Impact of Religion on America Essay Example


When considering the influence of religion on early American history, it is important to understand that both religions of the mind and religion of the heart impacted societal standards and actions. However, if we were to pick which religious style most impacted early American history, it would be the religion of the heart. As a whole, humans are strongly impacted by their own and other's emotions. Emotion continuously guides people to make a variety of different decisions. In early history, the shift towards emotion-based religion allowed for greater inclusion of regular citizens into religious practices. It also influenced several crucial political decisions concerning the development of the country and the institution of slavery. Guidance based on emotion especially proved to be true after the Second Great Awakening. 

After the Second Great Awakening, religion of the heart began to soar. This newly developed religious ideal not only led to the transformation of religious practices and interpretations but to the locational change for the teaching of core principles of religion This change led to homes becoming the center of religious teachings and women becoming the primary religious teachers. Women even became the role model of emotional religion. Women were expected to be the representation of emotional support and affection. They also played an important role in the emotionally charged abolitionist movement. While not all women participated in this movement, many women used their religious influence to strive for political change and the abolishment of the immoral institution of slavery. While women were considered to hold an important role in domestic life, they were not allowed to participate in decision-making for the country. However, women used abolitionist writings from women like Angelina Grimke to discover how to use religion of the heart to influence those who did have a say in politics. In Angelina Grimke’s Appeal to the Christian Women of the South, Grimke provides four ways that women can help end slavery. To appeal to these women, Grmike uses religion in connection to emotion to justify her claims. Grimke says, “I know you do not make the laws, but I also know that you are the wives and mothers, the sisters and daughters of those who do; if you really suppose you can do nothing to overthrow slavery, you are greatly mistaken.” (Grimke, 8) She then goes on to ask women to read, pray, speak and act on the topic of slavery. However, she particularly advises women to turn to scripture to properly act on slavery. Instead of just reading on the topic of slavery, she asks women to thoroughly read the Bible and its passages pertaining to slavery. She also tells women to use religion to guide and support the actions they take and what they say on the topic of slavery. Grimke’s writing proved that the intertwining of emotion and religion was impactful enough to fuel a movement for change. By having women connect religion to their actions and by having them put themselves in slave family's positions, she was able to provide a strong argument that represented the cultural importance of emotional religion in the evolution of early American history.

Along with the change in location for religious teachings, religion of the heart also had a massive impact on the institution of slavery. Emotional religions not only influenced the path and eventual end of slavery, but they also impacted many slaves who had converted to Christianity. The fact that slaves were even allowed to convert to Christianity proves that the religion of the heart was spreading and becoming more powerful in both religious and societal aspects. Before the Second  Great Awakening, religion of the mind was considered to be the most popular practice. This meant that religion was mainly intended for and used by highly educated white men. This religious tendency not only excluded women or any person who was non-white, but it also prevented America from being able to evolve and grow into a functional society.

In some ways, religion of the heart provided slaves with some form of hope or sense of emotional calm. However, it also allowed slave owners to justify emotionally charged acts of violence against their slaves. In Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Douglass describes how the conversion of slave masters ultimately led them to become crueler to their slaves. He believed that masters developed a stronger confidence level and a more abusive nature after conversions because they believed that their religion justified aggressive behavior against slaves. Douglass even mentions that his former master used to quote scripture when he abused his slaves. His master would say, “He that knoweth his master's will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.” (Douglass, 1) To slave owners, the newfound emotional connection formed by conversion was strong enough to support their actions. Sadly, this led to the system of slavery continuing for far too long. 

Slave owners and the majority of white southerners held such a strong connection to slavery, that they truly believed America couldn't function without it. In their eyes, slave labor was important because it provided “…a better defense of the poor against the oppression of the rich.” (Armstrong, 5) This idea led to many slave owners turning to the Bible for guidance on how to be a “good” slave owner. Since white southerners did not have any desire to end slavery, many African American slaves had to find a way to deal with the oppressive system of slavery. Religion of the heart not only allowed slaves to attend sermons in Christian churches but also open the door for the formation of African American gatherings. While not all slaves were allowed to attend church, some managed to attend services and experience a short period of relief. When describing the program of services that African American men attended, Peter Randolph writes, “Preaching in order, by the brethren; then praying and singing all around, until they generally feel quite happy.” (Randolph, 8) While the moments of relief provided to slaves through the practice of religion were brief, they ultimately helped slaves find the strength to keep fighting for the end of slavery. The complicated relationship between emotional religion and the institution of slavery resulted in the horrible and drawn-out abuse of African American slaves; however, emotional religion also gave slaves needed periods of mental relief that ultimately helped them find the strength needed to keep fighting.

Religion of the heart drastically helped America evolve into a better functioning and accepting society. However, it is also important to remember that the strong emotional connection people formed with their religion also drove many to create or support problems that were preventing the growth of America. In particular, religion of the heart impacted the institution of slavery and the idea of Christian domesticity greatly. Emotional religion allowed people of all social classes to explore their own beliefs and determine how they wanted their new country to be created and to evolve. Many found that exploration of emotional religion and the Bible helped them discover the deeper meaning of their faith and life. While religion of the mind played an important role in the formation of several early American political documents, religion of the heart ultimately helped people strive for both their political and social goals. Religion of the heart connected to human nature and, therefore, impacted many decisions made in early American history. Not only did this form of religion impact the growth of the American nation, but it also continues to impact many of the political and religious systems that we follow today.

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