ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Why does the United States Produce So Many New Religions?

Updated on January 3, 2016

The Land of (Spiritual) Opportunity

In the early 1800s, a large number of new religious movements were born in the United States. As often happens, some of these movements came and went fairly quickly, dying out when a charismatic founder passed on to the next life. Others have endured to this day, with the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Seventh Day Adventists probably the most successful and well known. Those religions that stood the test of time eventually went up in status from "cults" to mainstream religions. The main difference, after all, between a cult and a religion is that a religion has been around longer. If people believe something long enough, these beliefs seem increasingly plausible and become part of the religious mainstream.

It makes sense that the United States would be the birthplace of new religious movements. This has always been an individualistic society filled with people convinced that they could create new lives and identities in this “land of opportunity.” If an individual could go from being a person with nothing but a dream into a great economic or political success, then why couldn’t they also get some special insight from the divine? Also, given what a great and special society these Americans were creating, why wouldn’t God choose an American as His prophet? A new land built on noble, democratic principles was the perfect place for new truths to be revealed.

The early 1800s, however, were particularly ripe for the birth of new religious movements. Americans had recently gained their independence, reinforcing that previously mentioned mindset of being special. More importantly, this was also a time of major social and economic change. The United States was going through the first phases of industrialization, with a growing number of Americans shifting from being farmers living in rural areas to factory workers, businesspeople, and urban dwellers. These changes had some clear benefits for some, but they also created new problems and sources of stress. With fewer people being landowners, you had less people feeling like they could meet their basic needs on their own. With people leaving small communities and moving to larger towns and cities, they began losing the feeling that they were part of any community. The large urban areas, with their huge faceless populations and daunting problems such as crowding, poor sanitation, poverty, homelessness, and crime, were particularly lonely and scary places to live for people accustomed to a different kind of world. This technological transformation has continued to this day, and with our society currently in the dawn of the digital age, the pace of change only accelerates as time passes.

At the same time that many Americans were shifting to a more industrial style of life, others were heading off to the western frontier as their pioneer ancestors had done. The new frontier states filled with pioneers could also be particularly fertile ground for new religions to be born. Ever since the first colonists had arrived, the west seemed to be the ultimate place where a person could create a new identity or type of society. The belief in America as a “land of opportunity” largely originated because there was so much unsettled western territory during our nation’s early years. And since life was rough out on the frontier, people might be more inclined to look to God. We humans tend to be more religious, after all, during times of trouble.

New religious movements – groups that are generally referred to as religious cults today – could help people, whether in cities or out on the frontier, to deal with some of their newfound problems. These groups started off as small tight-knit communities, usually rooted in the teachings of some charismatic individual, that offered a simple solution to those who felt displaced, lonely, or afraid in this rapidly changing world. These groups also tended to promise that the end was near because a divine being would be returning soon to judge the wicked and bring a new world order free from all of these frightening changes and complex problems. This promise of an impending judgment day and paradise for the special, chosen few has always been one of the biggest appeals of these “cult-like” religious movements. It is the ultimate bailout plan, and the fact that these cult leaders are always wrong never seems to take away the appeal of the message that the end is near. Some people just want this screwed up world to end, and it is nice to think that you will be one of the saved when the end comes. You are not just another factory worker or struggling western farmer. You are one of the few people who has the key to paradise, and those who mock you, persecute you, or who seem to enjoy their lives of sin will pay the price in the end.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Freeway Flyer profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Swendson 

      21 months ago

      I'm not sure if these distinctions are always so clear. Something like Mormonism was considered a cult at first. Today, many Americans would classify it more as a religion.

    • Michaela Osiecki profile image

      Michaela 

      2 years ago from USA

      The real difference between a cult and a religion is that a cult is usually focused around the worship or veneration of a particular person or object. This person or object makes very outlandish promises about solving their followers immediate problems but usually demands some kind of tribute or sacrifice ($$$) for it.

      A religion, on the other hand, is an organized system of belief that looks to a higher power and relies on faith to carry it.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)