Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Historic Rise of Christian Fundamentalism in the United States in the Late Nineteenth Century.

Fundamentalism is a religious response to modernity. Although the term is frequently used in a popular context to mean any religious position perceived to be traditional, archaic or scripture-bound, it has a specific meaning from an historical perspective, and a genealogy which has seen the term change from the self-referential description of a particular religious group, to a term which may have lost its impact through misplaced, and indiscriminate, application.Originally used by a specific group of American Protestants, who shared a similar world-view and theology, Fundamentalism grew from individuals within disparate denominations finding common cause to an organized movement with the power to challenge modernity at the level of the courtroom and the popular press. This essay will consider just how we can account for Fundamentalism’s emergence in the US by first considering its historical roots within the Great Awakening, and up to the 1920’s with the Scopes â€Å"M onkey† trial.Secondly it will consider the theological innovations that underpinned Fundamentalism by exploring both Dispensationalism and Premillenarianism, before finally placing Fundamentalism within its sociological background by looking at broader cultural movements in American society, and considering how changes in both the scientific and intellectual spheres challenged the traditional place of evangelical Protestantism. Christian fundamentalism has been succinctly defined by George Marsden as â€Å"militantly anti-modernist Protestant evangelicalism. In the latter part of the 19th century and into the first decades of the 20th they developed specific beliefs and operating principles that set them apart from what was, in their view, dangerously liberal evangelical Protestantism. In a post-Darwinian world the Protestant worldview, particularly in the US, came under a number of specific threats from advances in science and contemporary intellectual developments. Unlike t he liberals, who sought compromise with these developments, it was the Fundamentalists â€Å"chief duty to combat uncompromisingly ‘modernist’ theology and certain secularizing cultural trends. † This militant tendency would eventually lead them to challenge modernity in the courtroom, and through utilizing the political system to achieve their ends. Although Fundamentalists were anti-modernity, they were not anti-modern in their readiness to embrace new forms of communication media. Newspapers, publishing, cinema and radio were all exploited as effective methods to publicize their agenda. The very term â€Å"Fundamentalism† was coined in 1920, in the Watchman-Examiner newspaper, by Curtis Lee Laws, who defined fundamentalists as those ready to â€Å"do battle royal for the Fundamentals. Traditional evangelicalism, from which Fundamentalism would grow, had taken shape during the Great Awakening of the 18th century. A series of Christian revivals had broug ht together a number of disparate movements, and blended Calvinist and Methodist theologies along with experiential conversion into a powerful and popular Christian movement. It also preached on the evils of alcohol and other forms of vice, in addition to the need to evangelize to the poor for their moral renewal through a social Gospel that emphasized personal piety and good works. Nineteenth century America started out as an overwhelmingly Protestant country.The specific lineage of the majority group was traced back to northern European ancestry, from the settlers who had travelled across the Atlantic in search of land in which they might practice a truly reformed Christianity. Different colonies along the eastern seaboard had been under the theocratic rule of the different Protestant sects, yet all had a common purpose in implementing God’s will as laid out in the Bible. This would all change with the arrival in the 1820s off the first large scale immigration of Catholics, along with Jews and other religious minorities.Together with homegrown religious movements like the Mormons, these new groups altogether changed the religious landscape of the US, and helped to reconcile the different protestant groups to one another. Evangelicalism emerged as a â€Å"voluntary association of believers founded on the authority of the Bible alone. † The evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin had a profoundly worring effect on the victorian Protestant mindset. They, along with advances in philology, geology and the historical critical method of Biblical scholarship began to undermine the foundations of religious certitude.The Bible had been seen as the very word of God and was therefore the only guide a Christian would need to guide her through the ethical and moral trials of life, safe in the knowledge that God’s will was being followed. The Bible had always been revered as â€Å"the revealed word of God, correct in every detail and in need of no add ition† to the text, and yet it was now under sustained questioning within academia. Towards the end of the 19th century an interdenominational revivalist network, which sought to counter these trends, began to take shape around the era’s greatest evangelist, Dwight L.Moody. A one-time shoe salesman, Moody had a conversion experience to evangelicalism. After a massively popular tour of Ireland and the UK in the mid 19th century he returned to the US as a preacher with the power to attract very large audiences. Moody was of the generation immediately preceding that of the Fundamentalists, but he had nonetheless provided them with a sufficiently well developed network (which included his famous Bible Institute), and a strong charismatic personality about which the emerging movement could coalesce.Moody, who could not countenance â€Å"Liberals in what they were teaching or doing to the Christian Faith†, found common ground with Fundamentalist thinkers and opinion sh apers. Starting in 1910 a series of small booklets appeared called â€Å"The Fundamentals†. Each booklet contained a series of essays by a leading evangelical thinker, plus a number of personal stories that attested to a radicalized evangelicalism.Although Fundamentalism, as we now know it, did not emerge as an absolute ideology from this publication alone, it was emerging as a broad movement within evangelical Protestantism as more of its membership took an increasingly hard line on modernity. As they saw themselves â€Å"losing control of their churches, their families, their working environments, their schools and their nation† certain members withdrew into a specific eschatological belief system and a principle of separatism from liberal protestant thinkers.Organized around a system of Bible â€Å"conventions† that were held in the birthplace of Fundamentalism, New England, leading evangelistic preachers and scholars contemplated their â€Å"opposition to m odernist theology and to some of the relativistic cultural changes that modernism embraced. † Relativism, especially where the revealed word of God was concerned, was a hated innovation. Fundamentalists refused to acknowledge the relative merit of each religion, or each Christian denomination; either their beliefs were right and were worth defending, or they were wrong.They would defend an absolute truth, but not a relative one. The second decade of the 20th century saw the Fundamentalists win two important battles, but gain public opprobrium as a direct result. The first, the Scopes â€Å"Monkey† trial of 1925, was a victory that saw the courts uphold the teaching of the Genesis account of human origins over the empirical Darwinian view. The case became a cause celebre throughout the US, and opened up the Fundamentalist position to widespread ridicule through a largely hostile press. The second front in which they had a pyric victory was over prohibition.The ban on alc ohol consumption was in place from 1919-1933, during which time illegal alcohol distillation and sales fueled the rise of mafia organizations, and encouraged political and police corruption. Public morality did not increase as a result of banning alcohol, and the public resented the intrusion of religious ideology into public life. Afterwards Fundamentalists largely withdrew from public life to nurse their wounds and regroup, rather than retreat. Fundamentalism arose as a â€Å"historically new religious movement with distinctive beliefs† from its base in evangelical Protestantism.These beliefs, which they would go to great lengths to promote and defend, centered on their own conception of themselves as a special people in God’s eyes with a Biblically mandated mission to prepare the way for the return of Christ. The two most characteristic beliefs, which defined the Protestant Christian Fundamentalist, were dispensationalism and premillenarianism. Fundamentalists drew their theology from a literal reading of Christian scripture, with a special emphasis being placed on the eschatological books of Revelation and Daniel, from which they were able to discern God’s plan for mankind’s future.A literal interpretation of Holy Scripture demands the believer is able to trust the text as a revealed source of God’s will. Fundamentalists believed the Bible to be the actual word of God, as revealed to the authors of the various books it contains. The message it contains must be divinely ordered; free from the errors human agency is so prone to. Inerrancy in the Bible, specifically the King James version, was the central pillar Fundamentalist theologians developed their understanding of God’s will upon.They believed the Bible free from all mistakes, errors and faults; that it was in an unchanged condition since the earliest days of Christianity’s founding fathers. It could therefore be absolutely relied upon by the individual for her understanding of the words and deeds of Christ, his followers and his message of salvation. It was the â€Å"infallible word of God and hence anything which challenged it†¦was not just wrong but sinful†¦Ã¢â‚¬  especially for the evangelical who took a liberal position, and risked personal damnation by doing so.Another central tenant, that of â€Å"dispensationalism†, became a hallmark belief for Fundamentalists. It is a scheme for â€Å"interpreting all of history on the basis of the Bible, following the principle of ‘literal where possible. ’† They believed that history was divided up into seven distinct eras, or dispensations. Each of these eras was marked by a catastrophe for mankind, so the first dispensation was recorded in Genesis as the period of Eden, which culminated in the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the earthly paradise with the stain of original sin.Others dispensations ended with Noah and the flood, or the Tower of Babel and mutually incomprehensible languages etc. The present age was known as the â€Å"age of the Church† and would culminate in the apocalypse as foretold by the revelation of John in the New Testament. This would be followed by the return of Christ to earth and the final of the seven dispensations; that of the reign of God on earth. The revelation of John, as interpreted by the Fundamentalists, speaks of a period of time numbering one thousand years in which Christ will reign before judgment on humanity.Theological debate within evangelical Christianity takes two approaches to just when the millennium will take place – one side, the moderate evangelicals, believes there will be a millennium followed by judgement and the other side, that of the Fundamentalists, believes that Christ will return first, judge human kind and institute the period of heaven on earth. This belief, of Christ’s return followed by the millennium, is known as premillenarianism and became fo r Christians with fundamentalist leanings the focal point for both their heological positioning, and for informing both their political and social policies. Moderate evangelical millenarians believed that helping those worse off in this world, the poor and the destitute, would bring about Christ’s return through instigating a period of prosperity first, hence they involved themselves in the social Gospel through good works and charity. Premillenarians, on the other hand, waited on the return of Christ first and therefore did not believe that charitable work would save souls from the coming judgment.Theological development within fundamentalism was therefore a response to greater sociological conditions prevalent in the US in the early decades of the 20th century. Post-war America was a radically different country than it had been just two generations before. Sociological conditions had altered in ways that elicited a response from some Protestants that were analogous to the e xperience of ethno-cultural groups newly arrived in the US; Protestants had, in Marsden’s analogy, â€Å"experienced the transition from the old world of the nineteenth century to the new world of the twentieth wholly involuntarily. Fundamentalists had experienced a traumatic cultural shock as the result of changes to American society that had been rapid, far-ranging and decisive. Structural changes within the family, the work place and the political order had dislodged the Protestant world-view in the US from a position of being, in their view, normative to a relative position in the panoply of religious identities in the modern American experience. Traditional Protestantism was â€Å"no longer a matter of necessity; it was a choice and a leisure activity. This fragmentation of Protestant identity was a mirror of broader changes that had taken place within society. Social institutions had undergone a shift, within modernity, that fed into the Fundamentalist idea of change as anathema to stability and as undermining a true understanding of Christianity, and its role as the only sure path to personal salvation. The family unit had been, within living memory for many of Fundamentalism’s early adherents, a stable basis upon which to build the religious life.As an agrarian unit, the family had encouraged hierarchy with the father on top of a structure that spent most of its time together. This was necessary for the time consuming, and expensive, business of agricultural production. Family life, which included work, education, prayer and social instruction, had once guaranteed the propagation of the next generation of family, worker and religious adherent. Modernity brought new social roles, and new forms of social mobilization, through factory production and office work.Men, and to a lesser degree women, now traveled to a place of employment outside of the family home. The area of the US that had seen the greatest amount of industrialization, the N ortheast, was also the area that gave birth to Fundamentalism. As new opportunities to better oneself socially and financially arose so did new forms of egalitarianism. The needs of a developing industrial society called for the individualization of people through empowering them to make personal decisions about where they would live, marry and pray.Within the cities many people began to explore new forms of spiritual expression, with substantial numbers of people returning to traditional branches of a Protestantism which was now exploring new theologies, such as premillenarianism, in response to anomic uncertainty. Fundamentalism attracted growing numbers of people in urban, rather than rural, settings through marginalization and alienation. â€Å"The growth of fundamentalist churches†¦was largely through conversion† of individuals within the city seeking the assurances offered by the theological assertions of the most radical Protestant sects.The position of the Bible as the inerrant word of God had come under considerable pressure from science through the application of historical critical methodologies, as well as other from other disciplines that were investigating the Bible from new intellectual perspectives, and so had conceded it’s role of containing an ultimate truth. While nominally this would affect all Christianity’s, including Roman Catholicism, the Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura, the individual ability to interpret the word of God without an intermediary, left them particularly venerable to the accelerated pace of scientific progress.While many liberal Protestant theologians were willing to concede to â€Å"lower criticism†, or the critique of the human authorship of the Bible, Fundamentalists could not equivocate when a literal interpretation informed their very world-view, and their relationship to society and culture. It was not any particular movement in science, be it â€Å"hard† empiricism of Darwin or the â€Å"soft† theorizing of the Humanities, that ultimately upset the Fundamentalists as much as the aggregate of suspicion that now hung over the entire Christian project.Religion was â€Å"challenged less by specific scientific discoveries than by the underlying logic of science (indeed, rationality)† which had come full circle with the technological ability that had allowed America to enter into a world war as a super power. The social power to drive the new century was drawn from scientific rationalism, and not, as it had been in the past, from reliance upon the sacred. Fundamentalism was at war with modernity, and wished to reassert the old certainties in an age that had embraced their decline in favor of immediate temporal ability.Protestant Fundamentalism arose as a response to modernity during the late 19th and early 20th century. Faced with a number of challenges on different fronts it developed a theological foundation that marked it off as a dist inct religious phenomenon. Born of the schisms inherent in Protestantism since the reformation, it attracted adherents through a militant defense of traditional religious values that were increasingly undermined as progress in science questioned the Biblical narrative.Dispensationalism, and premillenarianism, in addition to a principle off separatism from liberal Protestant evangelicals, combined to give this new group a powerful voice in American religious life. At their height the fundamentalists were able to successfully challenge the American establishment through a highly publicized court trial that pitted modernity’s champions against religion’s staunchest defenders. At the same time their political influence was such that their dream of public moral regeneration through the wholesale ban on alcohol consumption demonstrated their ability to mount effective campaigns, and win.These victories turned out to be Fundamentalism’s undoing, at least where the gene ral public was concerned, as the publicity generated by the Fundamentalists engendered public ridicule and resentment towards this new group. American society had changed radically from the victorian religious society, based on the principles that had once been clearly understood through a thorough individual grounding in the Bible, to a society that was increasingly materialistic, secular and diverse. As the Fundamentalists withdrew to regroup, and quietly build their power base through their own separate nstitutions, they would later reemerge to continue their challenge to modernity within American society. Bibliography Bruce, S. , Fundamentalism (2nd Ed. ), UK: Polity Press, 2008 Bruce, S. , â€Å"The Moral Majority: the Politics of Fundamentalism in Secular Society† in Studies in Religious Fundamentalism (ed. Lionel Caplan), London: Macmillan Press, 1987 Carpenter, J. A. , Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997 Hudson, W. S. , Religion in America (3rd Ed. )), New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981 Lawrence, B. B. Defenders Of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age, USA: University of South Carolina Press, 1989 Marsden G. M. , Encyclopedia of Religion (ed. Lindsay Jones), Vol. 5. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005 Marsden G. M. , Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925, New York: Oxford University Press, 1980 Marty, M. E. , and Appleby, R. S. , Fundamentalisms Observed (The Fundamentalism Project, Vol. 1), Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1991 ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Carpenter, J.A. , 1997, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 5 [ 2 ]. Marsden G. M. , 2005, Encyclopedia of Religion (ed. Lindsay Jones), Vol. 5. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, p. 2887 [ 3 ]. Marsden G. M. , 1980, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 159 [ 4 ]. Marsden, Encyclopedia of Religion, p. 2887 [ 5 ]. Bruce, S. , 2008, Fundamentalism (2nd Ed. ), UK: Polity Press, p. 12 [ 6 ]. Carpenter, Revive Us Again, p. 6 [ 7 ]. Lawrence, B. B. 1989, Defenders Of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age, USA: University of South Carolina Press, p. 162 [ 8 ]. Bruce, Fundamentalism, p. 70 [ 9 ]. Marsden, Encyclopedia of Religion, p. 2889 [ 10 ]. ibid, p. 2890 [ 11 ]. Carpenter, Revive Us Again, p. 5 [ 12 ]. Bruce, Fundamentalism, p. 69 [ 13 ]. Marsden, Encyclopedia of Religion, p. 2889 [ 14 ]. Lawrence, Defenders of God, p. 166 [ 15 ]. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, p. 204 [ 16 ]. Bruce, Fundamentalism, p. 20 [ 17 ]. ibid, p. 17 [ 18 ]. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, p. 202 [ 19 ]. Bruce, Fun damentalism, p. 24

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.