Religion in America has always been an unwieldy thing. The settlers who arrived here in the 1600s were, many of them, fleeing the English Civil Wars; some were Puritans, others members of various millenarian sects. The now-blood-soaked soil of these colonies have, from their earliest days, been fertile ground for faith, the wilder the better. So many fruits were pillaged from the New World—tomatoes, potatoes—and other stranger fruit took root here and flourished. Some have left their mark upon the whole world—Mormonism, for one; the seething quasi-religious movement that is QAnon —and some are smaller, much smaller, and the wounds they inflict only become visible when some tragedy erupts, like the Branch Davidians, or the People’s Temple. Even within the “mainstream” of American Christianity, a wild and barely constrained violence seems perennially on the verge of breaking through, as evinced by public and ecstatic gatherings in which crowds adopt credos like the “Watchman Decree,” written by a
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