The Great Awakenings

This article originally appeared 9/28/2014.

For now, at least, we are going to wrap up the discussion about charity.  This blog, and the next, will serve as transition points to another topic.  So what is charity?  At its core it is the giving by one individual to another simply out of love—out of our common humanity—the sameness of our nature.  What is needed for that kind of love to exist?  Based upon the last several posts, I would assert:

  • A proper orientation away from man and toward our Creator. I know some will argue that this is not necessary, but I think a brief review of man’s history is all that is needed to dispel this argument.  Even at his best, man falls short.
  • An understanding of our purpose, to become good. That each one of us attempt to become like our Creator to the extent we are able.
  • The will to choose and pursue our purpose – the freedom to make our own choices. This in turn requires four different components:
    • Reason
    • Faith
    • Knowledge
    • Virtue

The first two items in the preceding list require a purposeful and meaningful education.  It is the exercise of reason and faith that lead to the development of knowledge and virtue.

  • The use of the skills, abilities, and aptitudes we’ve each received from our Creator in pursuing that purpose. While we each have the same end goal, we will each fulfill that goal in different ways.  Together, we make a beautiful tapestry, and no one part is more important than another.  All are needed to make the tapestry complete.

The underlying principles of charity are:  (1) that we all have the same nature, (2) therefore we all have the same rights as no one’s nature differs from another’s, and (3) the shared believe in a common good.  It is these underlying principles which make us a single people.  If we cease to believe in a common set of rights in which we share, or a notion of the common good – then we cease to be a people.

It is at this point that I want to bring in some history.  That history asserts we’ve had two Great Awakenings.  Both also had counterparts in Europe at about the same time.  The first one came to pass in the 1730’s and 1740’s within the Colonies.  Some of the leading preachers during this awakening included:  George Whitefield, Cotton Mather, Increase Mather, and Jonathan Edwards.  This awakening shaped the minds of many of our Founding Fathers, and those who would later become the ‘Black Robe Regiment’.  This movement set the stage for ending the political tyranny faced by the Colonies, and eventually led to the events precipitating in the War for Independence after all peaceful means for reaching a resolution had been exhausted, and the principles underlying our founding documents.

The second Great Awakening began in the 1790’s and lasted into the 1830’s.  Some its U.S. leaders included:  Charles Finney, Jonathan Mayhew, Alexander Campbell, and Barton Stone.  Some of the minds shaped by this awakening included D.L. Moody and James Garfield – the later an evangelical preacher who would become the 20th U.S. President, and whose life would be cut short by an assassin’s bullet in part because of his Reconstruction ideas. It is from this awakening the efforts to recognize the rights of women and abolishment of slavery have their roots, and it shaped the minds of those who would fight the War Between the States in the 1860’s.

The European awakening at this time also contributed to abolishing slavery there.  Although the abolishment of slavery was more peaceful in Europe than in America, the immediate results after the end of this war in America were somewhat different.   There was a wave of black state representatives and senators elected throughout the south, culminating in the election of the first black U.S. representatives and senator.  Yes, the first black U.S. senator was not Tim Scott, but Hiram Rhodes Revels from Mississippi.  One of these first seven black representatives, Joseph Hayne Rainey of South Carolina, even served as Speaker of the House.

These awakenings had several things in common.  First, as individuals and a people, we turned inward.  Second, we recognized some evil or oppression, we repented, and we turned to our Creator.  We took action by attempting to resolve the problems peacefully, and armed conflict was only undertaken after all other means for resolution had been exhausted. 

I assert America had a third Great Awakening occurring during the 1930’s and 1940’s, and out of that awakening came the conflict known as World War II.  This awakening too, was aimed at recognizing and removing an evil from the world, a form of collectivism called fascism.  However, there were also several important differences as well.  First, education within the U.S. had changed with its integration of German intellectual enlightenment.  Second, the U.S. was influenced by progressive tenets supported by Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and had been under the influence of the progressive ‘New Deal’ of Franklin Roosevelt for almost ten years before the start of the war.  Third, the Second World War was a conflict thrust upon us, instead of us entering it after all peaceful means of resolving the conflict were exhausted.  Fourth, this was not a religious awakening, but instead largely a secular one.  Instead of repenting and turning inward to our Creator, we instead turned to ourselves and our government – to man.  Instead of a renewal of faith, we developed a complacency and detachment.

I firmly believe it is from the changes taking place during this last awakening that we have put ourselves onto the path leading us to our present situation.  As a people, we have largely turned away from our Creator, and instead relied on ourselves to resolve our problems, and we are miserably failing.  All one has to do is look at the moral fiber of our country – the trends in welfare payments, food stamp use, education, abortion, drug abuse, and pornography are all merely symptoms of a much larger problem.  These problems will only be resolved when we turn away from all forms of collectivism, and back to what I’ve turned individualism and First Cause.  So why does this matter?

I believe that we are coming to a time of a fourth great awakening within this country.  This is the threat posed by ‘radical’ Islam.  First, let me say that the problem is not Muslims.  I have friends who are Muslim and we largely want the same things out of life for ourselves and our families.  As we also share the same nature, this should not come as a surprise.  Instead the problem rests with the tenets of Islam itself, which I think you’ll find incompatible with the principles which underlay our country’s foundation.  In the next post, we will very briefly explore some background materials relevant to Islam before going into some of its tenets, and comparing those to the Judeo-Christian principals chosen by our Founders for our society.  After all, our Founders explored everything they could find in terms of moral philosophy and governance, before settling on the ones they passed on to us.  A review of Islam was included in their search—and it was discarded.

In parting, some words relevant to this post from the book of Philippians:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:3-7)

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About the Author

Dan Wolf
Dan Wolf is a researcher and analyst; examining complex, abstract topics. His writing’s premise is based on one simple idea. We do not receive the benefits of God’s gifts unless we are turned toward Him. Each generation needs to learn this lesson to pass on what’s important. What are those gifts? Freedom, faith, and grace among others. Our Founders considered education, religion, morality, and virtue to be the cornerstones for any successful society. Success requires an education in both the languages of reason and faith, reason alone is not enough. Unfortunately, our education system today no longer teaches what we need to be successful, so we risk losing our way. But it is not too late. In the end we each have the freedom to choose, and the ability to learn. There are many who have already blazed a trail for us; we only need the will to embrace the challenge and make the effort. Together we will restore the societal foundation that our Founder’s, and many after them, fought and died for. The choice is ours. My goal is to assist you on your way. I can be reached at livingrightly@mindspring.com. His site is at:  http://www.livingrightly.net/