Religion Vs. The Market Society

Religion Vs. The Market Society

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Alexis de Tocqueville once said "I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America." Early British America was the new world, free of religious persecution and economic pain. All the clearly visible motives to move to America: freedom from religious persecution and the pressure of one church in England was too much for the early colonists to handle. They needed a permanent holiday from England. Like a driving force, religion became the motivation the settlers needed to cross the voyage across the Atlantic. With Bibles at hand, and Jesus inside them, hundreds made the journey. Settlements had not even begun yet, markets were not established, but religion was everlasting. Religious beliefs, although different between the Puritans and Quakers, were the only ingredients necessary to institute happiness and well being in the colonies.
Mid-eighteenth century lifestyle brought with it expansion of the colonies, and the First Great Awakening. Known by historians as the Great Awakening, this period consists of a heightened amount of religious activity. The traditional forms of preaching and listening became passé. Religious revivals spread throughout the country as the political tenets of individuals were being influenced by religion. New England was hit by this “awakening” the hardest. Preachers such as Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent, and George Whitefield left the largest marks. Edwards in Northampton, England brought the Great Awakening to New England where Whitefield was touring. From the years 1739-1741 Whitefield travelled, east, west, north and south preaching from Georgia to New England cities. Whitefield was a member of the Calvinistic Methodist Church and his journal is a key first-hand account of his travels. Whitefield spoke from balconies and rooftops assembling hundreds of individuals. Whitefield writes, “...every time, both the power of the word and numbers increased. I believe on Sunday evening there might be more than three thousand people. Hundreds prayed for me when I took my leave, and many of the papists said ‘if I would stay, they would leave their priests.’” (Whitefield 1740, p 38)
Citizens flocked to hear him speak. Many came to his sermons light-minded and indifferent and left with a sense of religion. A large portion of the populace could understand God and Jesus Christ. You may not have learned how to read or write, but as a child you were taught the stories of the Bible, and the stories of Jesus Christ.

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Reading and writing was prejudiced to the elite and aristocrats of society. Their lifestyle required gaining of knowledge and information in their daily lives. “Reading and literacy were not universal. Men in the north were the most likely to be able to read as well as a small number of women in the north. Southerners were not as likely.” (Murphy 2008, Lecture)
A good friend of Whitefield and publisher of his sermons, Benjamin Franklin was another icon of life during the late 18th century. Regarded by historians and textbooks as one of the leading founding fathers, Franklin was himself a part of this religion revival. Although he didn’t share Whitefield’s beliefs, he says in his autobiography “I had been religiously educated as a Presbyterian; and tho' some of the dogmas of that persuasion, such as the eternal decrees of God, election, reprobation, etc., appeared to me unintelligible, others doubtful, and I early absented myself from the public assemblies of the sect… I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that He made the world, and governed it by His providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter. These I esteemed the essentials of every religion; and, being to be found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all, tho' with different degrees of respect…” (Franklin 1791, 37)
This religious revolution was the powerful force during the eighteenth century. With such a commanding and authoritative backing, it was no surprise that personal and political problems of society were solved with religion. The market was a new and upcoming evolution of society. Very different from the social world the Puritans had come to know and live in, people were beginning to “invent oneself.” (Murphy 2008, Lecture) In Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narratives and Other Writings, Equiano uses religious as a rhetorical disguise. Appealing to readers and philosophers at the time, religious would draw in publicity and would get the book known. Equiano also uses religion as a ploy to instrument the beginning of abolitionist thinking and behavior. “In short, the fair as well as black people immediately styled me by a new appellation, to me the most desirable in the world, which was freeman, and at the dances I gave, my Georgia superfine blue clothes made no indifferent appearance.... Some of the sable females, who formerly stood aloof, now began to relax, and appear less coy, but my heart was still fixed on London, where I hoped to be erelong.” (Equiano 1789, 138)
At the same time, Equiano knew that writing books in the 18th century was not a profitable ploy. It seems that throughout his book he used religion and humility to his advantage to gain the wider audience, and possibly recoup his initial investment. His main audience seems to be the Parliament, who he was trying to shock and awe. His goal was to abolish slavery, and possibly his narrative was the route. Again religion seems to play a key role. The outcome of the Great Awakening was to lead people to “experience God in their own way.” Every person was half angel and half devil. This public form of atonement was their only form of salvation. Reverend George Whitefield, Olaudah Equiano, and Benjamin Franklin understood this and knew that this fact had to be widespread. By using another Enlightenment effect, mass media, they could publish their work and use it to as a unifying force.
Religion was more than a powerful force during the eighteenth century. It was the only force. Regardless of economic, political, or social discomfort, Americans had come to this country to be released from such trivial pains. If Jesus had led them to this country, then he could lead them out of any uneasiness or distress. The more religion strengthened in the states, the more the market weakened. Because of the diversity of religions, it became harder for people of different beliefs to come together. This caused battles and debates between people of the south and those of the north. Without a steady group of people to trade and market with, the market society weakened. Like Whitefield said, “For in Jesus Christ there is neither male nor female, bond nor free; even you may be the children of God, if you believe in Jesus.”
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