The Religious Wrong (pt 3: The Great(?) Awakening)

Welcome to the 3rd episode of the “Religious Wrong” saga. This one covers an introduction to the religious intensity that was the 2nd Great Awakening. A lot of what is now, is because of what was then.

There’s not quite as many of those nefarious deeds that we all love to read about, but there’s quite a bit of “stage setting” with a few tidbits thrown in to keep the interest up.

After you peruse this, click on over to “Mormonism: The Big Con”. Lotsa weird stuff going on over there.


The Rise of “American” Christianity

The beginning of the 19th Century saw the advent of the 2nd out of 3 or 4 (depending on who you talk to) Great Awakenings. The 1st GA woke up back in 1734 and had gone back to beddy-bye by 1741. This one stayed awake from around the end of the 18th Century until it started getting sleepy again in the 1840’s. A few years later the country underwent a “3rd Great Awakening” (A “three-pete” or just insomnia?)I’ll cover the 3rd GA next post.

GA Denominational GrowthThis was a revolutionary time in religion. Church membership soared! Old groups like the Quakers, the Puritans (Congregationalists), and the Anglicans (Episcopalians), splintered into different factions or dropped by the wayside as groups like Methodists and Baptists passed them by. Methodism was a newcomer, having hit the shore in 1766. And, just a few years earlier, Baptists were one of the “Them” groups in the  “Us vs Them” mindset.


There were new churches and cults (sometimes it was hard to tell the difference) popping up all over the place, particularly in New England.Breeding GroundsThe 2nd (& 3rd) “Awakenings” had a lot to do with the resurgence of Millennialism. (It had been almost a thousand years since the last outbreak.)  Contrary to what it may sound like, Millennialism is not about the worship of the number 1,000. It’s the belief that another 1,000 years have passed, so it must be time for J.C. to make a comeback. (If you want to get nerdy about it, it was a type of Millennialism called Postmillennialism, but that’s getting nerdy about it.)

William Miller (1782-1848)

William Miller (1782-1848)

William Miller

“I believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ is near, even at the door, even within twenty-one years,–on or before 1843.” William Miller, September, 1822   

Millenialism’s most famous advocate was one William Miller. (No, not Goldwater’s choice for veep, this William Miller was actually famous.)

In September of 1822, Willie published his conclusions, including the above quote in a twenty-point document. He later narrowed down the timeline a bit: “My principles in brief, are, that Jesus Christ will come again to this earth, cleanse, purify, and take possession of the same, with all the saints, sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844.”

I’m not going to get into his convoluted reasoning behind this, mainly because it just doesn’t seem reasonable. However, if you’d like to take a crack at it, it’s called the “Day-Year Principle“. Check out the link, and proceed from there. (Good luck!)

By 1843, Willie had developed a hell of a following, with estimates as high as 500,000. Over 100,000 people sold all their belongings and waited to be “called up”.

As you may have noticed, J.C. didn’t show up. (I guess he was too busy, visiting Joe Smith). This led to the “Great Disappointment”.

Willie tried to explain that it was just a slight error in bible chronology, but J.C. was coming, he really was! Willie never wavered in his beliefs all the way up to his death, five years later. But, don’t weep too much for Willie, his legacy includes the 7th Day Adventist Church with over 16,000,000 members. (More on that group, next post.)

Btw, Millennialism is still around. Remember this guy?


There were a number of reasons, including psychological, as to why it all happened, but I’m not here to bore you to sleep with psycho-babble. (I do that enough of that without it.) Suffice it to say that this was a new country in a new land with a new type of government where new ideas were encouraged, and the country was feeling its wings.

A lot of Americans felt they needed a Christianity to match their dreams (real & day). They wanted a religion that appealed to their enterprising spirit and their enthusiastic patriotism. A few good words about the righteousness of being rich (aka “The Gospel of Wealth“), wouldn’t hurt either. C&N (W&B)Forget about Matthew 19:24: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” That didn’t apply to Americans. Americans were God’s new chosen people. Just ask them, they’ll tell you. (Btw, contrary to popular mythology, there never was a gate in Jerusalem called “The Eye of the Needle“. However, if there’s any money in it, there might be one now.)

Where there’s a marketable (i.e. lucrative) need, there are always those ripe and ready to take advantage. And the 2nd GA had its share (and then some). A number of their names are still well-known, like Joseph Smith & Mary Baker Eddy. Others such as Hiram Edson and Russell Conwell are not so well-known, but still very influential. I’ll have more to say about several of these individuals later in this and the next post. Joe Smith and his “Mormonites” are getting their own series: Mormonism: “The Big Con”. (Available just a short click away.)

With one or two exceptions, this post will deal more with the effects of the 2nd GA. rather than the causes. Some of those effects were positive, but some of them were very negative.

 The Do-gooders(+/-)

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”1Timothy 2:11-12

stampAmong the positives, was a stirring of the women’s movement. It got started when a preacher (Charles Grandison Finney) actually allowed women to pray in mixed gender settings. (Hey, a start’s a start! One small step for a woman, one giant leap for womankind and all that.)

In July of 1848, a group of Quaker women, led by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (A non-Quaker and very skeptical Christian.) organized the Seneca Falls Convention, widely recognized as the start of the women’s suffrage movement.

Religion and the women’s movement were also critical in another 19th Century crusade: the temperance/prohibitionist movement.


“Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.” Ecclesiastes 9:7

drunk-for-a-pennyAlcoholism in 19th Century America was way out of control. In 1820, the per capita consumption was the equivalent of 7 gallons of 100 proof per year. Per capita covers every man, woman and child, so unless mama’s breast was booze filled, somebody was drinking baby’s share as well. Older children drank hard cider, wine, and whiskey for medicinal purposes,(cough, cough.) And, since women didn’t quite hold up their end of the drinking binge, men had to drink up the gap. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say male consumption was probably more like 10 to 11 gallons of Mr. Barleycorn. (And, that might be a low figure.)

As a frame of reference, the drunkest country in the world (Moldova) drinks about 4 gallons of whoopie juice a year, and Americans currently consume about 2 gallons. Eastern Europeans tend to be the heaviest drinkers and Islamic people, the lightest.

TemperanceThe clergy increasingly came to see drinking as sinful. (Of course, the clergy tends to see anything that’s enjoyable as sinful.) This time they may have had a point, but as usual they ended up going way overboard.

In 1825, Connecticut clergyman Lyman Beecher (Harriet Beecher Stowe’s daddy) preached and published a series of six sermons on temperance and it’s danger to the country.

Btw, Brother Lyman (a Calvinist fanboy) didn’t just hate John Barleycorn, he also abhorred Catholics and Unitarians. (So much for Christian fellowship.) And, he evidently didn’t get along with his fellow Calvinists too well either. He was charged with heresy in 1835.

Boston ministers and laymen founded The American Society for the Promotion of Temperance (aka The American Temperance Society) in 1826. By the 1830’s there were 6000 local temperance groups.

By 1840, U.S. booze consumption was down to 3 gallons a year, and by 1850, it was down to 2 gallons.

You’ll notice that so far it’s a “Temperance Movement”, not a “Prohibition Movement”. How it got from temperance to prohibition is a story for the next post. In a bit of foreshadowing, I’ll leave you with a date to puzzle over: November 25, 1846. (It was a Wednesday as I recall.)

Can you Carry the day? If not, stay tuned and I’ll inform the Nation next post.

Ok, so I’m lousy with puns. Sosumi! (But that’s a different byte of the Apple.)

I’d like to list the temperance/prohibitionist movement as a positive, and the temperance phase of it was probably a 8.6 (out of 10) on the badness – goodness scale. But the prohibitionist phase to come, had so many unintended negative consequences that it probably rates about a 2.3. (Although, the Mafia has an entirely different take on the matter.)


Wild in the Streets

“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” Galatians 1:8

If you’ve read the 1st two episodes in this series, you’ll have noticed that this country (or what would become this country) was originally based on intolerance rather than the other way around. By the 19th century this had mellowed a bit, at least between protestant groups. However, Catholics and Mormons were still high on the hate parade. (Mormons are not Protestants. At least that’s what they claim.) What made the situation worse is that religion started sticking its nose in politics. NEVER A GOOD IDEA!

One of the most well-known examples was the Know Nothing (They said it, I didn’t.) Party. They were also known in various places and times as the Native American Party of just plain ol’ American Party. I covered the rise and fall of this bunch of bozos in “The Tea Potty (pt 1: The Early Years)” They were primarily anti-Irish & German Catholic, except on the west coast, where they added Chinese to the mix.

Today, you don’t hear a lot about the “Know Nothing” movement,  but at their peak (1854), Movement members were elected Mayors of Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. They carried Boston and several other New England towns and cities; swept the Massachusetts elections and won the Governor’s race in California.

I’m running way long on this post (as per usual) so I’ll just cover one of their exploits:      The Philadelphia Bible Riots.

Bible Riots of 1844Starting in the 1830′s there was an influx of Catholic immigrants, primarily from Ireland and Germany. The Germans were trying to escape religious persecution back home and the Irish were just looking for something to eat. (Irish Potato Famine) These immigrants offended the “Real Americans” (white protestant English/Scottish descendants) and by cracky, they weren’t going to stand for it. So, in 1843, they got organized as Know Nothings and quickly got to feelin’ their friskies.

A number of the Irish Catholics moved to Philadelphia, “The City of Brotherly Love”. (As long as that “Brother” is a WASP.)

In those days, there were daily bible lessons in school. Of course, the bible had to be the “right one” (King James version). The problem was, Catholics had a different “right one” (Douay-Rheims version). Needless to say, this had a confusing effect on the young Catholics, who were still being indoctrinated with a different “truth”.

The local Catholic Bishop convinced the Board of Controllers (school board) to let Catholic students study their own bible and not be forced to join in other religious lessons at school. A year later, a rumor circulated that a Catholic board member told a school principal to stop teaching the bible or be fired. There doesn’t seem to be any truth behind the rumor, but what do rumors have to do with truth?

You might think this was a problem easily taken care of at a school parents meeting or a board meeting. That would be the rational way to do it. But, what does rationality have to do with a bigoted mindset?

On May 3, 1844 the Know Nothings decided to take care of the matter in the streets.Bible Riot MapThis riot lasted until the 8th. By the time it was finished (for the time being), 14 people had been killed, 50 injured and $150,000 damage done. ($3,700,000 in today’s greenbacks)

And of course, the grand jury impaneled to get to the bottom of the Know Nothing led riots, blamed the Irish Catholics for the violence.

But hey, the 1st riot was such a blast that the Know Nothings opted for a sequel.

In early July, after being warned about a planed attack on a Catholic church, the priest requested, and was granted, rifles from the Frankfort Arsenal to defend the church.

When the Know Nothings heard about it, they assembled a mob at the church and demanded the sheriff confiscate the arms. After that was accomplished, the church was attacked with cannon the KN’s just happened to have at their disposal.

It took 5000 militia to finally stop the violence. This time there were another 15 people killed, another 50 injured. And, once again, the grand jury blamed the Irish Catholics for the riot.

The Know Nothings died out n 1860, split over the Civil War. (Always wondered why they called it the “Civil” War, there wasn’t a damn thing civil about it.) However, the KN’s live on in spirit, if not in deed (yet). Only now, we call them “baggers”.



The Road to Utopia

New Harmony(with apologies to Bing & Bob)

This was the century of Utopian experiments, almost all of which were religious in nature, and almost all of which collapsed quickly. To live in a Utopia, requires perfection, and it seems that humans just aren’t quite up to the task.


In 1805, a German pietist society (The Harmony Society), fleeing persecution from Lutherans, set up a communist (little “c”, not big “C”) community in Butler Co. Pennsylvania, and called it “Harmony”. They sold the town (for a profit) 10 years later and built a second “Harmony” in Indiana. It’s now called “New Harmony”. They stayed there for 10 years and then sold it (for a profit) and went back to Pennsylvania. This time they named the town Economy. (Theirs was quite good, don’t you know!) And, this time they stayed until the sect dissolved in 1905.

The Harmony Society had one major flaw. Their numbers dwindled, because they practiced celibacy. (Which also kinda hurt recruiting efforts.) To them, Millennialists to the core, it was all good because they believed J.C. was coming back in their lifetime. (He didn’t, btw.) 


1825 saw the start of the Nashoba Commune near Memphis, TN. The stated purpose of the commune was to buy, free and educate slaves. A very noble purpose, particularly for the time.

There were, of course, some small hitches: Since the commune purchased the slaves, they had to buy themselves out before they were freed. Then there was the problem of “Free Love” (about 140 years ahead of its time).

But here’s the killer: The free love was interracial. Not an easy fit in antebellum Tennessee. (Or, for a looooong time thereafter.) Needless to say, the neighbors were not too tickled with the situation. Funding for the commune dried up and within 3 years, it was gone.

“Free sex” turns out to be one of the more consistent factors in 19th century Utopias.Free Sex Whether it was called “free love”, “complex marriage”, “plural marriage”, “body sharing” or “pulling a train”, Utopia just didn’t seem like Utopia unless you could play “bang-a-broad” whenever you felt the urge.  (Need I mention that these were mostly male dominated Utopias?)


Oneida was a religious commune in which everything, including bodies, was shared. (Small “c” communism was another consistent factor in most Utopias.) It was founded by John Humphrey Noyes in New York in 1848 and eventually grew to 306 members. (Btw, John Humphrey is the person who originally coined the phrase “free love”)

Oneida turned out to be one of the more successful Utopias, at least for a while. To support themselves financially, they made and sold travel bags, palm frond hats and other items, but they hit the jackpot with their silverware. (That’s probably why the name Oneida sounded familiar to you.)

Along with “complex marriage”, Oneida also advocated “male continence”. Vaginal sex was fine, as long as there was a “no-cum outcome”. (Plus, there were other “ports-in-the-storm”, or the lady could always lend a hand.) 

The Oneida Commune did not subscribe to the general Millennialist thinking. They figured J.C. had already come back in 70CE, and it was up to them to jump-start the “Millennial Kingdom”.

In 1869 they started practicing stirpiculture. You might have heard of stirpiculture by its other name: eugenics. Since they were in the process of creating heaven on earth, they would need perfect people for their paradise. And, what better way to get perfect people than selective breeding. (And, Hitler wasn’t even a gleam in his daddy’s eye yet.)

In the end, sex was one of the primary reasons for its ultimate failure.

Let’s see, how do I put this delicately? Let’s try this approach:

When is pedophilia not pedophilia and when is it statutory rape? The first question was the subject of some serious Utopian debates, and the second was a matter of state law. The first question resulted in quite a bit of dissension in the group, and as a result of the second, Noyes split the country a step ahead of an arrest warrant.

After Noyes left, the commune abandoned complex marriage and reorganized as a joint-stock company, “Oneida Limited” (definitely not small “c” communism anymore).

The last original member died in 1950. Oneida still sells cutlery, but they no longer manufacture it in the U.S. (Asian labor’s sooo much cheaper.)

I’ll have more juicy tidbits about later Utopias next episode.


The beginning of the end

On Thursday, November 24th, 1859, Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection” was published. The 1st printing sold out the first day.



Well, that about does it for this episode. Join me next time when we explore the “7th Dayers”, the “Scientific Christians” and “YHWH’s Witnesses” (If you’re pretending to use Big Daddy’s original name, use the name, not some bastardization of it.)

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Pat Boone, as interpreted by Alvin Stardust.

(I think I’m in love with one of the dancers.)

Behave, or be something, whichever floats your frog.


p.s.: If my ramblings don’t revolt you, check out my FaceBook page (“Grouchy’s Grumbles”) you might just enjoy it. Better yet, you might “like” it.  I’d love it if you did.It’s free (and worth every cent) and almost completely painless (other than the usual bad jokes).


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