Ever since man has enjoyed the comforts and benefits of civilization, he has been afflicted by the despondency that effects all contemplative peoples. The only satisfactory cure for this melancholy, as various peoples have found, is hope. However, in a world full of uncertainty, hope is hard to come by. As such, different cultures explore different means of achieving widespread hope. America has done so in ways specific to American culture, for reasons as unique as those that brought it into existence. The American people have relied primarily on three ideas: god, nation, and self, as a means of salvation and a path to hope. America has changed it focus sequentially between these ideas as it has matured and people’s attitudes have changed, but since the early days of the United States, when it was simply a collection of English colonies, at least one of these concepts has been at the forefront of the collective American psyche.
In the early days of American culture, god was the ...view middle of the document...
The Puritans (early Americans/colonists) managed such a feat of faith by essentially turning the customs and traditions of the Protestant church on their head. They gave up what they saw as the futile pursuit of attempting to please god with ceremony and glamour, as they believed the church of England did. The Puritans saw man not as a being that could please god. In fact, they saw man as not being worthy of such divine attention. Instead, the Puritans submitted themselves to the whim of the divine, seeing man as “ragged and disordered, out of harmony with his fellows and with himself, unless and until God acts to make him acceptable to his sight”. For these American colonists, seeing man as “helpless creatures in a world that is an effusion of gods imagination” eliminated the constant depression caused by pride, which forms a barrier between oneself and others. When one accepts the belief that god is the master of their destiny, they gain a new hope; in something larger than oneself, a power that can not only give one eternal salvation, but a bond of helplessness with others. It was this collective feeling of impotence under the power of god that fostered an expansion of the self in the minds of early Americans, connecting them to one another in a way that fostered hope.
However, with changing times came changing attitudes. As America moved into the mid-19th century, many Americans lost touch with the Puritan ideals of the colonists. Religion was just as fervent in many places as it had been, but it was growing increasingly into what Phillip Schaff referred to as “the classic land of sects”. These sects, isolated as to worship in their own unique, sometimes peculiar way, often developed customs and rituals that led to them being regarded by the intellectuals of the day as “a carnival of crackpots”. Religious societies became increasingly separated from the every day life of average Americans, do also to the advent of church-state seperation. The atmosphere in the United States in the mid-19th century was an intellectual one, not a religious one. Because of this, there was an “unquenched spiritual longing” in most Americans, what Emerson called a “strange melancholy in the midst of abundance”. America desperately needed something to fill the void left by the passing of religion, and the idea of nation came to fill that void.