A Reflection of America’s Religious Life

Baltimore, Maryland, 1851. From the journalistic reports of Cyril Bennet.

My years as a journalist for the Baltimore Sun have made for as grand a career as I could have hoped for, and I thank my editor, Richard Weiss, for his wisdom in continuing to publish my increasingly controversial articles. I will not apologize for my opinions; my writing and quotations have always been true to the situations and the people involved in them. My readers witnessed my turn from blind faith to anti-clericalism, yes. My critics did also, and they say that this is cause enough to consider my writing inappropriate for common consumption– heretical and wrong! To this, I only say that we live in a country of extremes. The men and women of the old camp meetings of the 1830’s, a subject I wrote extensively about in my youth, are a clear sign of this. What joy they had! What faith! Their exuberance was new to them, and this, I think, is what caused such an explosion of religious fervor in our country that we have become consumed, bound so tightly to our church that we cannot stoop to help our enslaved fellow man. My articles have been, on the whole, a study of the ignorance of humanity. Naturally I occasionally took up a fluff piece from hunger, and for that my readers must forgive me, but I maintain my right to speak of America’s religious self with some authority and say: we have been blind. At first we found no joy in God, our churches weak and our faith contained to the old cities, far from our new, western homes. Then, great stirrings came, and new industry, moving all to join in on prayer like men running to the public houses after work; singing hymns like bar tunes for the sake of fashion.

But times are finally changing, and I beg my readers to move with them, and to listen, rather than reverting to the narrow-mindedness of our early days. Perhaps the founding fathers created this country under a generalized God, (though we must question even this) but we must not be fooled into believing that it was founded under the church. There is more than one way to worship, and to understand, and a church that has failed to see this cannot be trusted.

The recent political cartoon at left sums of the hypocrisy of our churches quite nicely– we lean so heavily on a text that we have twisted into something barely possessing morals. However, the presence of this comic today is telling of our new strides towards free thought; look at what truths we are now able to say, in papers, to the world. When I was young, the artist of this piece might well have been arrested, but the stirrings of political and religious movements in this country have pulled us towards freedom of thought and of soul. We have come far from the burning of witches, and perhaps our upward trend will continue.

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