THE TWENTIETH CENTURY IN AMERICA



By the end of the 20th century, more than two billion persons — one-third of the human race — were at least nominally Christian, and the gospel had reached every corner of the globe in one form or another. Considered in purely historical terms, it might well seem that nothing has ever come nearer to constituting a truly global faith. On the other hand, Christian adherence had never before come in so vast a variety of forms, some of them all but incomprehensible to one another. If Christianity is a global faith, it is not by any means a unified or uniform community.


Nowhere does this diversity of Christian confessions show itself more vividly than in North America, and in the United States in particular, where the always heterogeneous Christianity of the various original settlers was further fecundated by the great inpouring of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


(LIKE  THIS  AUTHORS  USE  OF  WORDS  I'VE  NEVER  HEARD  OF,  MODERN  CHRISTIANITY  IS  A  DICTIONARY  OF  DIVERSIFIED,  DISSIMILARITY,  INNOVATION,  MISCELLANY,  MELANGE,  PASTICHE,  HETEROGENEITY,  HODGEPODGE,  AND  OMNIUM-GATHERUM [from the Readers Digest "Word-Finder"] - Keith Hunt )


Fundamentalism


The Evangelical Protestantism that took such firm hold in the United States in the 19th century was not, of course, a single church, nor was it even organized around a single unvarying theology. It admitted of innumerable variants, and in the second decade of the 20th century, a new variant arose called 'fundamentalism', so named because of a series of 12 books outlining its principles that appeared from 1909 to 1915 under the collective title The Fundamentals.


[The number of Catholics that came to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was so great that the Catholic Church is now far and away the country's largest denomination]


In principle, fundamentalism was a reaction to 'liberal theology', which is to say those forms of mainline Protestantism that were willing to allow for a certain latitude in their interpretation of the content of scripture (regarding, for instance, which aspects of its narratives were to be taken literally, and which symbolically). It was also, however, a reaction against many of the developments of modern society, religion and science that fundamentalists believed undermined Christian faith, such as Darwinism, spiritualism, Mormonism and materialism. The actual 'fundamentals' were a set of the five basic 'propositions' supposedly definitive of true Christianity: Christ's substitutionary atonement for sin, the reality of miracles, the virgin birth, Christ's bodily resurrection and the inerrancy of scripture (some versions of the list include Christ's divinity and the last judgment).


Of these, scriptural inerrancy was the only wholly novel principle. It went far beyond the traditional Christian belief in the divine inspiration and truthfulness in scripture; it meant that every single event reported in the Bible was historically factual, every word recorded therein literally true and every apparent contradiction unreal. Such a view of scripture might have been tacitly held by many Christians down the centuries; but, as an explicit dogma, it was contrary to almost all of Christian tradition, Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox.


(WELL  NOT  SO  HARD  TO  COME  BY  IF  YOU  READ  THE  BIBLE  AND  BELIEVE  WHAT  IT  SAYS,  THAT  ALL  SCRIPTURE  IS  GOD  BREATHED,  INSPIRED.  WHY  ON  EARTH  BOTHER  BELIEVING  IN  A  GOD,  IF  YOU  CAN'T  BELIEVE  HE  HAS  THE  POWER  TO  WRITE  AN  INSPIRED  BOOK,  THAT  IS  FULLY  ACCURATE,  EXCEPT  FOR  THE  VERY  WELL  KNOWN  WORDS  OR  PHRASES  THAT  WE  KNOW  ARE  MAN  MADE  ERRORS [LIKE  THE  WORD  "EASTER" IN THE BOOK  OF  ACTS] - Keith Hunt)


[Baptist worshippers in the 1930s. Baptist churches in America were generally 'holiness congregations,' which subscribed to an Evangelical theology]

Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement


Just as significant a development for American Evangelicalism — and ultimately more important in global terms — was the birth in the first decade of the century of the 'Pentecostal' movement, a variety of 'enthusiast' spirituality that involves belief in a second baptism 'by the Holy Spirit' (as distinct from that 'by water') that confers on the believer the spiritual 'charisms' or gifts experienced by the first-century Church: speaking in tongues, miraculous healings, prophecy, the power to cast out demons and so forth. Many Pentecostals believed that, in their time, the 'latter reign' of the Holy Spirit had begun, and dated its start to the Azusa Street Mission Revival of 1906-15, in Los Angeles - a revival disdained by its critics for both its mixture of races and its ecstatic worship.


Pentecostalism, moreover, did not remain confined to Evangelical communities; in the 1960s it began to migrate into the mainline Protestant, Catholic and even (in a very small way) Orthodox Churches in America. In 1960, it even made its way into the staid and respectable environs of the Episcopal Church, brought there by - among others - an Episcopal priest named Dennis Bennett (1917-91). In 1967, the Roman Catholic theology student (and later deacon) Kevin Ranaghan (b. 1940), along with his wife, experienced a charismatic conversion, and it was largely because of him that a 'Charismatic renewal' began to spread through the Catholic Church, not only in America, but around the world.


As a rule, the denominations where the Charismatics appeared came to accept this style of spirituality as a legitimate and even admirable form of Christian life, grounded in Biblical tradition. It soon became evident, for instance, that a belief in the gifts of the Spirit did not alienate Catholics from their Church, but often seemed to make them better Catholics. By the end of the century, the Catholic Charismatic movement had become not only a recognized form of Catholicism, but in some parts of the world (such as sub-Saharan Africa, the Philippines and Brazil) one of the dominant forms.


(YES  MANY  CHRISTIANS  DO  NOT  KNOW  THERE  IS  A  "PENTECOSTAL-CHARASMATIC"  TYPE  MOVEMENT  WITHIN  THE  ROMAN  CATHOLIC  CHURCH  -  SEEN  IT  FIRST  HAND  -  Keith Hunt)


Civil Rights


The American civil rights movement that began after the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. the Board of Education (which desegregated public education) was in many very real respects a movement within the American churches. Peaceful protests were promoted and supported by local congregations and Christian organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In fact, one of the founders of that conference, the Baptist pastor T. J. Jemison (b. 1918), set the pattern for such protests by leading a bus boycott in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1953. Another founder, the Rev. Fred Shuttleworth (b.1922) - whom the Ku Klux Klan attempted to assassinate in 1957 - was one of the chief organizers of the 'Freedom Rides' of 1961.


The most famous, revered and ultimately mourned of the civil rights movement's many ordained leaders was the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-68), the Baptist minister who — through his sheer eloquence, unrelenting effort and personal courage - did perhaps more than anyone else to transform the movement into a national cause. And his unwavering commitment to peaceful protest made the violence of the movement's opponents — violence, incidentally, that was often even worse in northern cities such as Chicago than in the south — that much more vividly repellent in the eyes of many millions who saw and heard it reported in the media. The national scope of the movement became clear in 1963, with the 'March on Washington'. No event did more to force the moral demands of the movement into the consciousness of the nation — with the exception, perhaps, of King's assassination in 1968, in Memphis,Tennessee.


(YES  MARTIN  LUTHER  KING  JR.  WAS  INDEED  A  GREAT  MAN  FOR  EQUALITY  OF  THE  BLACKS  OF  AMERICA.  HIS  PEACEFUL  CHRISTIAN  IDEOLOGY  WAS  SUPERB  TO  BEHOLD.  AND  HE  WAS  BIBLICALLY  CORRECT  THAT  ALL  PEOPLE  SHOULD  BE  TREATED  EQUAL,  WITH  LOVE  AND  RESPECT  -  IN  WORK  AND  PLAY  -  Keith Hunt)

THE SCOPES TRIAL

Easily the most famous episode of conflict between American evangelical fundamentalism and modern 'materialist' ideas was the 'Scopes Trial' of 1925, in Dayton,Tennessee, in which two legendary figures in American law and politics - Clarence Darrow (1857-1938) and William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) - fought a pitched court battle over the right of a public school instructor to teach evolution.


The instructor in question was one John Scopes (1900-70), who was accused of teaching from a text book (Civic Biology by George Hunter) that included a chapter on biological evolution; technically this violated Tennessee's 'Butler Act', passed earlier that year, which prohibited the teaching of any theory denying the biblical story of creation and suggesting human descent from lower beasts. Darrow, an agnostic and member of the American Civil Liberties Union, volunteered to join the defence team, while Bryan, who shared the beliefs of the fundamentalist movement, joined the prosecution. The moment in the trial that entered most deeply into national lore involved Bryan taking the stand, as an 'expert on the Bible', to be cross-examined by Darrow on the plausibility of the scriptural accounts of creation and of various miracles; this circular and aimless debate was ultimately expunged from the record. Scopes was found guilty, but was merely fined $100; on appeal, the conviction was nullified.


The trial has usually been remembered merely as a conflict between primitive religiosity and disinterested science, but the facts of the case are rather more complicated. Bryan was in his youth one of the most passionate and populist of 'progressive' politicians, a champion of labour and of the poor, an enemy of race theory, and a firm believer in democracy. In his day, evolutionary theory was inextricably associated with eugenics, and from early on he had denounced Darwinism as a philosophy of hatred and oppression, ardently believing that the Christian law of love was the only true basis of a just society. As yet, the rather obvious truth that evolutionary science need involve no social ideology whatsoever was not obvious even to Darwinian scientists.


Moreover, Civic Biology was a monstrously racist text, which ranked humanity in five categories of evolutionary development (with blacks at the bottom and whites at the top), advocated eugenic cleansing of the race, denounced intermarriage and the perpetuation of 'degenerate' stock and suggested 'humane' steps for the elimination of social 'parasites'. These were the ideas that Bryan had long believed would lead humanity into an age of war, murder and tyranny; and, given what came in the decades following the trial, it would be hard to argue that Bryan - whatever his faults - was simply an alarmist.

......................


YES  INDEED  THAT  IS  EXACTLY  WHAT  HAPPENED,  HATRED,  BIAS,  BIGOTRY,  CAME  ALONG  WITH  THE  RISE  OF  EVOLUTION  AND  SECULARISM,  AND  THE  FOUNDATION  OF  THE  BIBLE  WAS  CUT  DOWN  AND  DEMOLISHED.  BUT  I  MUST  ADD  THAT  SOME  TRIED  USING  THE  BIBLE  TO  UPHOLD  SEGREGATION  AND  THAT  BLACKS  SHOULD  BE  A  SLAVE  PEOPLE  TO  THE  WHITES.  TERRIBLY  BAD  THEOLOGY  BROUGHT  TERRIBLY  BAD  RESULTS.


Keith Hunt