The Democratization of American Culture by Nathan O. Hatch is a particularly interesting account of post-revolutionary Christianity. Hatch shows in persuasive detail the embodiment and manifestation of the principle of religious freedom which this country from its very beginnings had claimed for itself. He sets out to prove that religious populism, charged by a passionate disapproval of class structure, was the driving force that ushered in a distinctively American Protestantism: a movement which was led by unlikely people and split into many factions. Hatch''s story also features a number of contributing undertones. For instance, Hatch speaks of un upside-down shift in religious power caused by the commoner''s distrust of "leaders of genius and telent" and defense of their right to "shape their own faith and submit to leaders of their own choosing," as well as religion''s role in shaping America into "a liberal, competitive, and market-driven society" (14).[BR]
Hatch attempts this assessment of post-revolutionary Christianity by viewing and comparing five major factions of 19th-century America: the Christian movement, the Baptist, the Methodists, the Mormons, and the black churches. These groups were fronted by charismatic and largely uneducated leaders who struck chords with the rural culture of their day and found these large followings. Spurning the language of the established creeds and confessions, they spoke in the vernacular of the common American. For instance, Hatch, describing the style of Baptist leader John Leland, says he "relished a common audience, peppering his speeches and writings with blunt common sense and earthy humor" (99).[BR][BR] These new trends were given a permanent stronghold in society with the proliferationg of printed materials. The beliefs of religious leaders with access to a printing press could recruit like-minded people as far as the printed materials could be carried. Such was the case with Alexander Campbell, who "sought to transform American religion from the mountains of western Virginia" with his printing resouces (144). Gospel music was another powerful player in the creation of religious culture and subculture.
Placing one''s spiritual convictions into singable form and pairing the texts with rousing and catchy melodies etched the messages into the minds of the masses at camp meetings. Both of these tools, pring and music, were combined in the production of songbooks. These resources greatly mobilized the religious populism movement and gave it strongholds in the hearts of the common Americans. [BR][BR] Hatch''s choice to study these five groups at length greatly strengthened his work. Their very existence apart from the older established faith traditions proves the striking diversity and disunity of the second Great Awakening, though they each shared many common traits and were driven by the same core social, if not spiritual convictions. After eamining these five case studies, perhaps it should not be surprising that Hatch comes to the conclusion he does. Revivalism ushered in a distinctively American religious climate, but one that was far from united. The creation of these factions in the 19th century certainly has fueled the attitude of religious individuality that runs rampant in this country today, as one can choose any of an abundance of flavors offered on a religious smorgasbord to satisfy the cravings of the individual''s palate. "Religious populism has been a residual agent of change in America over the last two centuries, an inhibitor of genteel tradition and a recurring source of new religious movements" (5). Without such steeped-in tradition and hierarchy, be it that of church specifically or society generally, the common believers arwith the authority to think about and decide or themselves matters of a spiritual nature.