Significance of the Great Awakening: Roots of Revolution

The Awakening rebellion against authoritarian religious rule spilled over into other areas of colonial life. It gave charismatic personalities like Whitefield and Tennent opportunities to share their messages. Though a religious movement, the Awakening had an impact in cultural and political spheres. Customs of civility and courtesy, the governing norms of life in the colonies, were set aside in favor of a more quarrelsome age.

Ideas that came with revivalism opposed the notion of a single truth or a single church. As preachers visited town after town, sects began to break off larger churches and many Protestant denominations sprouted. The older groups that dominated the early colonies—the Puritans and the Anglicans—began to lose popularity.

The social effect of the new denominations was a unifying effect, which helped to create a “national consciousness.” The effect of Great Awakening unity was an attitude that opposed the general English thinking. Instead of believing that God’s will was necessarily interpreted by the monarch or bishops, the colonists viewed themselves as capable of performing the task themselves. This radicalism and popular self-righteousness was echoed in the American Revolution. The revivalism of the first half of the eighteenth century let the colonists step out of the established Christian churches and assert religious control over their own nation’s destiny.

The Great Awakening also contributed to the notion of state rule as a contract with the people. Colonists during the revival came to see covenants with their churches as contracts; they argued that each believer owed the church their obedience, and the churches in turn owed their congregants the duty to be faithful to the Gospel. This theory that individuals agree to live and be bound together under consensual government is expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

Religious pluralism within the colonies contributed a lot to the revolutionary fire in the latter half of the 18th century. The colonists did not have a single denomination. Eventually, this religious zeal turned to revolution and desire for self-governance. John Adams gave credit to the Great Awakening as the source of motivation behind the war.

Another shared sentiment of the chiefly Protestant nation was a fear of Catholic domination. Anti-Catholicism was one of the most prominent traits in the colonies prior to the revolution. This attitude was significant in the New England way of life and existed not only in the churched but also in taverns, newspapers, and schools.

Source: Significance of the Great Awakening: Roots of Revolution
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