Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Still working ...

I posted rough draft material from what will be (unless the outline changes) chapter two in the next volume. Here's a bit of update. This concerns Russell's vist to Berwick PA.

            Letters published in the Berwick area newspapers give us some insight into what interest was found there. In volume one, we presented Russell’s views on the state of the Christian church. He saw the church as divided into two classes – true, committed Christians and “the merely nominal Christian who is such because it is essential to respectability … but who is restive, even under the modified restraint which the church exacts, and desires to bring the church down to the level of a “social club’ composed of the respectable of society.” Russell framed this into a prophetic scheme, but the same observation distressed other committed Christians.

            While there was a secularization of religion in this era, there was another shift that Russell and others found as disturbing. Russell’s theology was based on Redemption doctrines. Redemption doctrine is belief in Adamic sin and consequent depravity of the human race. Darwinian evolution suggested to many that men were progressing. That human efforts were improving the race pervaded religious and secular thought. Proliferating invention, new and novel ideas (many of which would be discredited within a decade or so), gave many the impression that humanity was improving. They confused inventiveness and cleverness for improvement. This left Russell and others with conflicted attitudes. Watch Tower adherents looked for signs that the millennium had begun. Inventions provided those. They rejected the idea of progress without remission of sins, but many sought it outside of or within religious and quasi-religious movements. This manifested in a number of ways, among them Christian Socialism, the labor movement, Christian utopian and social service organizations. Conservative religious rejected the “social gospel” as contrary to the “divine plan.”

            Residents of Berwick noted the secularization of religion and were as distressed as was Russell. The Columbia County Democrat printed a letter addressing the issue in its September 24, 1864, issue. The writer, noted only as “William,” objected to the politicization of religion in the Methodist Church. During the Civil War this was, as we noted in volume one, also an issue for Pittsburgh residents.  William visited the Methodist congregation “hoping to hear the word of god expounded according to the laws laid down in the Holy Bible.” Instead, “to the utter shame and disgrace of the Christian community,” he heard a political “stump-speech, too offensive to be uttered in the house of God.” It was “still more outrageous” that the minister expressed his political opinions on the Sabbath, “which should be devoted to the praise of God, and not to political affairs.” The hymn was a patriotic song, not a religious one.

            Though he expressed it as religious outrage, the issue for William was his contrary political belief. He was a Copperhead. He wanted Lincoln out of office and McClellan elected. The minister was a Republican. William called the minister a “political negro head.” While William came at the problem of secularization from a different perspective than Russell’s, his letter tells us that secularization was an issue in Berwick.

            Casual sexuality was also an issue. The March 6, 1871, issue of the Montour American, published in nearby Danville, Pennsylvania, editorialized: 

We know several parties who have a habit, in church, as well as elsewhere, of keeping up a continual cooing to the thorough disgust of everybody about them. If they, like Armand and Heloise, think themselves consecrated to the “artful god,” whose arrows have stuck deep in their soft hearts, they should stay home and enjoy their faith, and not parade it in public places to annoy and disturb the more high-minded.

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