The Third Great Awakening, in the late 19th century, helped fuel the social reforms of the Progressive Era and emboldened reformers of all stripes, such as William Jennings Bryan, Carrie Nation, and Mary Baker Eddy. Bush did not claim any of them as his base.
But many historians, scholars, and people of faith aren't willing to stop at three. In 2000, Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Fogel wrote a book called The Fourth Great Awakening, which described the rise of evangelical Christianity since the 1960s and the emergence of the Christian right, and suggested that it might lead to an egalitarian backlash. For those keeping score at home, here's Fogel's clip-and-save chart of Great Awakenings.
That same year, longtime Slate favorite Hanna Rosin made a persuasive case that as Great Awakenings go, today's religious ferment doesn't hold a candle to "the one in which nineteenth-century New England teemed with religious prophets and the quest for the supernatural in everyday life lasted a generation."
"I Mean, Boom": If the 1960s kicked off our Fourth Great Awakening, why is Bush so tentative in hinting to the press corps that maybe, just maybe, we might be starting our Third?
Bush is like an evangelical Dr. Evil, the villain in the Austin Powers movies who was cryogenically frozen in the 1960s, thaws out three decades later, and tries to shock the world by demanding "one million dollars!"
Which Great Awakening is the president rubbing out? Does he discount the First, which helped put "endowed by their Creator" in our Declaration of Independence and "In God We Trust" on our coins? Does he refuse to recognize the Third, which led to Prohibition as well as William Jennings's Bryan's last stand for creationism?
Does he share the Rosin view that Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are no Nathaniel Taylor? Or the Plotz view that there are just too many Numbers? Or is Bush simply speaking in some secret exurban code, trying to trump the longstanding appeal of Bill Clinton's Third Way with his own Third Awakening?
You're in our prayers, Mr. President. But next time we see you in the rope line, we'll demand a recount. ... 5:42 P.M. (link)
**Big Sleep Update: Learned reader and coin aficionado Jose points out that "In God We Trust" was added to U.S. coins during the Civil War as a result of the Second Great Awakening, not the First. Shortly after an impassioned plea from a Pennsylvania minister, Lincoln's Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase ordered the director of the mint to express America's trust in God in the "fewest and tersest words possible."
Francis Scott Key had conveyed the same notion years earlier in the last verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner": "And this be our motto: In God is our trust." Key wrote that anthem in 1814, between the First and Second Great Awakenings. Whatever we want to call such periods in the national REM cycle when the country wasn't awakening—Great Asleepenings?—Key had an excuse: He'd been up all night. ... 10:29 P.M.
Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2006
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