Note: Today at 3:00 PM EDT I will be Fullmoon Ancestry. He is a writer and translator usually based in Europe, but back in the US celebrating Covid-19. He writes for Greg Johnson’s site and host Greg’s week D-Line show. We will be discussing Heavy Metal and Anglo-Saxon poetry for an hour or so.
The Great Awakening refers to a number of periods in American history in which there was a widespread religious revival among evangelical Protestants. These periods are characterized by an increase in church membership, but also the formation of new sects and movements. The people swept up in the movements are filled with a strong desire to reform not just religion, but carry their conviction into the rest of the society, in the form of social and political activism.
There are debates as to how many of these periods there have been. Historians agree that the first awakening began in the 1730’s and lasted about a decade. The British evangelist George Whitefield toured the colonies, preaching and organizing great revivals mostly among the British population, but also the Germans and Dutch. He also converted African slaves to Christianity, which was the first time since slavery was introduced into the colonies. He also founded the Methodist Church.
The second awakening happened in the later 18th and early 19th century. Like the first awakening, it was largely based in the Northeast and Midwest. This period of religious revival was accompanied by other social reform movements such as temperance and abolitionism. Reformers also agitated for things like limiting tobacco use, public dress codes and public health initiatives. The abolition movement emerged in the North from the wider Second Great Awakening.
When it comes to subsequent awakenings, historians disagree as to whether they constitute awakenings, rather than reform movements. The Social Gospel movement in the late 19th century is counted an awakening by some. The growth of conservative religious denominations in the middle of the last century is counted as a continuation of this pattern of religious revival. The difference is that the ruling class had abandoned Christianity in the 20th century, so they were unaffected.
The abandonment of Christianity by the American elites does not mean that the old cycle of moral revival went away. That old reformist rhythm did not disappear, but was instead channeled into secular causes. The New Deal, for example, was not solely about economics. The main thrust of the reforms was an effort to unify the country around socially useful causes. There were widespread reforms designed to improve public health, living standards and quality of life.
Similarly, the upheavals of mid-century had a strong spiritual element. Civil Rights was a purely moral cause with strong religious undertones. The language of the cultural upheavals had a strong reformist angle. The central claim being that America had become synthetic and commercial. Rejection of the materialism of the age was about restoring humanity. Of course, the feminists were building on female reform movements dating back to the prior century.
It may be that there is a biological element to these periods of reform. In the 18th and 19th century, the reformist impulse was channeled through mainline Protestantism, as religious revivals, with a social activism component. As Christianity faded from the ruling class, the reformist impulse was channeled through social activism. The New Dealers retained some Christian language, but they were secular reformers. The mid-century radicals were purely secular reformers with the zeal of a believer.
This may explain what we are seeing today. Go back to the 1980’s and the Left was in the decline. The decline pre-dated Reagan, but accelerated through the Bush I years into the Clinton years. Despite his rhetoric and the media propaganda, Bill Clinton was no Progressive reformer. His one foray into activism was heath care and once that collapsed, he raced to the middle and stayed there for his tenure. It was the election of George Bush in 2000 that woke up the Left.
The Bush II years were not a Progressive awakening, but the stirrings were there, with the revival of the anti-war movement. It was the election of Barak Obama that set off this period of radicalism and social activism. It was in this period when race relations began to deteriorate, mostly through the agitation of the ruling class. The same is true of sex relations, with the many rape hoaxes on the college campus. Obama himself became something of a religious figure for the Left.
One important difference between these secular spasms of reform and their Christian antecedents is the structure. Protestant reformers always had the framework of Scripture to both give their efforts authority and place limits on their desires. The limiting principle of Christian revivals is that salvation is for the next life. The moral principles are right there in Scripture for everyone to examine. The movements may have been led by men, but were guided by a doctrine that is clear to everyone.
The secular reformer has no source of moral authority or a limiting principle. For the secular zealot, salvation is in this life and there are no limits to achieving it. This is the problem with all radical movements since the Jacobins. When man becomes the source of moral authority, all of his actions have legitimacy. Those in opposition are not disputing the finer points of doctrine, but opposing the project itself. Eliminating the opposition becomes a goal of the project.
We see that in the current frenzy. The statue toppling is often pointless and absurd, but the motivation behind it is a reordering the present to fit the ideal. The elimination of the symbols and reminders of past sins is part of creating the glorious present. It’s clear in the language of the Left that the next logical step for them is the elimination of the people they believe are between them and their goal. The great racial revival will require the elimination of white men entirely.
The other difference between the Christian awakening and the secular variant is the former was an effort to elevate man toward an ideal. The latter is mostly a war against an imaginary enemy that prevents the emergence of the ideal society. The current reformers only want to rage at white people, for example, who they universally characterize as supremacists. It’s why the focus is on destruction. These secular revivals are narcissistic and shallow.
Now, this connection to past religious revivals explains how the ruling class has been so quick to embrace this latest spasm. They don’t know why they feel compelled to take the knee and feel glorious in so doing, but the revelry is just as real to them as it would have been to evangelicals Protestants. That reformist urge is like a monster inside them that has to feed every couple of decades. Even when it is bad for business, as in the case of sports, they join in the revelry.
The good news is these spasms burn out. This spasm may be an echo of the one which lifted Obama into office. That great awakening is nearing an end. It is a reaction to the reaction of normal people in the form of the Trump election. This summer the final flashes of it will subside and they enter their dormant phase. The bad news is a generation from now the young people swept up in this spasm will be leading a new spasm of narcissistic revelry.
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