Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Crash Course on American Protestantism

Essential reading over at First Things, the Catholic-oriented journal of religion, politics and culture. FT was founded by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, who's credited with originating the phrase "naked public square," which he opposes, the separationist vision of a polity devoid of religious expression.

FT's editor, Joseph Bottum, offers a provocative overview of America's Protestant history in The Death of Protestant America: A Political Theory of the Protestant Mainline.

As my blogbrother Jonathan Rowe has noted, it's quite difficult, especially for Christians themselves, to decide just what "Christianity" is. Bottum quotes historian Gordon Wood that by 1800,

“There were not just Presbyterians, but Old and New School Presbyterians, Cumberland Presbyterians, Springfield Presbyterians, Reformed Presbyterians, and Associated Presby­terians; not just Baptists, but General Baptists, Regular Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Separate Baptists, Dutch River Baptists, Permanent Baptists, and Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Baptists.”

Oh, my. Like that Reynolds fellow says, read the whole thing.


Phil Johnson said...

Speaking of the variety of religious denominations in early America, some serious history students might be interested in this little book of original source material including the last will and testimony of Obadiah Holmes. He was a common man who lived in the seventeenth century. Was whipped for disseminating unorthodox religious views. Among his descendants are the Browns of Rhode Island and Abraham Lincoln. Here is a site about the book.

Baptist Piety; Edited with intro by Edwin Gaustad

Anonymous said...

Some nice story telling there, but they've got issues. Oy, have they got issues:

Look at the fury, for instance, with which environmentalists now attack any disputing of global warming.

And I can't resist mentioning, in any accounting of the decline of mainline Protestant denominations, that the UU's are growing, slowly. The local fellowship, having long ago and reluctantly bought an old Lutheran church (Missouri Synod, deconsecration ceremony duly noted and resented) is now eyeing the more recent Lutheran edifice which has recently come on the market.

I'm not UU. My late father, congenitally Catholic, and my mother, congenitally Lutheran, joined around 1970, and since then I've been dragged into service from time to time as someone who knows his way around folding chairs.

The American experiment has always needed what Alexis de Tocqueville called the undivided current, and now that current has finally run dry.

Hmmm? We actually now have common agreement that women and darkies are as human as those of us originally privileged. That's a major improvement over the conditions prevailing at our nation's founding, and there are a few innovations in the pipeline which are likely to prevail even if they tend to twist the knickers of such as wear them tight.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Bottum credits Protestantism as a force behind both the women's suffrage and civil rights movements. [As well as Prohibition.]

As for for global warming, I suppose that's beyond the purview of this blog.