New Great Awakening: Should Pastors and Churches Be Involved in Politics?
Alexis de Tocqueville on the role of churches in American politics.
June 22, 2013 - 2:00 pm
I recently wrote about a movement calling Americans to pray, hoping for a revival in the land — a New Great Awakening — because it is becoming clear that our political systems alone cannot fix what ails our country.
Visiting the United States in the early 19th century, French historian and political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville witnessed the Second Great Awakening. In his classic work, Democracy in America, Tocqueville examined the influence that religious beliefs exerted on political life.
Tocqueville said that Americans from many different sects (predominantly Protestant) worshiped the same Creator and preached a common morality. He discovered that religion had a profound influence on American life:
America is…the place in the world where the Christian religion has most persevered genuine powers over souls; and nothing shows better how useful and natural to man it is in our day, since the country in which it exercises the greatest empire is at the same time the most enlightened and most free.
Tocqueville went on to describe the audacious, innovative spirits and logical minds of Americans, bound only by religion’s accepted moral boundaries:
So, therefore, at the same time that the law permits the American people to do everything, religion prevents them from conceiving everything and forbids them to dare everything.”
There was no need for a massive federal or state bureaucracy; government was limited because Christian piety was the prevailing, unwritten law of the land. Americans were largely able to self-govern without the jackboot of government on their necks.