Sunday, February 18, 2018

In God's Own Country

Yesterday the Freiburg University winter lecture series “500 years Reformation, Luther and the Consequences” came to an end with a talk by Professor Michael Hochgeschwender, University of Munich: “Radical Reformation and Reform of Society in the States in the 19th Century”. As on all previous Saturday mornings, the auditorium was fully packed.

Already in his first sentence, Professor Hochgeschwender made it clear that America’s society was and still is influenced by Calvinism and not by Lutheranism. The Pilgrim Fathers looking for new frontiers were Puritans. Later Anglo-Saxon Protestants continued to mark the religious development in the States; this to the detriment of Irish immigrants being fervent Catholics. Settlers arriving on the American continent took along the Puritan Anglosaxon slogan “Thy mercy on thy people Lord” regarding themselves as the newly chosen people.

Professor Hochgeschwender’s lecture was a bit too detailed referring to the religious situation that led to the War of Independence and that in the 19th century developed into revival movements. These were soon teaming with liberal groups to form the capitalistic system in the northern states.

For Protestants the King James Bible was the measure of all things; sometimes the only book at home. Reading was an essential skill. The message is: all men can be saved; they only have to meet God on their own, individual way.

God alone will choose his people although the idea that those selected by the Lord are already successful here on earth does not sound very biblical. But did not St. Paul clearly write in his second letter to the Thessalonians 3:10, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” This led to the distinction between undeserving and deserving poor.

In the States, the religious development in the north clashed with the more traditional living style in the south, a democracy of free white men. Eventually, tensions over the justification of slavery culminated in the Civil War that in view of the endured carnage left religious groups speechless and in trouble explaining.

Not for long. In the second half of the 19th century, the ministering zeal revived to give the American way of life to the world. Herman Melville carried this sense of mission even further, “And we Americans are the peculiar, chosen people - the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of liberties of the world,” and he continues, “Long enough have we doubted whether, indeed, the political Messiah had come. But he has come in us.

Religious affiliation in the U.S.
Although the number of atheists is on the rise, the spectrum of Protestant religious movements in the States still is broad, e.g., Evangelicals, Presbyterians, Baptists, Mormons. This Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perfected the view of the last days being near and taking place in new Israel, the United States. Christ will eventually exult in God's own country.

As Professor Hochgeschwender explained all this is far more complex, but he showed that some of those religious attitudes still influence a great part of today’s American society.

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