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Religion in the American Revolution

Part One

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The story of the United States of America is not a story that can be told in a single book. This story is not accurately categorized as a historical document only. The history of the United States encompasses several complicated histories, including but not limited to; the history of the native American, the history of the European settlers, the history of the societal evolution, the history of cultural and technological development and the general history of the people’s religion, philosophy and political activity. Because of this, we will not make any vain attempt to study and analyze any more than one of these arenas, and that being the history of religion during the American Revolution.  

We will take a piercing look at the history of America’s religious diversity and development while the nation was officially founded in the late 18th century. Most anyone who has done the slightest amount of research about the history of the United States, or has been through an elementary school American history class, has learned a fundamental concept that the United States was founded to create a culture of religious freedom for its citizens. That freedom has been both a blessing and a curse, when viewed through the eyes of a non biased historian. This religious freedom has created ecstasy on the face of the “religious believer” and total confusion in the minds of the “typical politician” attempting to discern his or her voter base.

There is no better way to look for answers to the puzzle of America’s religious vitality and diversity than to study the nation’s religious history. [1] We will experience this by examining what religious influences were in place when the United States was founded and what developed from those earliest popular threads of religious practice.           

Let us first dispel some common misperceptions about the nation’s religious historical picture. When most people glance at the overview of American history, it reflects in their mind as an image of a people group living free and unrestrained lives, vigorously seeking happiness and a sense of self achievement. When this same image is viewed from a moral perspective, it often appears to be based on Judeo-Christian religious values and principles. From the general perspective it is not an inaccurate reflection. However, it does not and should not make the historical facts surrounding the founding of the United States be different than they actually were.               

The popular notion (especially amongst fundamentalist Christians) is that the United States were founded to be a Christian nation. This simply is not a factual statement or a legitimate position to assume historically. Even a casual reading of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution will quickly defuse this perception. On the other hand, this does not mean that Judeo-Christian values were not the basis for the moral fabric of the civil governmental formation. Moral principles that yielded their presence in the founding of our nation were obviously derived from the Holy Bible.     

The myth of America as a Christian nation, with the church as its guardian, has been, and continues to be damaging to the Church[2]. This is because the issue of politics and political persuasions becomes more of the issue in many Christian Churches than does their actual religious convictions and beliefs. When religion is closely examined inside of any historical time frame, there has usually always been a thirst for power and control that typically consumes them all (not just Christianity). Many religions have often thought this thirst is best fulfilled through the adhesion to and the attempted control of civil government. This is not only how, but also why such myths have been formed over the last two centuries. Every religious group that has graced the continent or been birthed in North America has made their own claims regarding the institutional relationship of “church and state”, but few of them  have truly understood the secular independent position of the United States government during the last two and a half centuries.           

[1] Allitt,Patrick N. American Religious History (Chantilly, VA, Teaching Company, 2001)  p.6

[2] Boyd, Gregory A. The Myth of a Christian Nation (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 2005) p.13


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