The Fourth Great Awakening

The Essence of Contemporary American Religion
Page Two

By Jagannatha Prakasha

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The principles of the Enlightenment exercised a profound influence on the minds and philosophies of the American Founding Fathers. Under the influence of this thought it became fashionable to ridicule the so-called superstitions and dogmatism of both Catholic and Protestant thinkers. Christian theology was largely replaced by a belief in the fundamental goodness of human nature, an idea championed by people such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The religion of the day, at least among the intelligentsia, was a nature-based humanism exemplified by the words of poet Thomas Gray: Not a precipice, not a torrent, not a cliff, but is pregnant with religion and poetry (DRP 218) note 18 The depth of this emotional religious mood finally replaced the rationalism of the eighteenth century as the nineteenth dawned. This transition from hard reason to the tenderness of the heart produced a wide array of fruits, e.g., in Kierkegaard's satire against the rationalism of Hegel, the appreciation of patristic and medieval Christian values among the English Tractarians and others, and the emphasis of religious feeling in the works of people such as Schleiermacher and Chateaubriand.

As credence in the organized Church waned, religious leaders sought to bolster their authority during the Romantic Period by stressing the cultural and traditional aspects of the Church. This attempt is seen, within Protestantism, in Schleiermacher's influence. On the Catholic side we see it in the arguments advanced by those who, after the manner of Chateaubriand, stressed the importance and beauty of tradition. As an unintended result of this philosophical and religious maneuvering the Church lost much of its vitality and moral certitude (RE 91). In the eyes of many, during this period the Church conclusively demonstrated that its primary concern is political and hierarchical stability, not the propagation of spiritual and religious truths. This image of hypocrisy and opportunism still haunts the Church, both Catholic and Protestant.

In fledgling America this period was generally known as the First Great Awakening note 19. Here it began in the Dutch Reformed Churches of New Jersey c. 1726. It soon spread to the Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches. This Great Awakening finally reached its peak in New England in the 1740's. It produced thinkers such as Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), John Locke (1632-1704), John Wesley (1703-1791) and George Whitfield (1714-1770) who opposed the high level of emotionalism which was typical of the Movement (RE 9). Itinerant preachers such as the Reverends Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Davies, Eleazar Wheelock, Samuel Finley etc. traveled throughout the thirteen colonies expounding emotionally charged American Protestantism, a new bread of religion which was born of American experiences from within the First Great Awakening (RNA 10; RAR 63). It spread to Virginia and elsewhere in the 50's but soon ended. The impact of this Awakening was essential for the colonies as it created a bond between them (e pluribus unum) and established a sense of identity as a distinct people (RAR 1). America was hailed as the New Zion, a virtual Protestant Promised Land (RNA 93). Jonathan Edwards considered the Awakening to be a surprising work of God. He proclaimed that Jesus had flung the door of mercy open so that all could enter. During this period the Fatherhood aspect of God was emphasized, and the Colonists regarded themselves as His special children. As children, it was expected that God would lead them and punish them. As a result, submission of the stubborn human will became an important concept and the religious life of the day reflected this. Holiness in all things came to typify this Puritan revival (RAR 45-49).

According to E.S. Gaustad the founding of the Separates and the Separate Baptists was the most conspicuous institutional effect of the [first] Great Awakening in New England. It was by no means the only one however. By 1755 there were over 125 Separate (or Strict Congregationalist) churches in New England. By 1776 over 70 Separate Baptist Churches existed. Later came the Universalists, Unitarians, Free Will Baptists, Shakers, the New Light theologies (later organized as Edwardsianism, Hopkinsianism, Consistent Calvinism), etc. (RAR 60-72). The general consensus of these movements was fundamentally Calvinistic, yet the Awakening added that God was willing to save all who truly repented note 20. They also viewed America as a potential tool for the establishment of the millennial reign of Christ (RAR 98) note 21.

A Second Great Awakening Begins

Towards the end of the eighteenth century through the middle of the nineteenth, the Awakening reappeared. This flow is often referred to as the Second Great Awakening (1790-1830). During this period the newly formed nation began to seriously question its Calvinistic roots. Implicit in the unfolding American Dream was the belief that man was limited only by his own imagination. The rationalism of the Enlightenment moved people to question the doctrine of Original Sin. Humanity, or more specifically Humanism, was honored and Calvinism began to wane. As a result new religious forms and doctrines were developed note 22. Among these groups are the Missouri Synod, Norwegian Evangelical Synod, Church of the United Brethren, Disciples of Christ, Millerites, Mormonism (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) note 23, Swedenborgianism, Taylorism (or Beecherism), Mesmerism, Owenism, Fourierism, Oneida Society, Mennonites, Moravians, Seventh Day Baptists, Six Principle Baptists, Dunker Baptists, Free Will Baptists, the YMCA, etc. This feeling of individual responsibility and worth began among the New England Congregationalists note 24 and soon spread throughout the United States, being found in all major denominations. By the mid 19th century however this movement likewise was absorbed into religious structure and dogma note 25. It should be remembered that these flowerings of intellectual and spiritual awakening did not and do not occur in a vacuum. Each appearance or rebirth is directly tied to the experiences of its predecessors. Such was again the case between the years 1875 and 1914 when the Third Great Awakening occurred.

The Third Great Awakening Begins

This Third Great Awakening occurred just prior to the onset of the First World War and had a most profound influence on the world. As a direct result of this era history was forever essentially altered. A plethora of religious renovators appeared on the scene. Whereas in the two previous Awakenings there existed a basic theological consensus, in the Third (and moreover the Fourth) few doctrines were accepted as sacrosanct. McLoughlin maintains that this period did not begin until 1890. The plethora of camp meetings which erupted around 1857, he says, does not qualify as a true Awakening. I will yield to his opinion here. However, by 1875 there was clearly a major Awakening beginning.

The monumental success of D.L. Moody's revival meetings in the 1870's reflect a powerful rebirth of Missionary Christian Fundamentalism (DRP 421). In fact, Moody has been called the first Fundamentalist (RAR143). This seems appropriate because he rejected the rationalism of the Enlightenment and based his teachings squarely on a literal interpretation of Biblical teachings. As a result, Moody (1837-1899), along with his long-time associate Ira David Sankey, condemned the idea of salvation by works, the new Humanist doctrine of evolution, and the so-called higher criticism of the Bible. He likewise rejected the notion of essential human goodness, returning, as he saw it, to the fundamental belief in the doctrine of original sin and the necessity of being born again (RAR141-144). D.L. Moody, his teachings and his Bible institute, held a very important place in this Awakening (and continues to do so).

Another influential teacher, from a very different perspective, was the controversial Charles Taze Russell. After leaving the Presbyterian Church he established the Dawn Bible Students Association (also known as the Millennial Dawners) and published his teachings under the title Studies in the Scriptures (SiS). In 1879 Russell began the magazine Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence note 26. His doctrines centered around the adventist belief that the world, the present system of things was destined to end around October 1, 1914. He offered support for this belief by his interpretation of the Bible as well as his mystical analysis of the Great Pyramid of Giza. In time his society solidified its doctrines, dropping such notions as pyramidology note 27. and came to be known as the International Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (International Bible Students Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses) (W). When 1914 passed the Pastor, as his followers called him, explained that Jesus had indeed returned in 1914. That Advent however was invisible (BF 457,458). On the way He had fought with Satan and bound him to the earth (Luke 10:18). The First World War, which began in 1914, boldly marked the occasion. All the natural disasters and bloodshed which have occurred since then are those prophesied by the Bible in Matthew 24 and elsewhere. This prophecy, and the explanation of its apparent failure, may seem far fetched at first, but when you consider his sources and rationale, coupled with the apocalyptic excitement of the day, it is understandable how millions of people, including the mother of Dwight D. Eisenhower, could accept his predictions and interpretations. Russell was an adventist. This was a major movement in the Third Great Awakening and the date of 1914 (or dates within a few years in either direction) were often proffered for Christ's return.

The origin of these dates were, for the most part, based on an interpretation of Scripture. Indeed, even the celebrated Reverend Charles Larkin employed this system of Biblical interpretation, but with different results note 28. In order to understand these adventist movements therefore, it seems appropriate to demonstrate one of the popular methods of prophetic dating. In order to follow along it will be helpful to read the indicated Scriptural passages. It must be understood that those who accept this system of interpretation, and millions still do, accept the Bible not only as the revealed Word of God, but also as the partially concealed Word of God, disclosed only to those who have eyes to see. Daniel 4: speaks of a great tree which, by Divine decree, is cut down and banded till seven times pass over it. This tree represents governmental authority according to the text (vs. 25). Russell taught that the tree had a deeper meaning. It represented the prophesied Kingdom of God. When the bands of theprophetic tree are removed the Kingdom of God will blossom and (after the seven year rule of Anti-Christ according to some) the millennium will begin (comp. Ezeck. 17:22-24). From this we know, according to this system, that God's kingdom will be restored seven times after it was cut down, even as Nebuchadnezzar returned to his senses after seven times or, in that case, seven years (Dan. 4:28-37).

So then, how long are these seven times? Since the Hebrews used a lunar calendar, we would normally have to translate into solar years, however the length of the prophetic year (and this is a prophecy) is set at a constant 360 days, with each day symbolically composing a full year, a day for a year, a day for a year (Num. 14:34; Ezek.. 4:6). In the Book of Revelation we read that 1, 260 days equals a time, and times, and a half a time (12:6,14). This being established by Scripture, 1,260 days (31/2 times) doubled would equal 2520 actual years for seven times.

These years are to begin when the metaphorical tree which was cut down, which according to Russell, refers to the destruction of God's Kingdom on earth, i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, is banded. And when did this occur? The Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, who took Zedekiah off God's Throne and into exile. This desecration, according to Russell, occurred in 606 B.C.E (BF 180) note 29. Hence, from 606 B.C.E. the seven times began their countdown. 2520-606=1914 note 30. This prophetical system is described at length in BF 177-181. As the years passed the Witnesses sought to pinpoint dates for the physical manifestation of Jesus and His kingdom but with no success. The last such date was 1975 note 31.

In the mid 1800's William Miller announced the end of the world would occur on October 22, 1844. A large following gathered to listen to him. Among them was Charles Taze Russell and Ellen Harmon (who was latter known as the prophetess Mrs. Ellen G. White). The Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) prophetess received her first vision in 1844, five years before Miller's death. From that time on she developed the essential doctrines and practices of the SDA Church. Mrs. White studied with Pastor Russell for some time, but the two had fundamental differences. Mrs. White, for instance, accepted the doctrine of the Trinity whereas Russell rejected it. Like Russell, she believed in the imminent return of Christ, but after witnessing the destruction of Mr. Miller's movement due to his unfulfilled prophesy, neither she nor the SDA ever offered any specific dates. Mrs. White stressed the importance of worshipping on the Sabbath, Saturday. SDA blames the adoption of a Sunday sabbath on the Catholic papacy and many of their members maintain that the Catholic pontiff is the Anti-Christ. Russell, while agreeing with White that Saturday, not Sunday, was the Sabbath Day, denied that it mattered as Christians are not subject to Jewish Law. The SDA of course believe that observing the Saturday Sabbath is a essential Christian requirement.

Other religious groups which arose during this Third Great Awakening include the Baha'is, the Christadelphians, the Christian Scientists, The New Apostolic Church, The 70 plus churches which the teachings of Phineas P. Quimby spawned (including The Church of Divine Science, The Institute of Religious Science and Philosophy, Religious Science Churches, Church of Religious Science, Church of Truth, and perhaps best known of all, Unity School of Christianity), The Old Catholic movement, Pentecostalism, The Polish Old Catholic Church (aka. The Polish National Catholic Church), Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (the Rosicrucians), the Salvation Army, Spiritualism, the Vedanta Society, and many more.

Adolf Hitler's fascination with and knowledge of Aryan culture (i.e. Indo-Himalayan) was based largely on the research of Madame Helena Petrova Blavatsky (HPB) and her Aryan Theosophical Society and Press (HTR). The Theosophical Society was founded within the Third Great Awakening and had a most profound influence on the West as it provided the first major introduction to Eastern ideas and cultures. Whereas the earlier Awakenings were concerned largely with Christian reform and secular philosophy, the Third Great Awakening incorporated Eastern wisdom into the Western consciousness. HPB, an allegedly expert Spiritualist, maintained that only in the East, the so-called cradle of Occultism, were the ancient mysteries preserved intact. She further said that she had been initiated into certain Occult lodges and had come to America to point the way Eastward. Reminiscent of Thoreau note 32. HPB stated: You want to write esoteric facts and you give instead English race prejudice. The Indians are immensely higher spiritually than Europeans, who may not reach their level for some millenniums yet... (S 95). As a result of this conviction, HPB and her associates (including Colonel Olcott) founded the Theosophical Society on November 17, 1875 (S 87-90; 369,370). While one may disagree with her presentation and interpretation of religious and spiritualist topics (for instance her understanding of the Buddhist doctrine of annihilation, IU,1.290), as well as the details of her vision of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, Madame Blavatsky did much to spread Eastern knowledge throughout the West and her contributions must be acknowledged, Hitler aside.

In 1893 White City was built in Chicago along the banks of Lake Michigan to house a larger conception of human history, a new and more religious idea of divine providence through all ages and all lands, the World Parliament of Religions. From around the world people came to this sacred convocation to share their spiritual insights. Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Jains and others all gathered in a unitive spirit never before seen. This assembly was called the noblest and proudest achievement in history, and the crowning work of the nineteenth century by Anagarika Dharmapala. It was the virtual embodiment of the Third Great Awakening. Through this conference the Western world was introduced to some of the most influential religious thinkers of the day. Swami Vivekananda, who received the mantle of Sri Ramakrishna and established the Vedanta Society, B.B. Nagarkar of the Brahma-Samaj and Buddhist Master Anagarika Dharmapala were among the main speakers; however a host of other religious leaders spoke as well. Japanese Buddhists, such as translator Zenshiro Noguchi, Rinzai Zen master Soyen Shaku (the first Zen master in America and teacher of D.T. Suzuki), Kinzai R.M. Hirai, Prince Chandradat Chudhadharn of Siam, Z. Noguchi (who spoke for Banryu Yatsubuchi, who introduced Esoteric Buddhism to America), and representatives of the Jodo Shinshu, Nichirin, Tendai and various esoteric schools also spoke (S 119-129).

Anagarika Dharmapala viewed the Parliament as the re-emergence of the ancient Council of Ashoka which had occurred twenty four centuries prior. He proclaimed that it was his destiny to share the Buddha's noblest lessons of tolerance and gentleness and that in this great city, the youngest of all cities, this program will be carried out, and that the name of Dr. Barrows [the organizer of the Parliament] will shine forth as the American Asoka note 33. Thanks to the World Parliament of Religions Eastern spiritual traditions, especially Buddhism and Hinduism, gained entry into America and the West (S 122). It is said however that Zen was brought to the West single-handedly by Daisetz (Great Simplicity) Teitaro Suzuki. He was born two hundred miles north of Tokyo in 1870 and first arrived in America (at San Francisco) in February, 1897. His teacher, Soyen Shaku, was the first Zen master to visit the West. At the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, in the heart of the Third Great Awakening, Shaku offered a very down-to-earth presentation of the Buddhadharma (as is appropriate for a Zen master). Due to language difficulties, an English translation of that speech (by D.T. Suzuki) was read by the Rev. J.H. Barrows, chairman of the Parliament (S 126). The impact of D.T. Suzuki on Western religion is often likened to the significance of Aristotle and Plato (ZM 9; S 34; NR 32-73).

In 1914 the First World War began in earnest and the Third Great Awakening became one of its many casualties. The influence which this thirty nine year period had on the world however is difficult to over-estimate.

Interjacent of the Third and Fourth Great Awakenings

There has never been a time when spiritual development did not occur, however during the Three Great Awakenings (and the Age of Enlightenment) the amount of development was marked. From 1914 till the turbulent 1960's many spiritually and religiously significant events occurred. For instance in the 1930's the I Am Movement drew thousands of people to its rallies, Billy Sunday was hailed as a virtual national prophet, but despite such events, there was not the massive spiritual interest and awakenings seen previously. Moreover, what transpired during the years interjacent of 1914 and the 1960's was almost a reversed Awakening (the First Great Sleeping?). Scientific Humanism became the religion of the day.

During this period many found that faith in the Old Rugged Cross was no longer sufficient. Confused by the future shock of the post-industrial world, the West looked at its traditional religious and value systems and found them wanting. Faith in the traditional Western myths was largely shattered by scientific reasoning and comparative religion. Credulous faith in the Bible was no longer considered viable by the majority of people (LM 47-78). Belief in God, as historically exercised in the West, had become untenable (PN 95).

Having lost faith in traditional Western religion, many found themselves spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. Without a spiritual context their lives seemed meaningless, without any direction. As Nietzsche note 34. predicted in his The Gay Science, this loss of faith by the monstrous logic of terror came as a prophet of gloom, as a solar eclipse whose like has never before been seen (PN 447). This was largely the situation in which the U.S. found itself. We became a society of consumers. Television replaced reading and science supplanted religion. Those beliefs and experiences which had so united the U.S. during the previous Awakenings were losing their unitive strength. Our sense of nationhood, our beloved e pluribus unum, was being replaced by competitiveness and consumerism. As a result, violence, hatred and crime increased dramatically and we all became the poorer for it.

Gurdjieff aside, stark materialism has never been sufficient to satisfy our inner needs. I submit it never will be. Despite this, Western society, with few exceptions, devoted itself to crude scientific theories and cut itself off from spiritual experience and beliefs. The scientific community was transformed into an infallible priesthood by the media fed masses who considered them healers, teachers and saviors. Despite this misplaced confidence, traditional Western science had become so theory-laden by its own belief systems that it was incapable of developing anything which violated its basic assumptions. Science became the national religion.

The Fourth Great Awakening Begins

Then, in the 1960's, the world exploded. People everywhere began to question everything. Blind faith in material science became as unacceptable to the masses as groundless religious faith had once been note 35. People again began to speak of the dawning of the new era, of an utopian Age of Aquarius. This time however, its entry was not dependent upon religious conventions. The Beetles summed up the mood of the day: Love is all you need. It was not at all clear however what this popular word love meant.

Thousands of young people dropped out of society in order to find themselves. Some of these people went to the Height-Ashbury district of San Francisco or similar Hippy encampments, while others traveled to India in the hope of finding their guru. About this time Ram Das spoke those immortal words: Bite your fingernail and your eating your guru alive!

Today something more is taking place than simply the adoption of new theories. Despite the current turn to conservatism and fundamentalism, there seems to be a radical transformation in consciousness underway such as has not been seen for millennia (TP 33). Today any viable system of knowledge, whether science, religion, philosophy, or what have you, must have, at its basis, an understanding of the relative nature of human perception and our roles as co-creators of reality (SW 33). The Fourth Great Awakening has dawned.

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  • Note 17:It should be remembered of course that the Enlightenment was foreshadowed by the work of the old rationalists such as Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza, as well as the rise of modern (old paradigm) science in the 17th century. return
  • Note 18:Gray, at the time, was at the Grande Chartreuse (the mother house of the Carthusians, near Grenoble, France, DRP 219). return
  • Note 19: The dates given for the Four Awakenings are approximations only. As we are referring to diverse areas and experiences scholars of course vary somewhat on the specifics. return
  • Note 20: Strict Calvinism maintains that certain people are predestined to be saved while others, the vast majority of humankind, are foreordained to spend eternity in Hell. return
  • Note 21: The millennial reign of Christ is the predicted thousand year earthly kingdom referred to at Revelation 20:1-3. return
  • Note 22: This period produced such uncertainty that a still popular jingle emerged from it: You can and you can't, you shall and you shan't, you will and you won't, you're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't (RAR 101). return
  • Note 23: The Mormons brought forth new scriptures, The Book of Mormon, which was allegedly another Testament of Jesus Christ, The Doctrine and Covenants of the LDS, and The Pearl of Great Price, a selection from the revelations, translations and narrations Joseph Smith, first Prophet, Seer and Revelator to the LDS (D/P; BoM). return
  • Note 24: According to McLoughlin, this Awakening began in the trans-Appalachian valleys of Kentucky and Tennessee, but he adds that it is easier to look first to the New England camp meetings of 1798-1808 for it origins. return
  • Note 25: This does not mean that it left no fruits, only that the creation of new ones ceased. This does not mean that it left no fruits, only that the creation of new ones ceased. return
  • Note 26:Today known as The Watchtower. A companion magazine called Awake! is also published. return
  • Note 27: By the insistence of the Society's second president, Judge Rutherford. return
  • Note 28: Larkin's system is based on the return of the Jews to Jerusalem and the reestablishment of the nation of Israel. By interpretations based on Daniel 9:24-27, he predicted the Belfor Treaty (of 1918) and the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948. Christ is to return within one generation of 1948 (based on Matt. 24:34, DT). return
  • Note 29: In the fifth month (Ab), on the tenth day of the month, that is, in the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar [sic], the king of Babylon, Nebuzar-adan the chief of the bodyguard ... proceeded to burn the house of Jehovah (BF 159). return
  • Note 30: The dates are subtracted because they occurred before the common era. return
  • Note 31: Present day Witnesses sometimes deny the Society ever issued the 1975 date, however I was a Pioneer Witness in 1975, which means a full-time evangelist, and I heard this date repeatedly from the Elders. In 1976 ten percent of the Witnesses left due to this. return
  • Note 32: For Thoreau any comparison between Indian and Western philosophy revealed that ...our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial... (S 55). return
  • Note 33: A child once offered sand to Buddha and so became Ashoka in a later life. He was ruler of the Mauryan Empire of northern India in the 3rd c. BCE. His conversion to Buddhism and work to propagate its teachings make him highly venerated to this day. return
  • Note 34: This German philosopher lived during the Third Great Awakening. return
  • Note 35: O.K., so we still have a way to go on this one! return