18 Mar

American Tract Society. “Fashionable Amusements,” Volume 73. Tracts of the American Tract Society: General Series. New York: American Tract Society, 1832.

Amid a growing marketplace and entertainments, the American Tract Society (ATS) produced the tract “Fashionable Amusements” to remind Christians to keep their minds focused on their religious duties. Fashionable amusements included playing cards, dancing, and attending the theatre and plays. The ATS redacted and republished this tract from an 1815 version by the New England Tract Society. “Fashionable Amusements,” went through multiple printings from the 1810s to 1840s. The 1842 version included an image of the dangers of fashionable amusements (Figure 1). The image suggests that Satan, as the serpent, pushed Christians to indulge in fashionable amusements. Christian who participated in amusements danced themselves off a cliff and drowned in an anonymous sea. Amusements led to an unprepared death and the eternal damnation of the soul.

Figure 1. Cover page of “Fashionable Amusements,” Volume 73. Tracts of the American Tract Society: General Series. New York: American Tract Society, 1832.

Figure 1. Cover page of “Fashionable Amusements,” Volume 73. Tracts of the American Tract Society: General Series. New York: American Tract Society, 1832.

The tract puts forth and then refutes four arguments that “have frequently been adduced in favor of fashionable amusements.”[1] 1) Some Christians argue that fashionable amusements are not forbidden in Scripture. The author suggested that while they are not forbidden specifically, they are forbidden given the general tenor of Scripture. 2) Some Christians suggested that fashionable amusements are innocent because “many professed Christians indulge in them.”[2] The author counters that truly pious Christians, especially youth, profess their faith by engaging in appropriate activities, and following the cause and actions of Jesus. “Without such proofs of piety, however much we may respect them, they have no claim to authority as Christians.”[3] 3) Some argued that these amusements were a means of relaxation and enhanced religious duties. The tract insisted that these entertainments only promoted excessive neglect of religious duties. Amusements contradicted “those parts of Scripture which require Christians to separate themselves from the world, that they may live a pious life.”[4] Moreover, “Indulgence in these amusements is objectionable, even as a relaxation from secular concerns” since they make people more anxious than relaxed.[5] 4) Finally, some Christians argued that “the evil is past all remedy” and, thus, fashionable amusements should be been absorbed into Christian life. The author suggests that these entertainments are still sins and that God does not abide sin.

Fashionable amusements should be avoided, furthermore, because they are inconsistent with the general tenor of Scriptures. They are expensive and a waste of time. They waste not only earthly time, but eternal time. They led to the eternal punishment of the soul at judgment. Amusements “prevent the acquisition of valuable accomplishments,” including manners, taste, knowledge of business, and habits if industry. They also “unfit the mind for religious duties” and “communion with God.”[6] This includes inducing those called “to mourn the recent loss of friends” to refuse attendance. Mourning was a religious duty in the nineteenth-century that trained Christians to be ever mindful of the need of spiritual preparation before death. Mourning directed proper and timely religious formation. It reminded people of the nearness of death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Engaging in fashionable amusements suggested that “reference to particular doctrines of the Gospel, and especially to the momentous topics of death, judgment, and eternity, is proscribed as altogether impertinent.”[7] In other words, fashionable amusements kept people from contemplating the most serious and important aspects of their salvation: eternal life after death.

“Fashionable Amusements” points to several themes in nineteenth-century evangelicalism worth exploring in further detail. Evangelicals recognized the distinction between the secular and religious spheres. The secular sphere was not defined as fashionable amusements, or things which Christians should steer clear. The secular included everyday concerns, or the work that Christians took part in, including farming and mechanical work. Fashionable amusements were detriments to religious duties and secular concerns. They pulled Christians further into worldliness. But, worldliness was not the same thing as “the secular.”

The tract’s attention to worldliness is important. Christians were supposed to be focused on the next world, the world where their souls would live after death. The emphasis on the next world does not mean that Christians should not participate in the secular sphere. It meant that the ultimate meaning in this world was training oneself to communion with God after death. Salvation meant preparing oneself for heaven so that the soul could rest with God in eternity. This training focused heavily on the themes of mourning, Satan, death, hell, and judgment for spiritual preparation. This attention to the next world is important because it reminds historians that many evangelicals took supernaturalism seriously and were attentive to death and the afterlife in ways that twenty-first century Americans are not. The presence of death and the next world were always near for nineteenth-century Americans. Salvation prepared one for the afterlife. Participating in fashionable amusements wasted Christians’ earthly and eternal time.

[1] American Tract Society, Fashionable Amusements, vol. 73, Tracts of the American Tract Society: General Series (New York: American Tract Society, 1832), 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 9, 11.

[7] Ibid., 11.

13 Mar

C.S. Lewis on Death and the Afterlife

Observations on the death of his wife:

“Don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand. Unless, of course, you can literally believe all that stuff about family reunions ‘on the further shore,’ pictured in entirely earthly terms. But that is all unscriptural, all out of bad hymns and lithographs. There is not a word of it in the Bible. It rings false. We know it couldn’t be like that. Reality never repeats. The exact same thing is never taken away and given back. How well the spiritualists bait their hook! ‘Things on this side are not so different after all. ’ There are cigars in heaven. For that is what we should like. The happy past restored. And that, just that, is what I cry out for, with mad, midnight endearments and entreaties spoken into empty air.”

A Gift Observed (1963), p. 25-26