The Protestant Reformation was a 16th century movement that altered the course of European and world history in a number of different ways. This movement led to the eventual influence and demise of the previously powerful Catholic Church. People were now able to worship God as they believed and they no longer relied on the Catholic Church for guidance with religious matters. Most importantly, people began to leave the religious strife that was taking place in their European homelands and they headed west to America to worship God as they pleased.
Martin Luther’s Ideas
Martin Luther was a former Catholic monk who wrote the 95 Thesis document and nailed it on the door of the Catholic Church of Wittenberg. Once this happened many people all throughout Germany began to react to his convictions. Though Martin Luther was not the only voice of the Reformation, he was certainly one of the top figures that influenced the vast changes which resulted.
Martin Luther’s new ideas were extremely revolutionary and they threatened the power of the Pope and the ruling monarchs who depended upon the Catholic Church to maintain their power. Luther expressed the ideas that people could not buy themselves into heaven by purchasing forgiveness for their sins from the Catholic Church. He exposed the church for what he believed to be corrupt. Many Catholic rulers and priests had grown rich off of these purchases, so they they became alarmed by Luther’s Thesis. This document threatened their finances and their lives. Many different groups of people began to disregard the Catholic Church and decided to worship as they pleased. Many Catholic priests and rulers became alarmed.
Even though people were worshiping as they believed, the Protestant Reformation brought about a new set of problems. Catholicism refused to let go of its power and they fought hard to keep their dominance over the people. Different protestant denominations began to spring up and they were in conflict with other Christian sects about the matter of how best to worship God. People all throughout Europe began to engage in bloody conflicts over their religious disagreements. Catholics fought against the Protestants and rulers fought against various Christian sects that did not affiliate with their particular beliefs.
Religion in the New World?
In the midst of all of this religious strife, the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal were sending explorers out into the world to establish trade routes to India. Eventually, Spanish explorers discovered the Americas and some people began to migrate to the new world to find fame and fortune. When other European nations learned about these new discoveries they began to colonize various areas of the world as well. Exploration expeditions began to spring up in England and other European countries and the age of exploration was established. This development was important because it allowed many early settlers to leave Europe and travel to the Americas.
Many religious groups had then become targets for the ruling powers. An example of one such group was the Puritans. This particular denomination wanted secular rulers to only govern things secular matters only, and not the church. Many rulers of the day did not agree with this belief because they had a lot of power over the church or through the church. Ultimately, this particular stance caused many Puritans to flee their homes. Many Puritans and other persecuted groups such as the Anabaptists and the Ranters went to a region called the Dutch Netherlands. They believed that this particular kingdom was a place where religious tolerance was accepted but they were wrong. Many Puritans realized that religious persecution was occurring everywhere and that their unique beliefs were not compatible with the monarchies and empires of Europe. They decided to travel to the New World to avoid this problem.
Once the pilgrims traveled to America, they established a colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts. After the colony was established the Puritans initially became a dominant group in the region. As more settlers arrived in America they had to adjust to the ruling religious group in the area. Despite the fact that they had left their homelands because of persecution; stronger religious groups imposed their way of life and views on other dissenters once they arrived. Many dissenters began to slowly spread out across America to establish their own colonies.
Religion and the Constitution
The Reformation not only drove people to found America, but it also helped to establish the Constitution which is the living document that governs the United States. After the religious dissenters from Europe arrived in America, society was dominated by a clash of various religious beliefs. Those beliefs continued to dominate America for hundreds of years, up until the latter half of the 20th century. Religion was so strong in America that it dictated the lives of millions of settlers that lived in the colonies.
By the 18th century many people began to realize that religion is an important part of their lives, but it cannot be used to govern people. Founding fathers who created the Constitution did not want the document to endorse one particular religion over another. They did not want religious conflict to become a part of the new American society. For this reason, they created a distinction between church and state in the constitution.
People in America can now worship as they believe but no state religion is to be endorsed. Many different Christian denominations are being worshipped in America today. American citizens also worship other religions, such as Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. Even though Protestant Christianity is the dominant religion in the country, many citizens do not necessarily live their lives according to these religious ideas and truths.
Freedom of Religion in America
The Protestant Reformation helped to increase colonization in America and to develop religious tolerance and freedom in the new colonies. It also helped establish America as the economic powerhouse in the world. The early colonists eventually figured out how to utilize their land in order to earn huge profits by trading. Eventually, they were able to generate enough economic activity that caused trade to flourish and businesses to grow. This development happened over time, and by the middle part of the 20th century, the U.S. had become one of the major superpowers in the world.