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The Roles Of Religion In Early America

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Religion has always played a vital role in the beliefs of the American people. Striving towards a “perfect” lifestyle in society often revolves around religion, particularly Christianity. The same can be said about the early settlers of America, the Pilgrims. Perhaps the reason Christianity has such an imperative role in American today is due to the religious zeal and enthusiasm of the early Americans. Throughout their trials in Europe, they always had the goal in mind to be able to worship freely without persecution and now was their chance. With this mentality, it is easy to see why they would expect or believe that God was playing an active role in their newly found society.

There are many authors who contributed to the writings during this time period, one being Williams Bradford. In his journal Of Plymouth Plantation, he tells of their travels and landing at Cape Cod. The reader sees the a look at their religion in this quote, “Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element” (Levine 76). Bradford is praising God for delivering them across the ocean and into this new land. He believes that the reason for their safe travels is because God had a hand in their journey. He most likely believes this because the people have been faithful in their worship and obligation for Him and therefore are now being rewarded. Another example of this is after they land, they are looking for food and stumble across two Indian’s houses where they found beans and corn. “And here is to be noted a special providence of God, and a great mercy to this poor people, that here they got seed to plant them corn the next year, or else they might have starved, for they had none nor any likelihood to get any till the season had been past, as the sequel did manifest” (Levine 79). They are again giving God the credit for giving them the seeds they needed to survive the winter instead of discerning that it may have been coincidence to have found the seeds. The final way he depicted God as contributing to their journey is through Squanto. Squanto is mostly identified as the Pilgrim’s interpreter, navigator and educator of farming. In Bradford’s journal, he praised Squanto for his service and compassion on his people but not without crediting God. “…but Squanto continued with them and was their interpreter and was a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation” (Levine 85). While it does seem as though God is watching out for the Pilgrims, it also seems like Bradford did not believe that the Indians could be good in and of themselves. Instead, it was God who softened their hearts towards the Pilgrims and that is why they were unharmed.

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John Winthrop was also a vital part of the establishment of this new community. He was a Puritan who wanted to reform the church from within rather than starting over completely. In his sermon, A Model of Christian Charity, he uses many biblical references in setting up new standards and explaining how the Pilgrims should treat one another. There are a few questions that he addresses in his sermon, the first being, “What rule must we observe in forgiving?” (Levine 97). Here he references the year of Jubilee found in Deuteronomy 15:2 saying that if the debtor does not have the funds to repay the creditor, then he (the loaner) must forgive the debt unless you are bound by the law. To most this seems like an extreme practice of taking the Bible literally, but Winthrop wants this society to be as “Christian” as possible. He then focuses on the love between Christians and says that they should love each other as Christ loves them. “This love is a divine, spiritual nature free, active, strong, courageous, permanent… this makes us nearer to resemble the virtues of our Heavenly Father” (Levine 101). He believes that if this community mimics the virtues and characteristics of Christ when dealing with others in the community, their newly formed civilization will be set up for success. Winthrop closes his argument with the most well-known phrase in this sermon, desiring the community to be a “city on a hill” (Levine 103). If the people will keep biblical guidelines in their everyday lives and follow Christ’s ways, then he believes God will live among them and they will be able to defeat any enemies that raise up against them.

Roger Williams is known for his interactions with the Indians, and perhaps is the most encouraging display of God working among the Pilgrims and natives. He wrote his book A Key into the Language of America as a way to explain the Native Americans and gives insight of these mysterious people. He explains how they are similar to the Jews in their words, anointing of their heads, giving dowries for wives, and separating the women during monthly sickness. They are like the Greeks in naming the stars and also believe in a man who performed miracles among them and walked on water (Levine 108). When he discovers that these people are practicing similar faiths to their own, he is encouraged, but also wants to refine their beliefs. He says, “For one candle will light ten thousand, and it may please God to bless a little leaven to season the mighty lump of those peoples and territories” (Levine 107). Williams also gives credit to God for giving him this ability to communicate with the Indians and providing him the opportunity to witness to them. Williams is simply caring out what God has set before him and hopes that through his writings, the people will do the same.

Religion plays a major role in our history as Americans and hopefully continue to do so. In each of these writers of the early colonial periods, they each credit God for everything that they have accomplished in this short time. Many of the Pilgrims who came to America were excited for the opportunities that had been given to them and were determined to give God the credit entirely. If God was truly with them during this journey, they were cautious to model their lives after Christ and glorify Him through it.

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The Roles Of Religion In Early America. (2022, February 24). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from
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