January 28, 2021

Civil Religion Series: The Second Great Awakening and Manifest Destiny

American Progress, John Gast (1872)

The far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American greatness. In its magnificent domain of space and time, the nation of many nations is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles; to establish on earth the noblest temple ever dedicated to the worship of the Most High — the Sacred and the True.

• John L. O’Sullivan, 1839

God has given this earth to those who will subdue and cultivate it, and it is vain to struggle against His righteous decree.”

• Horace Greeley, 1859

God is using the Anglo-Saxon to conquer the world for Christ by dispossessing feeble races, and assimilating and molding others.

• James H. King, Methodist minister (NY), 1887

• • •

Civil Religion, part four
The Second Great Awakening and Manifest Destiny

Presidential election years in the U.S. provide American Christians an opportunity to reflect upon our faith and how it applies to our lives as citizens and to the public issues that affect us all. We are taking many Tuesdays throughout 2016 to discuss matters like these.

We are looking at material from three books, the first of which is Richard Hughes’s Christian America and the Kingdom of God.

The 19th century has been called the “Christian century” in U.S. history. This was sparked by the Second Great Awakening (1790-1820), which had profound effects on the religious, social, and moral culture of the U.S., as described here by Richard Hughes:

Though the Second Great Awakening grew from relatively small beginnings at opposite ends of the country, it quickly cascaded into a national revival that lasted some thirty years. The revival did not rely upon preaching alone. Revivalists sought to ban the Sunday delivery of mails and restrict the consumption of liquor. They launched innumerable efforts to evangelize both the nation and the larger world. They created the American Bible Society to distribute Bibles, the American Tract Society to distribute Christian literature, and the American Education Society to promote Christian education at the outposts of the American frontier. Indeed, they established church-related colleges throughout the nation at such a rapid pace that, by 1860, the number of these colleges had reached 173, up from only 9 in 1780.

• p. 122

Though many have posited that the U.S. had Christian beginnings, in fact the period right after the Revolution marked the low point of religious belief and observance in the country’s history. And when it came to statements that shaped our form of government, the Founders took pains to keep specifically Christian doctrines out of the documents of origin. For example, the Declaration of Independence was written on the basis of truths that are “self-evident” and not dependent upon divine revelation in the Bible. The Constitution does not mention God, separates church from state, and prohibits any religious test for office-holders.

From the standpoint of religious leaders, the infant republic was in need of revival, and it came soon after the U.S. became a nation, lasting for three decades in its formative years.

In New England and the east, preachers like Charles Finney and Lyman Beecher promoted both evangelical fervor and social change. Educational institutions were born. Interdenominational mission societies were formed to evangelize those going west. The cause of abolition grew and spread, as did temperance movements and charitable efforts to serve the poor, the imprisoned, and the mentally ill. In the Appalachian regions, revivalists led camp meetings, and Methodist and Baptist churches, with their circuit riding preachers and emphasis on lay ministry were founded all across the Midwest and South. Off-shoot groups like the Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists were also born during this time, and as the country moved west, so did they.

Though the Second Great Awakening might be characterized as a “Christian” revival, it was a specifically Protestant movement.

…we should note that the Second Great Awakening pursued one objective in addition to those already mentioned: The Great Awakening was in many respects an attempt to save the nation from the threat Protestants perceived in the rapid growth of Roman Catholicism on America’s shores. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Catholics had grown from some 20,000 during the colonial period to 40,000, and by 1850, that number had swelled to 1,606,000. Because Protestants felt that the Catholic Church was, in principle, inimical to the cause of liberty, the Second Great Awakening was not so much an effort to Christianize the nation as to Protestantize the nation.

• p. 123

In combination with the westward expansion of the nation, the Second Great Awakening contributed to a development in the U.S. understanding of its place as a nation specially chosen by God. The New England Puritans’ sense that they were a “new Israel,” called to be a “city on a hill,” now morphed into the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny.

In 1845, an unsigned article in a popular American journal, a long standing Jacksonian publication, the Democratic Review, issued an unmistakable call for American expansionism. Focusing mainly on bringing the Republic of Texas into the union, it declared that expansion represented “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” Thus a powerful American slogan was born. “Manifest Destiny” became first and foremost a call and justification for an American form of imperialism, and neatly summarized the goals of the Mexican War. It claimed that America had a destiny, manifest, i.e., self-evident, from God to occupy the North American continent south of Canada (it also claimed the right to the Oregon territory including the Canadian portion). “Manifest Destiny” was also clearly a racial doctrine of white supremacy that granted no native American or nonwhite claims to any permanent possession of the lands on the North American continent and justified white American expropriation of Indian lands. (“Manifest Destiny” was also a key slogan deployed in the United States’ imperial ventures in the 1890s and early years of the twentieth century that led to U.S. possession or control of Hawaii and the Philippine Islands.)

But Manifest Destiny was not simply a cloak for American imperialism and a justification for America’s territorial ambitions. It also was firmly anchored in a long standing and deep sense of a special and unique American Destiny, the belief that in the words of historian Conrad Cherry, “America is a nation called to a special destiny by God.” The notion that there was some providential purpose to the European discovery and eventual conquest of the land masses “discovered” by Christopher Columbus was present from the beginning. Both the Spanish and the French monarchs authorized and financed exploration of the “New World” because, among other things, they considered it their divinely appointed mission to spread Christianity to the New World by converting the natives to Christianity. Coming later to the venture, the British and especially the New England Puritans carried with them a demanding sense of Providential purpose.

• Donald M. Scott, The Religious Origins of Manifest Destiny

One of the doctrinal developments in many Christian groups that fed this sense of destiny was an increased emphasis upon millennialism and other forms of eschatological teaching. Some, like Finney and Beecher, claimed that America would be the site of the millennium, bringing it to pass by the triumph of American liberty and democracy. To them, the Awakening was a sure sign of the golden age’s soon arrival. Other groups, like the Mormons, developed elaborate eschatological schemes. Salt Lake City was envisioned as the Holy City in the wilderness from which all America would become “God’s Zion.”

Of course, Manifest Destiny was also a predominantly white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant ideal. In John Gast’s idealistic portrayal of “American Progress” at the top of the post, you can see that it is white men who are moving forward and westward, led by the angel of progress, while the Native Americans and buffaloes retreat.

It is important to remember that, as originally conceived, Manifest Destiny was an unabashedly prejudiced idea. It rested upon the sidelining or eradication (both real-world and fictional) of American Indian peoples; there was little place for African Americans (free or enslaved) within the trope; Asian and Hispanic immigrants did not figure in the ideal America it conjured. Catholics were generally ignored; women were deemed unimportant. The peoples who were meant to conquer the continent were white, Protestant, and overwhelmingly male, with an unquenchable thirst for free enterprise.

• Catherine Denial, Manifest Destiny: Creating an American Identity

Despite the influence of the Second Great Awakening inspiring religious fervor, moral reforms, and a somewhat expanded palette of participation that began to give hope for freedom to women and African-American slaves, the doctrine of Manifest Destiny was advanced by white men primarily for white men.

In the “Christian” century, the unique experiences of Americans with regard to the frontier shaped our view of democracy, our sense of progress, and, for white American Protestant Christians, the way we think about the faith. Even today Manifest Destiny thinking continues to weave its threads through both our national identity and the “American religion.”

By the end of the 19th century, Frederick Turner would write his important work, The Significance of the Frontier in American History (1894), in which he would assert, “This, at least, is clear: American democracy is fundamentally the outcome of the experiences of the American people in dealing with the West.”

Despite the chastening of a devastating Civil War, the doctrine of Manifest Destiny reared its head once more as the 1800’s came to a close. Many Christians near the turn of the century, who had imbibed the syncretistic notion of Christianity mixed with Manifest Destiny, showed the effects of this potent potion when they approved the U.S. invasion of the Philippines, justifying the war in terms both religious and idealistic:

In 1885 Americans began to read the enormously popular book by Josiah Strong entitled Our Country. There Strong praised the Anglo-Saxon race— and by implication, the United States— as “the representative . . . of the purest Christianity.” Its Christian character coupled with its love for liberty, he believed, had uniquely equipped this nation “to impress its institutions upon mankind . . . [and] spread itself over the earth.” The Anglo-Saxon race, he argued, “is destined to dispossess many weaker races, assimilate others, and mold the remainder, until in a very true and important sense it has Anglo-Saxonized mankind.”

• p. 127


  1. the Declaration of Independence was written on the basis of truths that are “self-evident” and not dependent upon divine revelation in the Bible.

    Reminds me of the scene in “John Adams” where Adams, Jefferson and Ben Franklin (played to perfection by Tom Wilkinson) are reviewing Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration. *Franklin reading* “‘We hold these truths to be sacred and inviolable…'” *glares over his glasses at Jefferson* “Smacks of the pulpit.”

  2. The admixture of Calvinist anthropological pessimism and Enlightenment optimism in our founding documents puts me to mind of the idol with the feet of mixed clay and iron in one of the apocalyptic portions of Daniel.

    Apologies to Wm. Darby.

    I am still processing the whole paradigm of Revival and Awakening. It is, as the writer pointed out, deeply Protestant. A lot of people on this board, myself included, came to faith during one such period – the Jesus Movement of the late 60s early 70s, and I for one carry that like a scarlet “A” on my bosom in my distinctly non-revivalistic tradition. I have yet to get the distinctive Orthodox opinion on Protestant born-againery.

    • Is the historical American sense of national destiny so different from the Dostoevsky’s belief in the conjoined greatness and national destiny of the Russian people and the Russian Orthodox Church?

      • turnsalso says

        Maybe that’s why the fall of the Iron Curtain failed to make friends of Russia and the US–they’ve both always thought that they were destined to save the world.

      • Also, during this same time period in American history, Great Britain was expanding her empire around the world, to such an extent that at its height “the sun never set on the British Empire”. And they weren’t the only nation to do so. We normally think of the 15th and 16th centuries as the great age of colonization but the 19th Century saw a great wave of colonization from almost every European nation.

        “Manifest Destiny” may have been an exclusive American term but our nation’s expansion was not an exclusive event. In fact, expansion is a hallmark of mankind’s history.

        • I think what’s different about American expansion, and Frederick Turner made this point, is the concept of the frontier. The British had to colonize in other lands, while in the US we had expansion opportunities right before our eyes, accessible to the common man. The frontier reinforced our sense of uniqueness, the autonomy of the individual, and the entrepreneurial spirit. Rugged individualism was born in the journey west.

          • Burro [Mule] says

            The Russians had a frontier as well. I’m not as familiar as I would like to be about the Tsar’s push through Siberia, but I know that it lead to conflict when it rubbed up against British India.

          • “The frontier reinforced our sense of uniqueness, the autonomy of the individual, and the entrepreneurial spirit. Rugged individualism was born in the journey west.”

            Agreed. There’s a haunting scene in the mini-series “Centennial” (I’m dating myself!) in which David Janssen’s character opines on the loneliness of Americans: “Americans are the loneliest people on the planet. Our heroes are the mountain man, the Pony Express rider, the cowboy. Other peoples banded together to tame the wilderness but not us; the log cabin, the sod hut, the line shack–any person that couldn’t make it on their own was a person to be pitied and so we learned to be ingenious, inventive.” Though a work of fiction (based on the James Michener novel), there’s truth to that statement. I recommend the mini-series as well as the novel for those wanting a flavor of the expansion of the West.

            Also, on the non-fiction side, “The Great Plains” by Walter Prescott Webb is a classic work covering the settling of, of course, the Great Plains.

        • This is also why the 2nd Great Awakening was a more individualistic revival than the 1st and why it created institutions like Baptist and Methodist churches in the South and Midwest.

          • Burro [Mule] says

            Please elaborate. This is very interesting to me.

          • Big parts of this awakening took place on the frontier, among pioneers pushing west and settling rural areas like Appalachia, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, etc. These settlers by nature and circumstance were rugged individualists, making their way through the wilderness.

            Anyone who’s ever attended a Baptist congregational meeting, let him understand!

          • And this “rugged individualsim” still runs deep in those areas and the former frontier, particularly in rural areas and helps to explain why Trump has so much support among those constituencies. It’s not so much Trump’s politics as his appeal to a sense of independence and individualism. His campaign motto should be the quote from Peter Finch’s character, Howard Beale in the movie “Network”: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

          • Richard Hershberger says

            I had meant to comment that the Second Great Awakening was not merely distinctively Protestant, it was distinctively tied to a small number of Protestant sects. Baptists and Methodists are the most obvious. Perhaps Presbyterians, also. You don’t see the same sort of ties with Episcopalians or Lutherans or Mennonites.

            I know within the history of American Lutheranism in this era there was a lot of discussion of whether or how much to assimilate the Lutheran church into American Protestantism, meaning revivalism with its emphasis on being born again. The conclusion largely was not to, though some unknown (and likely quite large) number of individual Lutherans made the leap.

            • Richard that’s true on the frontier, and those are the images most of us think of (Cane Ridge, etc), but the Awakening was national in scope and include traditional and highbrow New England churches as well. They were largely behind the push for education that grew out of the revival.

          • Also the Caine Ridge Revival in Kentucky?

          • Richard, that is a constant battle in the Lutheran church. It seems to be lost more and more these days. The church growth movement is just an extension of revivalism, and that has made numerous “Lutheran” congregations virtually indistinguishable from non-denom “Baptists in denial.”

      • Burro [Mule] says

        Apparently, the “Third Rome” doctrine goes deep, deep into Russian psyches, even those of the most minimally Orthodox. It is still around and influencing minds.

        As a Messainic conceit, it is diametrically opposed to the American conceit, conceived when Protestantism was reaching its half-life and decaying into Enlightenment secularism, so i’m not surprised that the eagle and the bear can’t play nice together in a world quickly growing tired of Romes.

        • Burro [Mule] says

          PS, how many of those here wishing Russia would change her ways are just exhibiting the same ol’ Anglo-Saxon messianism under its de-racinated, de-christianized mutated form?

        • It’s probably worth pointing out that people load their children into rickety boats on freezing seas at midnight, tiptoe across minefields, and scale razor-wire fences in order to try to get into places governed by ‘Enlightenment secularism’.

          Not to be TOO Voltairean about these things, but Enlightenment secularism looks great compared to just about any alternative out there. As the saying goes, other systems have to fence people in. We have to fence them out.*

          *I’m not sure we do, in fact, ‘have to’ fence them out, but that’s another discussion…

          • Unfortunately, Enlightened Europe is starting to fence them out; it seems that Enlightenment societies and Enlightenment peoples have a scarcity of Enlightenment resources.

  3. It seems that something very like what is now called Dominionism has had a long history in the religious thinking and life of our nation; it’s not the new kid on the block, but a deeply imprinted and dangerous aspect of American national life. It seems to be “reviving” right now, though in no shape that could be remotely be thought of as Christian, or Christ-like.

  4. In its ultimate expression, Dominionism is nothing more than a totalitarian tyranny and, as such, you’re right–it’s not the new kid on the block but has been around as long as the strong have subjugated the weak. It may have a distinctly American flavor but the impulse to control is not unique to it.

  5. I tend to think of that picture as more How the West Was Lost. But then I also tend to think that we lost the War Between the States. It wouldn’t have made much ultimate difference if the various Native Americans had been astute enough to massacre Columbus and the Pilgrims and a few assorted others. It was basically an unstoppable tsunami of gigantic proportions that took 400 years to occur in slow motion. We’re still clinging to the flotsam.

    A few observations along the way. There is no mention of the guiding hands behind what we came to identify as Freemasons. They were here before Columbus under other names and we might look much more like Canada today without their mostly unseen presence. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but in fact here we are. Also no mention of the Scotch-Irish, who certainly stirred things up far more than those plodding Anglo-Saxon farmers ever did.

    Whatever one might think of Manifest Destiny, there is no denying that America has greatly influenced the whole world for good or not, and continues to do so today. Two things that I personally think came out of this for good are what used to be called Levis and the combined musical genre of jazz and blues. There could be more but I can’t think of any right now. Maybe J.D. Salinger.

    The Goddess of American Progress in her haste to trample the buffalo seems to be about to suffer a wardrobe malfunction. I’m not so sure that would make it worth it all. Look out, World!

    • flatrocker says

      > “There is no mention of the guiding hands behind what we came to identify as Freemasons. They were here before Columbus under other names…”

      Huh? Please elaborate.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Sounds like Masonic Illuminati Conspiracy Theory.

        Which was widespread in the early 19th Century — there were even one-issue Anti-Masonic political parties (and yes, they used that name).

        And a couple weeks ago, Wartburg Watch had one of its Spiritual Abuse threads hijacked by an Anti-Masonic Conspiracy True Believer.

      • Flatrocker, maybe the most obvious remnant is the Newport Tower in Newport, Rhode Island. It has been dismissed by modern academia as a recent windmill but would still function as a Norman-style astronomical observatory of significant calendrical events if buildings and trees weren’t in the way. Or it is dismissed with HUG’s conspiracy theory, which serves to stifle curiosity about anything outside the official version of how we got here. If you are curious, the best book I have found on this is The Hooked X by Scott Wolter.

        This particular pre-Columbian expedition seems to be associated with the medieval group of northern French aristocrats who operated as the Knights Templar, or more formally, Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon. They ostensibly disappeared from history and the world in the early 1300’s, probably surfaced later in the various movements known as Freemasonry, and may well still influence world events anonymously. There is an incredible morass of woo-woo speculation about this that is mostly a waste of time. If interested, I would check out Christopher Knight as one of the more credible investigators, but keep your salt shaker handy.

        Aside from Templars, Scandinavians visited and colonized North America from early times. Even academics are forced to admit this. It was possible, and still is, to sail from say Ireland or Norway all the way to the Maritime Provinces in Canada and New England while mostly staying in sight of land. Before Columbus there was a thriving Cod fishery run by the Portuguese in the same area. This was kept secret, not for nefarious purposes of world domination, but to avoid competition.

        I find these maverick forays into non-standard history intriguing, but I again caution you that much woo-woo abounds, plus you may have HUG doubling over in laughter at your questioning of accepted academic doctrine. After all, anyone with a PhD must know more than you or me, right? Please don’t rock the boat.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          The pre-Columbia cod fishery theory is the most plausible part of this, though my understanding is it is typically ascribed to the Basque. Sailing technology reached the point in the fifteenth century where this voyage was doable with acceptable fatality rates. Columbus, after all, didn’t invent any new tech to make his voyage. More to the point, there was a strong economic incentive, both to make the trips and to keep quiet about them. Finally, there is some evidence–indirect, but genuine evidence–supporting the idea.

          But for the rest, and this is a big but, this requires a lot of hand-waving away of technological problems with seaworthy ships suitable for transoceanic voyaging with acceptable reliability, navigation techniques that had not yet been developed, and most of all, incentives. Stories about secretive expeditions by shadowy groups, making trips thousands of miles long in order to build observatories, are deliciously fun. In the real world, long-distance voyaging was fiendishly expensive and dangerous. A few individuals might be motivated by wanderlust, but most people, and their financial backers, were looking for profit.

          • Yes, Basques. Extremely interesting people. Unconnected to those around them historically, culturally, and linguistically, seemingly out of nowhere. Still there doing their thing. I met a Basque sheepherder in Idaho in a bar who tried to intimidate me by shaving hair off my arm with his knife. When I didn’t quiver he gave me the knife as a token of respect, then thought about it and asked for it back. I gave it to him.

        • flatrocker says

          I understand the archeological evidence for the presence of some “pre-Columbus” European exploration. However, the way your post reads, you seem to imply there was notable influence wielded by these early explorers – and their influence subsequently helped to shape a continent and a culture. That seems to be a stretch. Regardless, it would far and away pale in comparison to the influence of the English post Columbus.

          As for the Knights Templar being clandestine puppet masters nearly 700 years ago, well we’ll let HUG analyze the modern implications for us.

        • I’ve visited the Basque whaling museum in Red Bay, Labrador. Pretty cool, actually, and 100% woo-woo free. Now this particular archaeological site dates from the early 1500s, but it’s hard to believe that people like the Basque (who’d been whaling for a few centuries by then) hadn’t been poking around those shores for some time before then.

          But in general, yes, keep your salt-shaker handy. Comes in handy with cod in any case.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            Basque at the Grand Banks fisheries in the 16th century is completely non-woo. Every fisherman in Europe with a boat that could make it was there. The more recent equivalent is the California Gold Rush. Once word got out, the rush was on.

            In the case of the Grand Banks, the “once word got out” part is key. When Columbus got back from his first voyage to the New World, the news was spread far and wide. The claim at hand is that some fisherman knew about the Grand Banks fishery before that, but were keeping it on the low down.

            The evidence, at least the non-woo evidence, is indirect. It is known that the Grand Banks infrastructure was up and running on a large scale very soon after Columbus. Cabot describes the fleet of fishing boats. The suggestion is that this happened too fast if Columbus’s voyage was the starting point. The other thread is that there are records of the various European fishing grounds, and the varying politics of who was allowed to fish where. In the immediate pre-Columbus period the Basque and Bristol fisherman had been kicked out of their previous fishing grounds. We know that they continued to bring in cod, but not where it came from. I don’t know how much we should read into this. It is the argument from silence. Only a specialist really getting down into the weeds is likely to be able to tell whether this silence is meaningful or merely a gap in the records. I don’t know if a credible specialist has done this.

            This is all very suggestive, but not a slam dunk. Were a 15th century letter from a fishing captain describing the Grand Banks to turn up, this would not shake my world view. But neither am I holding my breath.

            As for other claims of pre-Columbian contact, the Norse in Greenland, and briefly in Newfoundland, is unremarkable. Go much further afield and talk about the (pre-NFL) Vikings in Minnesota and you rapidly descend into woo. Beyond that, if you want to tell me that Saint Brendan caught a favorable wind, then caught another on the way back, making the trip in a skin boat, sure: I’m fine with that. People get lucky sometimes, and someone has to win the lottery. But so what? This sort of thing is interesting but ultimately irrelevant. And talk of non-trivial contact again sends us into the realm of woo.

    • “Also no mention of the Scotch-Irish, who certainly stirred things up far more than those plodding Anglo-Saxon farmers ever did.’

      Absolutely. Stubbornly and fiercely independent. And also the ethnic group most responsible for the greatness that is bluegrass music.

      “Two things that I personally think came out of this for good are what used to be called Levis and the combined musical genre of jazz and blues. There could be more but I can’t think of any right now.”

      Of course, the aforementioned bluegrass music. And baseball.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        Bluegrass, I’ll give you. Baseball, I won’t. Baseball originated as an English folk game. Not even northern England. The earliest mentions are in the south and east, especially Suffolk and Hampshire.

        • Well, it’s true the English had a game called “base ball” but it was perfected in America. 😉 So, I’ll give you half a point back.

          • Whereupon the British turned their version into something called “Cricket”, which, despite numerous attempts by English acquaintances to explain it, remains a complete and utter mystery to me. 😛

          • Richard Hershberger says

            At the risk of plodding literalism, cricket is not their form of baseball. The two games are more distantly related: first cousins at the closest. The British version of baseball is rounders. Pull up the Wikipedia page and the relationship will be obvious.

    • Dana Ames says

      Freemasonry arose in the wake of Protestasntism, early in Scotland and England, and then later on the Continent. Besides being a vehicle for contact among tradesmen at first and economic networking later, it fulfilled the human need for ritual and symbol that Reformation thought derided and Reformers of all stripes stripped from the churches to varying degrees. It makes sense that it arose when it did, in the places it did. It filled a huge vacuum.

      Unless the Vikings were Masons, there’s no way Freemasonry could have been here before Columbus, or behind the exploration of either the US or Canada. It’s certainly possible that some of the early fur traders were Freemasons, but they came after 1500.

      BTW, John Cabot, “discoverer” of Canada, was Italian 🙂


      • Christiane says

        Hi DANA AMES,
        John Cabot may get credit from some, but about a thousand years ago, Norsemen came to Newfoundland and built a settlement at a place now called L’Anse aux Meadows. It has been verified that this was indeed a Norse settlement, likely founded by people coming out of Greenland or Iceland, and it is today preserved as a World Heritage site. Take a look:

        • Dana Ames says

          That’s one reason I put “discoverer” in quotes – it’s well established that Norse/Vikings were the first Europeans there, but hardly anyone knew that at the time. The other reason I did the scare quotes thing is the Native Americans, of course, having migrated millennia prior to that.


          • Christiane says

            Thanks DANA,

            the discovery of the site in Newfoundland didn’t happen until the 1960’s and the excavation took about nine years to complete, but Cabot’s adventure has been quite well-documented for centuries.

            My father’s people came to Quebec, Canada from France in the 1600’s, according to my sister who did the family geneology and was able to spend some time researching records in Canada. Many of the family still live in a small town called St. Armand.

    • Scots-Irish.

  6. >>Unless the Vikings were Masons, there’s no way Freemasonry could have been here before Columbus . . .

    That’s not what I said, Dana. The movement that became recognized as Freemasonry by the public, arose out of the ashes of the movement we know as the Knights Templar, which goes back to the first Crusade and which became a dominant force in European affairs rivaling and threatening the Roman Catholic Church until it was ostensibly expunged in the 1300’s. According to official English Masonry, the movement didn’t begin until the 1700’s but you can follow it back in Scotland to the 1400’s. Most Masons today know little or nothing about this, with the few remaining temples functioning something like the Moose Club or the Lions.

    The underground descendants of those Templars were the ones exploring North American well before Columbus. They undoubtedly had another name for themselves. The folks self-identifying as Freemasons left their mark much later on this nation writ small on your dollar bill, and writ large in the streets and buildings of the District of Columbia, and writ all over in our passion for liberty. Well, some of us.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      This is, of course, the “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” version of history, along with Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene and the lot, more recently popularized by the execrable prose of Dan Brown. I read HBHG back in the 1980s, when I was closely interested in medieval history. I was very impressed by it as first-rate crankery. It presented a careful, step-by-step argument, admirably footnoted, with the logical leaps discreetly inserted such that they would be very easy to overlook by a reader not actually following along with the citations. My all time favorite crank work is Julian Jaynes’ “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind,” which I regard as a tour de force, but HBHG is likely the most commercially successful example of the genre.

      For a less lurid account of the origins of Freemasonry, see “The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland’s Century, 1590-1710” by David Stevenson.

      • >>This is, of course, the “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” version of history . . .

        Please Richard, do not impute those silly books to anything I am speaking of. That is really offensive. They are not even second rate crankery and your snide “of course” is not worthy of your usual more careful thought. There has been a lot of serious investigation of these matters in recent years with nothing settled and much left to do. If you regard The Origin of Consciousness as a crank book, you may be one of the few people here that I would see little point in sitting down with over a beverage of choice.

        • Yawn. I’m a Freemason, and SR to boot.Your “history” is make believe. Sorry.

          • They just haven’t told you the secret yet.

          • Doc, you are the only person I know who is a Freemason. As far as I know. Which rite are you initiated into? What is your take on The Hiram Key? I realize that may be somewhat dated by now but it is probably the most well known of this genre. When you say the history is make believe, do you mean that the documents and references cited are forged or that they just don’t exist?

          • Oh yeah, I figured out what SR is. Good! That makes your opinion even more valuable to me.

          • Seriously, John? I’m quire surprised, honestly.

          • To be frank Charles, the fact that you conflate the blue room with any rite shows me that you probably don’t know what freemasonry even is. You can be a mason without joining SR or YR (or shriners, or one of the other clubs). It’s a thing in my family – all the males since the 1600s have been Masons. It isn’t a secret society. And if there is some super-secret room where the real human sacrifice happens, no one in my family has yet discovered it. To be honest, the biggest challenges the Masons face are that it is male only (maybe we need more male bonding, but in general, this idea is dead), it is mostly white, and the lodge model is essentially irrelevant in our culture. Same challenges a lot of churches face.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          I would have thought that the mere fact of my having read Jaynes would make the beverage experience of interest. If agreement with your opinion is also a requirement, then sadly I will have to pass. This surely narrows down your potential beverage companions. I can’t be certain, but you may be the first person I have run across who knows enough about the Jaynes to form an opinion, and who *doesn’t* think he was a crank. I don’t mean to impugn his sincerity. Quite the contrary. Nor his brilliance or erudition. He clearly had both. This combination is what makes the book great. It is truly a classic, and I admire it immensely.

          • Okay, Richard, I’ll buy you a beer. I’ll grant you that Jaynes is outside standard academic dogma, but he can hardly be put into the same category as Dan Brown. Perhaps we could agree to not refer to Jaynes as a crank but as a maverick and a free thinker. All of this I am talking about is maverick historical speculation. Dan Brown isn’t a maverick, he’s a con man and a terrible writer.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            Dan Brown is a hack, who appropriated from Holy Blood, Holy Grail. HBHG is pure crankery, but well executed crankery. Compare it with, for example M. J. Harper’s “Secret History of the English Language” (American title; the British version is “The History of Britain Revealed”), which does not stand up to even superficial examination.

            As for categories, Jayne is to Brown as Mozart is to whatever happens to be on the Top 40 station at the moment. But Mozart is also played on the radio, if you pick the right station.

          • Richard, thank you so much for pulling my coat on Secret History of the English Language. I had never heard of it. One of the reviews calls it “The most outrageous book I have ever read, and one of the funniest.” I just bought it for a buck on Amazon. Sounds like just what I need right now.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            My favorite part is where he explains that Beowulf is a Renaissance forgery. Going from memory, the argument is that there is only one manuscript (to which I respond: same with grandpa’s diary) and its earlier provenance is unclear (which in the real world almost certainly means it was moldering in some monastic library until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and took their land).

            He also managed to find a snippet of Chaucer that is pretty transparent to the modern reader, and he then pretends that this is true throughout. He discreetly overlooks Chaucer’s contemporary, the Pearl Poet.

    • Dana Ames says

      Sorry, Charlie, I don’t buy the “underground descendants” thing. I’m aware of the Freemason influence and symbols in Colonial America, the dollar bill, etc. Apples and oranges, as they say.

      Have you heard from Bill? I’m worried about him.


      • Some of the connections are documented, some are speculation and identified as such. I find it intriguing but none of it makes much difference to how most people get thru a day any more than the standard high school history and civics. I don’t know about Bill. I gather he is having a hard time, harder than usual, and don’t know what to do other than sending out a daily prayer and blessing his way. Life shouldn’t be that hard, which is a silly thing to say, but it shouldn’t. And it so often is. Bill seems to have an especially hard row to hoe. I don’t know how to make it any better but I hear James talking about the emptiness of saying God bless you to people in obvious need. Would be easier if we all lived in the same town. Maybe.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      The Freemasons are as much Knights Templar as the man in the moon. Not every made up mythology is grounded in reality…

      • >>The Freemasons are as much Knights Templar as the man in the moon. Not every made up mythology is grounded in reality…

        Well, that settles that. Nice to have an expert weigh in.

    • Actually, the Freemasons I speak with are fairly certain their organization predates Christ. One gave me textual evidence for their involvement with the building of Solomon’s temple.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        But secret societies and fraternal organizations (except maybe E Clampus Vitus) try to give themselves a long and mythic official backstory.

        The Order of Foresters (now-defunct?) traced their backstory back to Robin Hood. Another (whose name I can’t remember) to the Gods of Olympus. The Rosicrucians mistook a generations-old work of fiction (theDa Vinci Code of its day) for fact and based their Mystical Brotherhood upon its teachings.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          There also were various splinter groups from and/or imitations of the Freemasons that worked furiously to establish themselves as older than the mainstream (?) Freemasons. Ancient Egypt was all the rage in Europe after Napoleon stirred things up there and brought it to Europe’s attention. This was soon followed by these groups discovering that they derived from the pharaohs and the construction of the pyramids, where the Freemasons were nouveau, claiming merely decent from Solomon and the construction of the temple.

          I am reminded of how in Philadelphia every institution that can will lay claim, however tenuous, to having been founded by Benjamin Franklin.

  7. Marilynne Robinson wrote an essay published in the American Scholar that touches on the Great Awakening(s) in American history: https://theamericanscholar.org/onward-christian-liberals/#.VuhZ_VL2Zdg

    This line stood out to me: “The excitement we are seeing now is called by some scholars a third great awakening, yet it is different from the other two in this crucial respect. It is full of pious aversion toward so-called secular culture—that is, whatever does not give back its own image—and toward those whose understanding and practice of religion fails to meet its standards. If Edwards’s movement unified the Colonies, preparing the way for the Revolution, this may have been because his preachments encouraged people to believe that they themselves were the problem, not some hostile or decadent others who were corrupting the cultural atmosphere.”

  8. Klasie Kraalogies says

    Whenever I read these posts, I am amazed at the parallels – Robert mentioned the Russian parallel earlier, but I experienced the Afrikaner parallel. Specifically related to today’s post is the revivalism that swept the Dutch Reformed Church early in the 20th Century – a very pietisitc radicalism under the Scottish immigrant minister Andrew Murray.

    Even today, when I look at the Facebook posts of my erstwhile school friends still in the “old country”, there is a strong subgroup which unknowingly has absorbed a lot of this pietisitc Calvinism. I have some in my own family. The retreat into pietism enabled the growth of religious nationalism – even abetted it.

    BTW, pietisitc Calvinism is prone to through some into a very, very deep pit of black despair…

    • Nationalism has deep religious currents, often fed by national religions, whether they are official or not;but where it has become detached from specific religious institutions and forms (as in Europe today), it creates its own forms and institutions. And it always invokes the golden age of the mythical past, when the race was pure or the religion was true or the people were different.

      It saddens me to see the white working-class in the US, of which I’m a member, free-falling into the depredations of a national political figure invoking the mythical power of past national purity and strength and values, and targeting those “Others Who Don’t Belong” as the source of their own decline and all that’s bad in the country. I’m afraid the fault can be found on both sides of the political spectrum for this development, because neither side of the governing classes understand what it’s like to see your ship sinking while being told that all is well in the republic, or that things are getting better, or that you have to part of the remedy for what’s wrong, by paying more in taxes or securing your own retirement or whatever, when you in actuality are finding it increasingly difficult to keep your head above water yourself, no matter how things look in the state database. When you are in need of government help to keep you from sliding down into real poverty, but you don’t qualify because you have one or even two full-time jobs and the stats say you’re good.

      I can’t get in line with the reactionary mentality that is killing the soul of the American white working-class. I’m feeling increasingly isolated.

      • Klasie Kraalogies says

        Robert F, make no mistake, you might be working class, but you are also a member of the intelligentsia (your many comments here betray you) – as am I. Maybe we are the impoverished intelligentsia :).

        Big difference.

        • Perhaps. But then as an alien observer (a kind of deep-cover anthropologist?), I get to see what’s happening among the white working-class from close-up. It’s not pretty, either what came before at the tender mercies of the Republican/Democratic tag-team, or now with this Clown-demagogue. Exploitation right down the line, to the point where many have decided to become willing participants in their own exploitation, along with the political and social immolation of their own country, with what can only be called nihilistic fervor.

          • Nietzsche said that the void at the hearts of both Christianity and democracy is decadence, understood as moral and cultural weakness, and nihilism.

          • And the projected winner in FL: The Clown-demagogue, incarnation of Manifest Destiny consuming itself, like the serpent eating its own tail.

            I’ll give you television,
            I’ll give you eyes of blue,
            I’ll give you a man that wants to rule the world…


    • BTW, pietisitc Calvinism is prone to throw some into a very, very deep pit of black despair…

      Oh yeah. I witnessed this at a Calvinist-baptist seminary. Sad, really.

  9. Andrew Zook says

    And now Manifest Destiny raises its dragon head again… in one with wild orange hair and flaming tongue… to make america great and more white again!

  10. Today’s comments…well, they’re the strangest set of comments I’ve ever read here at iMonk.

    • Hi Rick~ This series on civil religion is scheduled to keep going for quite a while. Stay tuned. If you are going for strange, American civil religion is the best show in town. I’m not so sure that “civil” is the best descriptor. Possibly civic religion would be more accurate. At the same time we have been fairly civil here today. Where else could you find on the whole internet a group such as we have here?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “When the going gets weird, The Weird Turn Pro.”
      — Hunter S Thompson

      And American Civic Religion (interfacing with the Fundagelical Bubble) can get as weird as Rastafarianism without the ganja.

  11. Dana, here are some more thoughts on W. The crucial tipping point I think was reached some weeks back when Bill asked for a blanket, a reasonable request. He got blessings and good wishes, hardly enough to warm you if you are shivering and heading toward hypothermia. Bill has a history of alcohol addiction along with probably more associated addictions than I am aware of. He is in physical pain, possibly from lifestyle choices, but that doesn’t diminish the pain. He seems to be connected with a church body that is nose to the grindstone. That is the way he seems to meet each day. There are some fellow creatures that depend on Bill for sustenance and love. They don’t seem to include many humans. I am convinced that Bill loves Jesus above all else in this universe and beyond. I am convinced that Jesus loves Bill beyond measure and wants nothing else than that he finds healing and wholeness and what we like to call salvation. I am not so sure that this involves his knees stop hurting. That may be beside the point. It may be the way to the point. I just don’t know.

    What I do know is that W is part and parcel of this congregation. His needs have not been met, most people here probably don’t really understand him. I don’t want to second guess God, and I don’t want to second guess Bill. If he emailed me asking to come and hunker down until things started to sort out, I would buy whatever ticket was necessary to get him here and do my best to see him thru. I’m too old to travel any more. He is in his own situation with dependents and a reluctance to ask for help, especially after not getting the blanket he asked for.

    Yes, I’m with you, I worry, but I don’t know what to do other than to say I’m here and I’ll take care of things as best able if I know what to do. Some of this, maybe most of it depends on Bill. It’s hard when you are a man used to gritting your teeth and taking care of yourself. If you have anything to offer, any suggestions, I am open.

    • Charles, I remember when w asked for a blanket. I thought it was a joke in response to the post and the comments, and joked in what I thought was reciprocation. I had no idea that he was that destitute; although he had talked about how bad his knees are and how arduous and painful his workdays have been repeatedly, he had also talked about living in a big house and how God had in recent years blessed him with solid financial well-being.

      I did become aware when he responded to my comment that there was something more serious going on, but I still didn’t get that he was on the street. And I didn’t know what to do to find out what was happening, or how it would even be possible to help. I hope my joke was not a tipping point in the wrong direction for him. Christ.

      • Robert, I took the blanket as a metaphor for something, but as to what I don’t know. I don’t know if W knows. I don’t think he has money problems so much as health problems, and there may come a day when he just can’t do it anymore. I’m most concerned about him falling off the wagon again and I would imagine the temptation to do that must be strong. I’m probably not a helpful person to be around for someone who needs industrial strength help such as AA might offer. I feel inadequate to be of any real help other than sending out prayer. That seems pretty much feeble but I guess it’s better than not. It’s hard to sort things out when it feels like the whole world is a runaway train heading for a curve. God send Bill an angel.

        • Thanks, Charlie. Bill remains in my prayers. Our prayers will help, no matter what happens, whether we can ever know what the help has been.

          If Bill does end up on your doorstep and needs material help, please don’t hesitate to let us know.


    • I have not been checking in regularly. I have spare blankets I can send to him if anyone has an address. Does anyone know the general area where he lives?

      • He lives in the Harrisburg, PA, area, which itself is actually about an hour from where I am. But I don’t know his address or anything more specific than that.

        But I think Charles is right when he says w was speaking metaphorically; I don’t think actual blankets is what he needed when he asked, and I’m pretty certain it’s not what he needs now. I do know that he is in need.

  12. Thanks to all concerned. Concerted prayer is a lot more effective in bringing about whatever needs to be brought about, and no, it’s not as simple as a blanket. We may find we need to highjack posts again to work thru this. Dana, thanks for bringing this up. It’s been bothering me and I have felt helpless and useless. May God point the way.

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