Religious conscience in America has evolved considerably since the first settlers emigrated here from Europe. Primary settlements were established by Puritans and Pilgrims who believed "their errand into the wilderness [America] was above all else a religious errand, and all institutions - town meeting, school, church, family, law-must faithfully reflect that fact" (Gaustad 61). However, as colonies grew, dissenters emerged to challenge Puritan authority; indeed, many of them left the church to join untraditional religious sects such as "the Ranters, the Seekers, the Quakers, the Antinomians, and the Familists" (Westbrook 26). Debates over softening the stance on tolerance in the church engendered hostility in many religious leaders, priming some officials to take action. Whether it was in direct response to "the liberalizing tendencies beginning to take hold in some [. . .] New England churches" (Westbrook 65), or a "reaction against the attempt in the Age of Reason to reduce Christian doctrine to rationalistic explanation" ("Great Awakening"), the Great Awakening impressed upon the issues of religious conscience. Moreover, what spawns from this controversy is a query over the juxtaposition of morality and spirituality: the question of whether these conditions are actually related. The gradual escalation of unconventional thinking in religious affairs facilitated new ideas on what defined spirituality; one religious theory, boosted by Thomas Paine and his book, The Age of Reason, denounced both Christianity and Atheism, proposing instead, a new concept: the middle path of Deism.
As a progressive religious view rising in popularity during the middle of the e...
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...ns, it is quite possible that American's would not have religious freedom today.
Gaustad, Edwin S., ed. A Documentary History of Religion in America to the Civil War. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1982.
"Great Awakening." Colliers Encyclopedia. 1996 ed.
Paine, Thomas. The Age of Reason. Ed. Moncure Daniel Conway. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1930.
Richmond, B.A. "Deism: It's History, Beliefs, & Practices." Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 25 July 2000. http://www.religioustolerance.org/deism.htm.
Walters, Kerry S. The American Deists: Voices of Reason and Dissent in the Early Republic. Lawrence: UP of Kansas, 1992.
---. Benjamin Franklin and His Gods. Chicago: University of Illinois, 1999.
Westbrook, Perry D. A Literary History of New England. Cranbury: Associated University, 1988.
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