Students of American history, particularly of religious history, will be familiar with the term “The Great Awakening”. In fact, there were four Great Awakenings although the validity of the fourth one is dubious.
The Great Awakenings are periods when there was a huge upsurge in religious fervour. The first one, which began in 1738, is generally regarded to be the result of the preachings of the Grand Itinerant, British Evangelist and firebrand preacher George Whitfield.
The orthodox Christian explanation for these upsurges of religious fervour is simply that people were turning to God and Jesus.
There is, however, another explanation and it is particularly pertinent today with the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency and the emergence of Christians for Trump groups.
This phenomenon is explained by William Sargant in his book, Battle for the Mind: A Physiology of Conversion and Brainwashing – How Evangelists, Psychiatrists, Politicians, and Medicine Men Can Change Your Beliefs and Behavior
“Various types of beliefs can be implanted after brain function has been sufficiently disturbed by accidentally or deliberately induced fear, anger or excitement. Its various group manifestations are sometimes classed under the heading of ‘herd instinct’ which increase anxiety and so (increase) individual and mass suggestibility.”
Sargent, a psychiatrist, drew parallels between the techniques of the evangelical preachers and the North Koreans who effectively brainwashed a number of US soldiers during the Korean War.
The technique used by the North Koreans is to either find people in, or reduce them to, a state of psychological vulnerability. This state is normally a result of some form of privation, physical, emotional or economic. If, at this point, you can make them feel guilty for their state or blame someone else, so much the better. You then offer them a solution to a problem, in this case convert to communism. But it could be believe in Jesus, Big Brother, a shaman, communism or simply vote for some demagogue.
A point that Sargant makes is that the great awakenings occurred during times of great hardship either famine, plague, drought, floods, pestilence or economic hardship.
The preacher would tell the congregation that the famine, plague, drought was God punishing them for their evil ways and they were will doomed to fire and brimstone unless they should repent and be converted to a better life, which many of them did.
Anyone who has watched people like evangelist Billy Graham in action will see the parallels.
There have been a long discussions of the reasons for Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the US presidential election. Most of this discussion has centred on identifying certain demographics, economic condition and sources of dissatisfaction with all manner of seaboard elites. This has been seen as providing the basis of Trump’s victory.
My thesis is somewhat different and follows Sargant’s argument.
This is a quasi religious revival and, in many cases, it is a real religious revival with many groups believing suggestions that God has sent Donald Trump to save America from 1,000 Years Of Darkness.
When you think that 42% of Americans continue to believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago, the earth was created in seven days and dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time, is not difficult to see them believing that Donald Trump represents the second coming.
They certainly will believe that Donald can deliver them from the evils of unemployment, Muslim extremism, Mexicans, ISIS or any of the shibboleths that he conjured up during his election campaign.
Their wrath, when they find that he cannot, will fall like the sword of retribution.