s and 1740’s, just a bit before Jefferson, Locke, Hobbles, etc. The 1st Great Awakening began in Puritan congregations in New England, but soon spread throughout the colonies. When we think of the 1st Great Awakening, we think of such names as; John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. However, as indicated before, the Puritans began to fashion themselves after the appealing ideologies of rationalism. This necessitated the need for identity, sectarianism (or bigotry, if you will), individualized faith in Jesus only, and a systematic approach to salvation through further revivals as needed. Thus, a trend of sharing the Gospel began to take preeminence through sense’s.
This latest trend of sensibilities gave birth to what is called ‘Popularization and Systematization’. Charles G. Finney championed the call for making specific the role in which God played in an individuals life. Rather than believing God was distant, Finney created or coined the term – “Personal relationship with God”. Moreover, he emphasized the importance of 6 area’s of critical popularization and systematization.
1. Evangelistic preaching: Aiming for decisions. Prior to this, most believed that sermons should be simply applied based on Scripture with no preconceived aim for a certain response.
2. Protracted meetings: A series of meetings held over a few weeks
3. Mixed prayer and testimony: Women were allowed to speak to the congregation
4. The Anxious bench: A place at the front where individuals would go and pray when struggling with spiritual issues; a place to receive counseling and support in prayer.
5. Publicity of revival in advance, using local support communities.
6. Repeated revivals (due to the up-and-down nature of human spirituality), which resulted in “burned over districts like that in Western New York.
This Finny called ‘New Measures’. In other words, new measures had to be taken to insure proper faith or sectarianism. For I can hardly blame him for creating the alter call – or confessing out loud, the Lord Jesus Christ; since he saw all to well the ‘God Trend’ of Empiricism and Rationalism rearing its palatable head upon the Church – and through the echo’s of the Enlightenment.
The impact of the Enlightenment era resulted in two new schools of thought which dominated European thought. In Britain the Empiricists tried to explain everything on the
basis of the information we receive from our senses, while France and Germany the Rationalists attempted to treat philosophy as a kind of mathematics, working out everything by reason alone from first principles.
Mission and Revolution
By 1770, the religious fervor of the first Great Awakening was waning in the 13 North American colonies that were to form the United States, and church attendance declined over the next quarter century. Christianity was still enormously influential, however. During the American Revolution War (1776-1883), for instance, the Continental Congress issued annual thanksgiving and fast-day proclamations that regularly invoked the name of Jesus Christ and asked for His blessing on the war effort.
By 1776, an important “revolution” had already taken place in the minds of many American colonists: they wised their churches to be free of the state – a concept then foreign to any European country. Most of the colonists were Protestants of one from or another, and they believed that government had no role in the spiritual life of the individual. Not only did they believe that each person was answerable to God and not to a secular monarch or divinely appointed pope, they also maintained the English attitude toward liberty and a representative form of government, believing that the freedom to govern oneself and to practice one’s religion were inviolable rights.
The colonists’ resolve was all the stronger because a number of their forebears had fled persecution – the Puritans, for example. It was seconded by the influential Deists who played a leading role in the revolution, and it was to be enshrined in the ‘Constitution of the United States’ in 1787. A number of leaders of the revolutionary era were devout Christians, including Patrick Henry ,John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton. George Washington appears to have had a genuine faith (though a Mason), he kept a prayer diary and wrote that God would accept him because of the “merits of thy Son Jesus Christ”, although he was not a regular churchgoer. Even the Deist leaders of the era, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison, had great respect for Christianity and its founder, if not for His Church.
For the most part, the various sects and denominations that existed in America supported the revolutionary cause. Congregational pulpits became sounding boards for the revolution as Puritan ministers promoted insurrection in sermons and pamphlets. John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister, signed the ‘Declaration of Independence’. The Lutheran church sent many to the battlefield. Only the churches that preached the gospel of pacifism attempted to stay out of the cause. Groups such as the Amish, Mennonites, Quakers, and Moravians refused to take up arms and in return were, at best, harassed and ridiculed and, at worst persecuted for their stand.
Staunch support for the revolution from Baptist churches helped that church grow in membership greatly, during and after the war. After 1783, the Methodist church, too, grew rapidly. The major loser among the denominations was the church of England in America, which was reestablished in 1789 as the Protestant Episcopal church, a shadow of its former self. The new religious landscape of the United States was unlike any other – a profusion of denominations, none of them dominant – and the freedom and energy of the American churches were a wonder to European eyes. This clearly so defined and found within the ‘Constitution of the United States’.
The new ‘Constitution of the United States’ of America recreated the relationship between church and state. Previously the two had always been viewed as a unity. Wherever Christianity had become the dominant religion, it had in some way or other been linked with rulers and nations by law, lending its authority to government and receiving government protection.
Church and State were seen as totally intertwined, whether by popes who tried to direct rulers and states; or by eighteenth century absolute monarchs who tried to make the church a department of state.
In the new United States the two were to be completely separated. (The Constitution does not even mention God). Churches were free of state control, and the state were to be free of Church interference. This established a culture in the sphere of religion that was analogous to the “free market” in the sphere of economics – all religions were allowed to thrive or die by their own efforts, without the support or enmity of the state. It was increasingly to become the model for the modern world.
In the U.S. and elsewhere, the result of this separation has been to make it harder to identify a country as “a Christian nation” – its laws must be grounded in something other than the Christian Revelation, even where Christianity is the religion of the majority, as in the United States.
The churches are left in an ambiguous position vis-à-vis government, free but barred from influencing the conduct of the State. This has sometimes lead to Christianity being marginalized, and to conflict between Church and State over education (as mentioned in Part 1). In the United States Christianity has often been replaced in the public arena by “Civil Religion” – a less defined faith, mingling Deism and Patriotism. To give one example, in 1954 President Eisenhower told Americans: “Our country makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith – and I don’t care what that is”. Such a nebulous faith, including belief in a “manifest destiny” guiding America to a glorious future, is often invoked to support government, rarely to challenge it.
During this time a series of events transpired that will ultimately shape the way we think, believe, and react (to both religion and politics) in the changing paradigm.
Such events saw a startling attempt to destroy Christianity in France. The assault began after France fell into political revolution in 1789.
The French Revolution (French: Révolution française; 1789–1799), sometimes distinguished as the ‘Great French Revolution’ (La Grande Révolution), was a period of radical social and political upheaval in French and European history that saw a series of major changes in power and political system as well as Revolutionary Wars. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years. French society underwent an epic transformation as feudal, aristocratic and religious privileges evaporated under a sustained assault from radical left-wing political groups and the masses on the streets. Old ideas about tradition and hierarchy – of monarchy, aristocracy and religious authority – were abruptly overthrown by new Enlightenment principles of equality, citizenship, inalienable rights, as well as nationalism and (briefly) democracy.
1. Harmless at first glance: the new revolutionary government began to attack church corruption and the wealth of the Bishops and Abbots who ruled the church.
2. Clerical privileges were abolished.
3. Church property was nationalized.
4. Church internal life was interfered with. Declaring that Bishops should be elected by laity – thus further restricting the popes authority over French church. Worse was to follow: when the country went to war in 1792, moderate leaders were ousted and a radical government was formed.
5. The government set up a “constitutional church” which kept the church firmly under its thumb, and the Church (the Catholic Church) was thus repressed.
6. Finally, the Church was outlawed. The next two years, known as the Reign of Terror, were far more brutal than anything foisted on the populace by any king. The guillotine would become the symbol of the era as royalty, clergy, and anyone else accused of being a counter-revolutionary lost their head to its blade.
Christianity was banned and 30,000 clergy were forced to exile, while hundreds were killed. In an effort to completely eradicate vestiges of the past, and to quell threats from other countries that accused it of being a godless and immoral regime. The French government formed a new, official “religion of reason” on June 7th 1794. Deistic/or the God Trend, if you will, in nature upheld the doctrine that there was a Supreme Being but that entity was not the God of Christianity. Images of the ‘goddess of reason’ was placed in churches, the clergy were no longer paid and were forbidden to teach in schools, and holy days were replaced with festivals honoring secular ideals.
During the French Revolution, the National Assembly had taken Church properties and issued the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which made the Church a department of the State, removing it from the authority of the Pope. This caused hostility among the Vendeans towards the change in the relationship between the Catholic Church and the French government. Subsequent laws abolished the traditional Gregorian calendar and Christian holidays.
Internally, popular sentiments radicalized the Revolution significantly, culminating in the rise of Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobins and virtual dictatorship by the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror from 1793 until 1794 during which between 16,000 and 40,000 people were killed (The Incidence of the Terror during the French Revolution: A Statistical Interpretation, Cambridge (USA), Harvard University Press, 1935).
The Committee of Public Safety (French: Comité de salut public), created in April 1793 by the National Convention and then restructured in July 1793, formed the de facto executive government in France during the Reign of Terror (1793–1794), a stage of the French Revolution. The Committee of Public Safety succeeded the previous Committee of General Defence (established in January 1793) and assumed its role of protecting the newly established republic against foreign attacks and internal rebellion. As a wartime measure, the Committee – composed at first of nine, and later of twelve members – was given broad supervisory powers over military, judicial, and legislative efforts. Its power peaked under the leadership of Maximilien Robespierre, between August 1793 and July 1794; following the downfall of Robespierre, the Committee’s influence diminished, and it was disestablished in 1795.
After the fall of the Jacobins and the execution of Robespierre, the Directory assumed control of the French state in 1795 and held power until 1799, when it was replaced by the Consulate under Napoleon Bonaparte.
However, it must be said that Christianity survived (or at least the Catholic version of it).
1. The secularization was deeply unpopular and was abandoned, and a degree of religious freedom was restored.
2. In 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte made himself dictator of France. Napoleon’s baptized in Ajaccio on 21 July 1771; he was piously raised, and received a Christian education; however, his teachers failed to give faith to the young boy. (1) As an adult, Napoleon was described as a “Deist with involuntary respect and fondness for Catholicism.”(2)
He never believed in a living God; Napoleon’s deity was an absent and distant God, (1) but he pragmatically considered organized religions as key elements of social order, (1) and especially Catholicism, whose “splendorous ceremonies and sublime moral” better act over the imagination of the people than other religions (1)
Although, not favorably inclined towards Christianity, Napoleon believed that absolute rule was easier in a nation with an established religion.
3. Bonaparte staged successful campaigns against the First and Second Coalitions arrayed against France. In 1799, he staged a coup d’état and installed himself as First Consul; five years later the French Senate proclaimed him emperor. In the first decade of the 19th century, the French Empire under Napoleon engaged in a series of conflicts – the Napoleonic Wars – involving every major European power.
Bonaparte had also staged a conquest of the middle East and wished to establish a French presence in the Middle East, but failed in his attempt.
4. After such success’s, Bonaparte instituted lasting reforms, including higher education, a tax code, road and sewer systems, and established the Banque de France (central bank). He negotiated the Concordat of 1801 with the Catholic Church, which sought to reconcile the mostly Catholic population to his regime. It was presented alongside the Organic Articles, which regulated public worship in France.
Seeking national reconciliation between revolutionaries and Catholics, the Concordat of 1801 was signed on 15 July 1801 between Napoleon and Pope Pius VII. It solidified the Roman Catholic Church as the majority church of France and brought back most of its civil status.
While the Concordat restored some ties to the papacy, it was largely in favor of the state; the balance of church-state relations had tilted firmly in Napoleon’s favor. Now, Napoleon could win favor with the Catholics within France while also controlling Rome in a political sense. Napoleon once told his brother Lucien in April 1801, “Skillful conquerors have not gotten entangled with priests. They can both contain them and use them.” (3) As a part of the Concordat, he presented another set of laws called the Organic Articles.
4. Napoleon emancipated Jews (as well as Protestants in Catholic countries and Catholics in Protestant countries) from laws which restricted them to ghettos, and he expanded their rights to property, worship, and careers. Despite the anti-semitic reaction to Napoleon’s policies from foreign governments and within France, he believed emancipation would benefit France by attracting Jews to the country given the restrictions they faced elsewhere. (4) He stated, “I will never accept any proposals that will obligate the Jewish people to leave France, because to me the Jews are the same as any other citizen in our country. It takes weakness to chase them out of the country, but it takes strength to assimilate them.” (5) He was seen as so favorable to the Jews that the Russian Orthodox Church formally condemned him as “Antichrist and the Enemy of God”.(6)
1. “L’Empire et le Saint-Siège”. Napoleon.org. http://www.napoleon.org/fr/salle_lecture/articles/files/Empire_Saint-Siege_Napoleon_religion.asp. Retrieved 15 June 2011.
2. “Revue des Deux Mondes – 1867 – tome 71, p.386”
3. Aston, Nigel (2002). Christianity and Revolutionary Europe c. 1750–1830. Cambridge University Press.
4. McLynn on Napoleon; 1998, p.436
5. Schwarzfuchs on Napoleon; 1979, p.50
6. Cronin on Napoleon1994, p.315
To Be Continued in Part 4
Is History Repeating Itself?