Friday, January 17, 2014

America: Where Religions Sprout like Mushrooms in a Dank Forest

When Thomas Jefferson reassured the Danbury Baptists that a wall separating church and state would prevent the majority Congregationalists in Connecticut from denying Baptists the rights of citizenship, he couldn't have predicted that non-establishment of religion by the government would enable the establishment of so many religions.

If America were truly founded as a "Christian nation," there would have to be a definition of "Christian." And if there were an official religion, and it was "Christianity" by whatever definition Congress would have chosen (it would have been Anglican), then none of these beliefs could have developed:

1812  Reformed Mennonite Church

1816  African Methodist Episcopal Church

1840  Mormonism

1840  Spiritualism

1863  Seventh Day Adventist Church

1875  Christian Science

1881  Church of God (Anderson, IN)

1886  Church of God (Cleveland, TN)

1906  Pentecostalism 

1908  Church of the Nazarene

1914  Assemblies of God

1916  Jewish Science

1917  Jehovah's Witnesses 

1920  Reconstructionist Judaism

1927  International Church of the Foursquare Gospel

1953  Church of Scientology

1955  Branch Davidians

1957  United Church of Christ

1968  Disciples of Christ

1973  Jews for Jesus

Non-denominationalism is all the rage since then:
Prosperity theology, televangelism, and megachurches from the 1980s to today represent the trend toward non-denominational churches.   Though technically non-dogmatic, most of these seem remarkably similar to Southern Baptists in their beliefs.  By distancing themselves from any central authority, they can tailor their dogma to the wishes of the pastor(s) or congregation.

After all, if any denomination is free to practice in the U.S., then a denomination of one congregation is free as well.

Dominion theology, in which Christians seek to have dominion over everyone else in their "kingdom," has also gained some traction.  Coincidentally, it really took off after Roe v. Wade established abortion as a woman's right.

So ...
Religious freedom has been a two-edged sword.  Believers are free to sell their souls to whichever belief system wins them over in the marketplace of ideas.  But.... they have to let the heathens, hypocrites and heretics have their way, too.

I wonder how many American Baptists know they owe a debt to concept of a "Wall of Separation" between church and state.


Infidel753 said...

It's notable that a lot of these are just new sectarian variants of Christianity, but sectarian differences can cause just as much conflict (in the Middle East, violence by Muslims against non-Muslims is dwarfed by violence by Muslim sects against each other). Even if Christianity (or specifically fundamentalist Protestantism) were made the official religion today, as a lot of Republicans want, there would be endless arguments over which variants of it qualified, and further splits would keep happening and muddying the waters.

Some of those Baptists might deny that separation of church and state is a good thing because it's just a matter of making sure the right religion -- that is, theirs -- is made the official one, but even among Baptists there are many denominations.

Extending your basic point, Christianity itself was only able to get started and survive because the Roman Empire tolerated an incredible hodgepodge of different religions (far more diverse than what we see in the US now) -- it's often claimed that early Christians were persecuted, but the Romans pretty much left religions alone unless they directly challenged the state in some way. If that government had been as intolerant of weird new religions as the fundies want the US government to be, Christianity wouldn't exist at all.

Christian said...

I am surprised that the list is so small. Although I do realize these are only the biggest groups.

Infidel753 said...

Christian: I assume these are examples of ones which have lasted a long time or at least gotten attention. Most mushrooms don't.

Christian said...

@ Infidel753: That is what I thought but was not sure.

Sheldon said...

If you want just a small sampling of Christian denominations around the world, Wikipedia has a good list, but I think they're still missing plenty.

Then there's groups that aren't technically denominations, but are loosely affiliated networks of like minded churches, like the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult my sister was in, "Emergent Church" groups, New Apostolic Reformation, etc.

There's also many "non-denominational" churches that don't identify with a formal denomination. In my experiences here in the St. Louis area, their doctrine typically is along the lines of the Southern Baptist or Assembly of God denominations, then there's some that don't get too specific on theology, but are very Protestant evangelical.

Sheldon said...

Oh, sorry, here's the link to Wikipedia:

LadyAtheist said...

I tried to just highlight major movements. The "nondenominational" ones crack me up because if you look at their "What we believe" list on their site they are usually identical to Baptists' beliefs. We have a plethora of these around here. They are so popular because I think people are suspicious of organized religion, but they are the types most likely to become cults. They're also most likely to tell people what they want to hear because that's how the pastor keeps his job! If I were to believe in the supernatural I'd look for one where the local pastor is under the thumb of a systemic authority that can yank him if he teaches the wrong things!

LadyAtheist said...

My latest read is Richard Carrier's Not the Impossible Faith, which is a counter-argument to a book that claimed Christianity must have been blessed by God because it was so unlikely. He dissembles the argument point by point and basically says what you said, Infidel, that Christianity was "born" in a culture that was ripe for it.