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The Practice of Religion in the Americas Before the Civil War

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If there is one sober lesson Americans seem to be taking out of the bathos of the Civil War sesquicentennial, it’s the folly of a nation allowing itself to be dragged into the war in the first place. After all, from 1861 to 1865 the nation pledged itself to what amounted to a moral regime change, especially concerning race and slavery—only to realize that it had no practical plan for implementing it. No wonder that two of the most important books emerging from the Sesquicentennial years—by Harvard president Drew Faust, and Yale’s Harry Stout—questioned pretty frankly whether the appalling costs of the Civil War could be justified by its comparatively meager results. No wonder, either, that both of them were written in the shadow of the Iraq War, which was followed by another reconstruction that suffered from the same lack of planning.

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Religion played a major role in the American Revolution by offering a moral sanction for opposition to the British--an assurance to the average American that revolution was justified in the sight of God. As a recent scholar has observed, "by turning colonial resistance into a righteous cause, and by crying the message to all ranks in all parts of the colonies, ministers did the work of secular radicalism and did it better." Ministers served the American cause in many capacities during the Revolution: as military chaplains, as penmen for committees of correspondence, and as members of state legislatures, constitutional conventions and the national Congress. Some even took up arms, leading Continental troops in battle. The Revolution split some denominations, notably the Church of England, whose ministers were bound by oath to support the King, and the Quakers, who were traditionally pacifists. Religious practice suffered in certain places because of the absence of ministers and the destruction of churches, but in other areas, religion flourished. The Revolution strengthened millennialist strains in American theology. At the beginning of the war some ministers were persuaded that, with God's help, America might become "the principal Seat of the glorious Kingdom which Christ shall erect upon Earth in the latter Days." Victory over the British was taken as a sign of God's partiality for America and stimulated an outpouring of millennialist expectations--the conviction that Christ would rule on earth for 1,000 years. This attitude combined with a groundswell of secular optimism about the future of America to create the buoyant mood of the new nation that became so evident after Jefferson assumed the presidency in 1801.

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It was hard to find church leaders who had leadership skills to lead the masses. Also, there was not enough space to accommodate all the worshippers who attended church services. The American religious life started experiencing some changes starting from the year 1960. The American people also began experiencing some changes brought about by religious beliefs. This essay will try to explain factors that are influential in shaping the future of religion in America. Research has shown that many Americans have no religious preference; they are confused as to which religion to follow and practice. The percentage of those with no religion is shown to increase sharply. For instance, in the year 1992, those without religion stood at 8 percent while last year (2013) the figure increased to 20 percent. Additionally, the black Americans are also believed to be more religious than the whites (Hout, Michael and Claude 4). Many researchers have found out that religion is one of the main factors that contribute towards good behaviors among American teenagers. The process of shaping the behavior of youths in America should start from their early childhood. It should, therefore, be introduced in primary schools and kindergartens. Parents are advised to make sure that their children comprehend the importance of religion and its impact on their life. This is because research has shown that religious teenagers are unlikely to engage in behaviors that are health-compromising such as smoking, drugs and committing suicide in a bid to avoid stress and hopelessness. Religion helps in guiding them on how to avoid all these during their adolescence stage where there are a lot of temptations (Smith 17). Religion and health are believed to be related. The relationship between the two is accelerated by research programs conducted by researchers. It has been found out that religion can influence the outcomes of physical or mental health of individuals. African Americans from the rural south have strong faith in religion and are not easy to influence to change to nonreligious persons. In addition, it alters the religious affiliation such as joining other religious movements by changing the social ties of individuals. Emphasis should be on spreading the religious beliefs to all regions in America (Sherkat and Ellison 368).

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Definitely, religion in the Civil War has not been so much debated among historians as it has been ignored. Of the thousands of titles dealing with the Civil War, surprisingly few address the significant role that religion played in framing the issues of the conflict. Fortunately, this neglect has begun to recede. Randall Miller, Harry S. Stout and Charles Reagan Wilson, eds., Religion and the American Civil War (1998) provides an excellent collection of essays illuminating many facets of the subject.

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Ellison, Christopher and Levin Jeffry. “The religion-health connection: Evidence, theory, and future directions.” Health Education and Behavior, 25.1 (1998):700-720. Print.

Hout, Michael and Claude Fischer. “Why more Americans have no religious preference: Politics and generations”, American Sociological Review, 67.1 (2002): 165-190. Print.

Sherkat, Darren and Ellison Christopher. “Recent Developments and current Controversies in the Sociology of Religion.” Annual Review of Sociology, 25.1 (1999):363-394. Print.

Smith, Christian. “Theorizing Religious Effects among American Adolescents.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 42.1 (2003): 17–30. Print.

Woodhead, Linda. Religion and Personal Life: Debating Ethics and Faith with Leading Thinkers and Public Figures. London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd, 2003. Print.

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The Practice of Religion in the Americas Before the Civil War
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