Anthropology of the American Religious Experience

Making Us a Better People

parare domino plebem perfectam
"to prepare for the Lord a perfect people"

Among the lower classes generally, and especially in the slave camps, a fascinating religious phenomenon swept through the United States (before that, England) -- the camp meeting. In these gatherings, large groups of people converged from plantations or towns miles around to listen to itinerant preachers, to pray, and just share in the company of their brethren. Common features of camp meetings included fiery, often long-lasting sermons by impassioned preachers and spontaneous singing that could become so fervent it led to “singing-ecstasies.” Though camp meetings originated in England, and especially Wales, the “emphases upon revivalism and morality, de-emphasis upon formal theology, clergy sharing the worldview of the frontier dwellers, and respect for common people” all helped the movement become widespread in the United States. As Americans expanded westward into Appalachia and the Midwest, the lack of ordained ministers in the vast expanses of wilderness fueled the popularity of camp meetings in these areas, and they became a distinctive feature of frontier Christianity.

The Methodist holiness movement sparked new enthusiasm for camp meetings after the Civil War, and many permanent camp meeting sites and resorts were developed across the country. Primitive Methodism and evangelicalism. The hush arbor of the rural South, the emergent AME beginnings and the "prairie fire" enthusiasm of the holiness movement

Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show

Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show live (Neil on the Johnny Cash show)

Brush Arbor - the camp meeting revivalism in America

OR, LATER .... hitting the sawdust trail

Social Gospel - the poverty of the poor folk did not deter them

If anything, their hardships drove them, if not to despair and alcohol, to strive harder (and 'God' seemed to help)

Why Wales - Land of Revivals
Wales… CYMRU… a small land of hills, mountains and once industrial valleys. A nation proud of its history and determined to guard its own unique inheritance. A people with their own culture with many still speaking its own distinct tongue – Welsh – or ‘Cymraeg’ as the ‘Cymro’ or Welshman might say. A land littered by castles and forts – remnants of battles of independence with their Anglo Saxon neighbors.

But alongside and mixed with the political and cultural history of the nation is a stream of Christian history and spiritual revival beginning in the third century and continuing to the present day. A history with its own unique spiritual heroes Saint David and the Celtic Church – William Morgan with his translation of the Scriptures into the Welsh language – Howell Harries and Daniel Rowlands contemporaries and co-workers with Whitefield and Welsey in the 18th Century Methodist Revival accompanied by William Williams Pantycelyn, the Welsh Charles Wesley – who provided the spiritual sound track with his unique hymn writing ability.

So thoroughly swept by evangelicalism of the old holiness fire burnt style, this poor, economically hard pressed mountainous nation became known as ‘The Land of Revival’ -- Land of Song.

The Welsh Methodist revival literally revitalised Christianity in Wales during the 18th century. Methodist preachers such as Griffith Jones, William Williams and Howell Harris were such powerful speakers that they transformed the social landscape through evangelicalism. Its influence on Wales was immense as it led to the establishment of the Calvinistic Methodists and revitalised old dissenting churches.

Following the Llangeitho revival of 1762 members of the revival were often known as Jumpers on account of their habit of jumping for joy. This nickname particularly stuck after William Pantycelyn wrote Llythyr Martha Philopur at y Parchedig Philo Evangelius eu hathro (Martha Philopur's letter to the Reverend Philo Evangelius her teacher) followed by Atteb Philo-Evangelius i Martha Philopur (Philo-Evangelius's reply to Martha Philopur). These texts attempted to teach and defend the practices of the revival including that of jumping. Being nicknamed jumpers juxtaposed them with Quakers (who 'quaked') and Shakers (who 'shook').

The Welsh Revival at the turn of the century was the largest Christian revival in Wales during the 20th century. While by no means the best known of revivals, it was one of the most dramatic in terms of its effect on the population, and it had repercussions that reached far beyond the Welsh border, triggering a series of revivals in other countries. “The movement kept the churches of Wales filled for many years to come. Ultimately, the Awakening swept the rest of Britain, Scandinavia, parts of Europe, North America, the mission fields of India and the Orient, Africa and Latin America.”

A prominent leader of the Revival was the Methodist preacher of New Quay, Joseph Jenkins. In September a conference was held in Blaenannerch. It was reported that 'massive blessing' was upon this conference and the news quickly spread throughout the area and beyond. The Welsh revival began in late 1904 under the leadership of Evan Roberts (1878–1951), a 26-year-old former collier and minister-in-training. The revival lasted less than a year, but in that period 100,000 converts were made. Begun as an effort to kindle non-denominational, non-sectarian spirituality, the Welsh revival of 1904-05 coincided with the rise of the labour movement, socialism, and a general disaffection with religion among the working class and youths.

Interpretation: Unlike earlier religious revivals that pivoted on powerful preaching, the revival of 1904-05 relied primarily on music and on paranormal phenomena as exemplified by the visions of Evan Roberts. The intellectual emphasis of the earlier revivals had left a dearth of religious imagery that the visions supplied. They also challenged the denial of the spiritual and miraculous element of Scripture by opponents of the revival, who held liberal and critical theological positions. The structure and content of the visions not only repeated those of Scripture and earlier Christian mystical tradition but also illuminated the personal and social tensions that the revival addressed by juxtaposing Biblical images with scenes familiar to contemporary Welsh believers.

The evangelicalism that was such a conspicuous characteristic of both Wales and the vast American heartland during the nineteenth century seemed particularly centered among the lower classes. The elite denominations, those with the whitest complexion and most comfortable socio-economic status often scorned the evangelicalism of the lower classes for their so-called "African" influences, or the "enthusiasm" of their worship, the spontaneous style of praising God or reaching out for the miraculous. Indeed, the phenomenon of the miraculous which always seemed to pervade these mass outpourings was never satisfactorily explained. MORE America's ingenious Chaos Theory

Going back. The Poor are Rich in Faith

Primitive Methodism was seen to originate in an All Day of Prayer (often miscalled a "Camp Meeting") held in the area of The Potteries at Mow Cop, Staffordshire on 31 May 1807. This led, in 1811, to two groups joining together, the 'Camp Meeting Methodists' and the 'Clowesites' led by Hugh Bourne and William Clowes respectively.

The movement was spawned from the followers of these men. Bourne and Clowes were charismatic evangelists. Both had reputations for zeal and were sympathetic to ideas the elites of the hierarchy condemned. Their belief that was most unacceptable to the erudite elites was their support for so-called camp meetings. These were day-long, open air meetings involving public praying, preaching and Love Feasts

Cymru am byth
Elie Halevy praised the Wesleyan revivals in Britain for averting violent revolution that might otherwise have struck that nation. It was as if those who suffered the most had found a means of touching the transcendent sources of help which they needed to survive, and turn around. The very same desperation which otherwise might have resulted in a blood bath, somehow was turned into an apprehension of the miraculous. The inner dimension which hurting people find as a source of overcoming -- somehow answered the cri du coeur of these desperate folks of the lower class.

In America, no doubt similar things could be said for our own evangelicalism. The British radical E.P. Thompson felt the Methodist revivalism innoculated the lower classes, offered them a narcotic enabling them to avoid responsibility. Calling it "sanctified emotional onanism," Thompson said the religious experience was thus a "ritualised form of psychic masturbation." Energies and emotions which were dangerous to the social order, or which were merely unproductive ... were released in the harmless form of sporadic love-feasts, watch-nights, band-meetings or revivalist campaigns.' (See African Christianity by Paul Gifford) . Website - America's Love Affair with God

Modern psychiatry comes closest to making sense of it. Without God, it would appear the inevitable destiny for those at the bottom must be some form of violent revolution. But the hope offered by a movement such as pietistic revivalism, or frontier evangelicalism, represents an alternative. In some sense, the sort of religion on the frontier worked almost like a safety valve, emotionally, for the folk who were clearing the forests, settling the west, and establishing the farms with their families. Also, socially, the churches served as a kind of basis for cohesion and (as much as was possible) a unifying force. But religiously or denominationally, the West was a real-life melting pot. The theological "warfare" was intense, but reading about the battles now, they seem almost like fights over trifles.
See more : America, drunk on God

First, an entire family of churches emerged under the Baptist umbrella. AND (2) similarly a wide group of Methodist and Holiness and Wesleyan or AME churches emerged (under the Methodist umbrella). Roughly, the Baptist types tended to a more localist focus, while the "Methodist" churches were more likely hierarchical (and also likely to be supervised by white elites.) A very widespread attribute, prevalent across a wide spectrum of churches, was the phenomenon of spontaneity. Tocqueville was fascinated by the influence of frontier revivalism, both the negative and the positive sides. He commented that religious insanity is VERY common in Jacksonian America. On the frontier.

The heartland revivalism inevitably produced notorious "burnt over" districts -- beginning in Charles Finney's footsteps (upstate New York) and spreading across the old "Northwest Territories" and through the prairie states. In New York there were Quakers and evangelicals and spiritualists. Later, there would be suffragists and abolitionists. Susan B. Martinez suggests that the Shakers (Lebanon) and Mormons (Palmyra) had planted the seed. These frontier settlements (Palmyra, Lebanon, Albany, Buffalo) and the region of western New York were fairly bristling with revelators of the new order, the springtime of the people. They were "inflamed by a variety of religious revivals in short succession" -- essentially a hotbed of visionary schemes and Pentecostal fires.

From this cradle of the new order would hatch the Liberty Party in Syracuse, Frederick Douglass' abolitionist outpost in Rochester, Susan B. Anthony's beginnings also in Rochester, the Fourierists, the Millerites, the Amana "Inspirationists" in Buffalo (before moving to Iowa), the Perfectionists, Charles Finney's swath of burnt over towns (before moving west to Oberlin). And, incidentally, my abolitionist Quaker ancestors in Collins Center (before moving to Iowa). Susan B. Martinez adds the important role of the Spiritualists in writing the final chapter (to what Finney started.)

Religious emotionalism as safety valve ?

Tocqueville surely must have contrasted the French Revolution he was so familiar with --- with the American version of an ongoing "revolution" (social reform) instigated by the common folk -- a "revolution" which produced continuous change, adjustment, reformation, evolution -- but no violent bloodbath. No reign of terror.

Henri Bergson said the credit for America's accomplishment was due to the influence of religion. Bergson reasoned that faith and religion promote Fraternity (or amity) and solidarity, or brotherhood. Religion is a moderating force, a power for ameliorating the natural tension or class war that exists between the conservative and the liberal, between the partisans of liberty and the partisans of equality. Religion, or faith, serves as a referee, a peace-maker and a "soother" of hurt feelings, wounded emotions.
Don't throw out the baby with the bath-water .

In urban America it was especially the Catholic worker movement that made a critical difference in the rise of organized labor, among other things. The Catholic worker movement is associated with the names of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Their aim was to "live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ." One of its guiding principles is hospitality towards those on the margin of society, based on the principles of communitarianism and personalism. Their vision grew out of the Rerum Novarum social teachings of the Church, which urged the principle of economic Distributism and condemned both Capitalism and Socialism, although its roots can be traced to elements of Jewish law and the prophetic books of the Old Testament. The cause of justice for the underdog is clearly a very Jewish thing. See more. Indeed, Jesus himself taught compassion for the poor, as well as works of mercy, justice and charity (caritas).

Virtually every single American Democratic president has made common cause with organized labor, certainly dating from the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt was also a political ally of Cardinal Spellman, who (not yet a Cardinal) was credited with saving the 1936 election of FDR. (Converting it into a landslide). While history seems to regard Spellman as a stern and staunch traditionalist, such is not totally true. Spellman assisted in the Vatican denunciation of Mussolini, and later helped arrange the reprimand and silencing of the anti-semitism (bigotry) of Father Coughlin. In 1945, Spellman instituted the Al Smith Dinner, an annual white tie fundraiser attended by both presidential candidates in every election year.

Those Magnificent Kennedy's

U Y Z \   Pluralism   s   Tolerance   s   Coexist   Y U Y Z Y   Pluralism   s   Tolerance   s   Coexist   \ U Y Z

baggage of history
Friends of Diversity

Hot August Night (Neil Diamond)

This song is about a revival meeting
I was at in Jackson Missisippi
And I went there, I guess, because I was curious ...
And also I was a college kid,
Who, thought he had all the answers, you know.
And nobody was gonna teach me anything, and I was gonna
Lay a few answers on them.
So I sat in the back of this tent meeting, and
I got really caught up in the music, the clapping, the singing,
it was tremendously exciting.
And after a while I kinda felt something about the people
There was a tremendous yearning there,
Looking for answers. I think that's where it was at.
Trying to find some way to ease the very hard burdens, some very rough lives.
And after awhile the music stopped and a preacher walked out, and
I remember thinking at that time that
All the education I had. All the books, all the words,
all the learning I had gone through in college
Didnt mean anything there.
I couldn't give anything to these people. I had nothing for them.
So I found myself pulling for this man who was about to give them something
That I couldnt even begin to give them.
And he looked up very slowly,
and he began his sermon ...
Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show live 1970

If Europe Could Produce the Great Karl Marx

America brought forth Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King
a 'Hero for Our Time'


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