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histories of the United States address the matter from a secular point-of-view. The government, the society, the economy and other such matters have been examined and discussed thoroughly but religion and its history has been largely ignored. Religion played an important role in the formation of the American government and played an even more important role in the development of American society, yet, studies related to how these roles developed are minimal (Eidsmoe). The purpose of this research is to examine how religious philosophy impacted on the formation of the American society and how religious philosophy developed as the young nation evolved and how religious philosophy has continued to impact American society .It is my belief that religion played a far more significant role in the formation of the United States than current history books presently represent and that, through proper and thorough research the importance of religious philosophy in the development of the political thought will be revealed (Clarke). Additionally, the research will also concentrate on how religion has continued to influence American society through the review of media, research studies, and treatises, and published works. Again, the impact of religion has been largely downplayed by many sources and it will be the goal of this study to determine the exact effect that religion has American society.
Overview of Sources
The number of sources available on this subject is limited. The passage of time has eliminated a number of the first hand sources that would best provide insight into the thinking of early Americans but there are a variety of historical treatises that provide an excellent analysis of the thinking and events that occurred in and around the activities of the late 18th century. Most of the sources utilized are published works by experts in the field of either history or religion and are well qualified to provide the information necessary to complete a proper analysis.
In completing this study a variety of different topic areas will be examined. One of the reasons that the history of Christian thought and philosophy has been afforded limited exposure is the fact that from the beginning of the foundation of this country there has been a concerted effort to maintain a separation of Church and state, particularly on the national level, and this has spilled over so that strict secularization has been applied to the reporting of our nation's history. The reasoning behind this strict adherence to secularization will be researched and how, despite attempts to limit the influence of religion, religion has still managed to play a significant role (Yinger).
What has often been overlooked is the importance of religion in the original colonization of the American continent and the United States as a government entity. Many of the first settlers came to the Americas seeking religious freedom (Noonan). As the Reformation developed in Europe, religious prosecution increased and many sought a chance to worship freely and to elect to follow whatever religious beliefs they desired. Several of the original colonies were actually founded by specific religious groups (e.g. Quakers founded Pennsylvania; Catholics founded Maryland). This practice, however, led to persecutions similar to those that the settlers were attempting to avoid in Europe to develop in the colonies. Perhaps the best example of this is the influence that the Puritans exercised in the New England colonies (Newlin). The Puritans were intent on demanding that everyone adopt their style of living and those who chose to live outside the Puritan way were often fined, banished, whipped or even imprisoned for not conforming. These practices did not last long as immigration caused the Puritan influence to wane but for a substantial period of time Puritanism reigned supreme in the New England colonies.
The Quakers establishment of a colony in Pennsylvania was instrumental in paving the way of greater religious freedom in the Colonies. The Quakers settling Pennsylvania broke the stranglehold that the Puritans had exercised and marked the way for other religions to be accepted. Soon Baptists, Roman Catholics, and other Protestant sects began to appear in the various colonies. As immigration increased, diversity in religious thought began to appear in each of the colonies and no one religion dominated any of the specific colonies. Religious freedom began to characterize life in the Colonies.
This pursuit of religious freedom was a motivating force in the decision of many settlers to immigrate to the America continent and this pursuit for religious freedom remained in their thoughts. Armed with the experience of not being free to practice their own religions in Europe, these individuals were determined to make sure that similar occurrences of religious persecution did not occur in the United States. This study will research the impact of this concern.
As religious diversity increased in the Colonies, religion began to become more important in the politics of the era (Gaustad). Early documents such as the Cambridge Platform, which was drawn up in 1648, established the Congregational Church as the form of church governance in the several of the colonies. It continued in effect in two of the colonies, Massachusetts and Connecticut through much of the 18th century and effected not only the operation of the Church in those colonies but also had an impact of the eventual separation of Church and state position that was adopted by the new United States government. Other early documents that reflected the influence of religion of the politics of the period include the Act of Concerning Religion, the Massachusetts Proposals, the Adopting Act of 1729, and, eventually, the Bill of Rights.
In this study, the impact of how American religion was transformed from a country where only a few religions were actively practiced to a nation where no particular religion dominated will be examined. In examining these various religions, it will be determined how being a nation of various religions has changed the nature of American society.
Review of Specific Religions
Debate over the importance of religion in the early days of the United States has been acrimonious. There is a widely held claim that many of the founding fathers were either Atheists or Deists and that, therefore, religion was of little importance philosophically in the formation of the government. The reality, however, is that Atheism was virtually unknown among the writers of the Constitution and would have been a rare religious philosophy among immigrants of European descent in the 18th century as all the Founding Fathers were. Unfortunately, however, ascribing a particular religious orientation to the Founding Fathers, and, therefore determining which religious philosophy most heavily influential during the period is virtually impossible. In a time when the country was largely rural, attendance at Church was characterized by convenience as transportation was difficult and most everyone attended the Church that was located most closely to ones' home.
Complicating any examination of religious philosophy in early America is the fact that the period was dominated by the emerging influence of Enlightenment thinking (Kloppenberg). The Enlightenment was a strong departure from the religious strictness characterized by the Puritans and led to a far more liberal interpretation of religious doctrine. New Protestant denominations emerged that were still considered to be Christian with the unifying factor with other denominations being the essential belief in the teachings of Jesus. Splinter denominations arose throughout the country and these denominations developed regionally and locally. The orthodoxy of Puritanism was being abandoned and the new denominations were loosely based on theological concepts. Reason began to dominate the religious philosophy of the time and acceptance of diversity in thought became more common.
Deism and a new religion, Unitarianism, became quite popular during the early days of the nation (Butler). While Unitarianism is an organized religion, Deism is not. Deism is merely a religious viewpoint that was popular among many early Americans. Deists essentially believed in God but did not see Jesus as the son of God, did not believe in the Trinity, no strong belief in the occurrence of miracles, and no belief in either the concept of atonement or the resurrection. Followers of Unitarianism varied considerably in what Christian dogma they adopted but they all placed a high value on human reason as the determining factor in how one conducted his or her daily affairs. Defining either Deism and Unitarianism as they were practiced in the 18th century is difficult as neither, in accordance with the general philosophical approach of the times, ever established any strict standards of belief or rituals of practice.
The religious philosophies of the time that most nearly could be classified as being orthodox include the Church of England (identified as the Episcopalian after the Revolution), the Calvinists (which would include Puritans, Presbyterians, Baptists and Congregationalists), and the Roman Catholics. The Anglican Church was most prominent in the Middle States while Calvinists were the primary religious thought in the New England states. Roman Catholicism was a very small religion in the early days of the nation with most Catholics living in either…[continue]
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