An American Identity Rooted in Religious Revival

To explain the difficulty colonies had finding official ministers, Chris stated in his most recent post, “Costly and time-consuming, I assume that many priests either lacked the funding or didn’t want to risk the long journey.” I definitely agree with Chris and would like to add that the colonists did not really try to train new ministers in America either. Geography also contributed to the decline in full church membership, since churches were often long distances away from southern communities separated by miles and miles of farmland. Although full church membership decreased, church attendance still increased, demonstrating how religion still played a large role in the colonists’ lives.
The dwindling church membership cultivated a split between evangelicals and rationalists, between the old and the new. The evangelicals aimed to convert as many people as they possibly could, as well as revive religious fervor among the colonists in what was known as the Great Awakening. “To stimulate revivals, energetic ministers preached “soul-searching” sermons meant to shock their listeners into recognizing their impending and eternal sentence in hell” (Taylor, p. 345). Taylor emphasizes how evangelicals used fear and despair in their revivals, which were often dangerous and caused harm to the weak-hearted. It was shocking to discover some people actually resorted to suicide to escape the anguish they experienced after an evangelical revival. The fear of not attaining salvation that evangelical ministers employed in their revivals could have its origins in the witchcraft trials, which took place a few decades earlier. The New England colonists believed witches were connected to the devil, fostering this fear of hell in place of salvation.
Perhaps the greatest outcome of the Great Awakening was the large-scale dissent from traditional English Anglicanism. Some looked at America as a religious mess with all the different churches that split into different religions. Conversely, America was finally able to distinguish itself from England as a land that fostered many religions and backgrounds; I believe this religious pluralism was the beginning of a common American identity among the colonies. In the end, the Great Awakening had succeeded in reviving faith and religion in America, while fueling a revolutionary break from England that would occur a few decades later.