13: Modernism

The Slave Ship
British Empire
JMW Turner, 1840

500 Years of Modern Thinking

  • Early Modernity: 1500s - 1800s
  • Modernity & the Colonial Project
  • Late Modernity: the last 100 years

Early Modernity
Late 1500s - 1800s

Key Terms

  • Modernity
  • Protestant Reformation
  • Martin Luther
  • John Calvin
  • 1611: King James Bible (KJV)
  • Counter Reformation
  • Thirty Years’ War
  • African Initiated Church (AIC)
  • Ghost Dance / Wounded Knee
  • Reform Judaism

U.S. Treaty of Tripoli 
Article 11

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

I. What is Modernity?

Darwin on Christianity

Science has nothing to do with Christ, except insofar as the habit of scientific research makes a man cautious in admitting evidence. For myself, I do not believe that there ever has been any revelation. As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities.

Charles Darwin, 1887

Johann Tetzel, Dominican Monk
and Indulgence Salesman

Won’t you part with even a farthing to buy this letter?
It won’t bring you money but rather a divine and immortal soul, whole and secure in the
Kingdom of Heaven.

No. 45 of Luther’s 95 Theses

Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.

II. 1500s Europe: the Protestant Reformation (map)

  • A. Individualism in Germany: Martin Luther (Augustinian monk)
    • Luther protests against Catholic indulgences
      • His anti-Catholic Christian movement will be called “Protestantism
    • Luther proposes indulgences be debated, these are his 95 Theses
    • Church leaders argued Luther should be obedient to the Church
      • Advocated the infallibility of Church authority
    • When Luther’s behavior did not change, he was excommunicated in 1520
      • Luther burned the bull of excommunication publicly to a cheering crowd
    • Luther: if the Pope tells me I’m wrong, then he's the enemy of God
    • Luther spent years translating the Bible into German (1522) and writing hymns
      • 1529: Luther is pro-Muslim until the Ottomans attack Vienna
      • 1543: Luther is Antisemitic once he recognizes Jews wont join him

  • B. Rationalism among the French Swiss: John Calvin (lawyer)
    • Emphasis on the absolute sovereignty of God and depravity of humans
    • The “Solas” of Protestantism
      • Scripture > Tradition: individuals can interpret the Bible themselves
      • Faith  > Works: private belief more important than what you do
      • Grace > Merit: salvation cannot be earned; it is a gift from God
    • Calvin rationalizes atonement in modern legal terms: penal substitution
      • Man is born guilty and lives in sin (cf. Augustine’s Original Sin doctrine)
      • Scripture teaches that justice requires punishment for sindeath
      • But Jesus gracefully satisfied justice by dying in the place of sinners
      • Faith in Jesus saves sinners from eternal hellfire
    • In the 1500s, Calvin’s Penal Substitution theory replaces for Protestants the
      Moral Influence theory of Catholics that had been accepted for 1000+ years

The Protestant Reformation is the breaking point in the History of Religion — when religion goes from being
a public obligation to a private and voluntary act. Later, Protestants will later assume everyone thinks of religion this way.

Henry VIII
1532 Speech to Parliament

We thought that the clergy of our realm had been our subjects wholly, but now we have well perceived that they be but half our subjects, yea, and scarce our subjects: for all the prelates at their consecration make an oath to the Pope, clean contrary to the oath that they make to us, so that they seem to be his subjects, and not ours.

  • C. Colonial Anglicanism: Queen Elizabeth holds the empire together (3m clip)
    • Anglicanism will be a Middle Path between Protestantism and Catholicism
      • A Book of Common Prayer is written with both communities in mind
      • Religious unity is central to British colonizing efforts overseas
    • 1611: the King James Bible is translated. World’s most published book!
    • Later branching from Anglicans include the Puritans and the Methodists
    • After 1776, Anglicans in America become known as Episcopalians

  • D. The Roman Catholic Response

The Triumph of the Immaculate
(Baroque) Italy, 1600s

Colonial Modernity

I. Colonizing Africa


Nongqawuse (right)
of the Xhosa People


of the Lakota People

  • Cultural Exchanges with the Xhosa
    • 1700s: Dutch and English traders encounter the Xhosa people of South Africa
    • 1800s: Christian missionaries are sent and the Bible is translated into Xhosa
    • A prophetess initiated a millennialist movement
      • She claims the sickness of the cattle (brought on by Europeans) is caused by angry spirits
      • A sacrifice of the herd would appease the spirits
      • The Cattle-Killing Crisis of 1856-1857 was the result
      • Famine that followed cut the population from 100,000 to > 30,000
  • Post-Contact South Africa

II. Colonizing the Americas

  • Cultural Exchanges with the Lakota
    • 1830: Indian Removal Act signed into law
    • 1860-70s: the Lakota fight in Red Cloud’s War and the Great Sioux War
      • Overpowered, the Lakota are relocated
    • 1889: Wokova had a vision of Jesus as an American Indian (3m clip)
  • Post-Contact South Dakota
    • After 1890: No American Indian lives free on his or her own land (map)
    • Today, Christianity is the most popular religion among American Indians
    • The Native American Church is the most widespread U.S. Indigenous Religion
    • Half the remaining Sioux now live on Indian Reservations (6m clip)

Expel the Barbarians
Japan, 1861

III. Colonizing Asia 

  • Early Modern Exchanges with the Japanese
    • 1543: the Portuguese and Spanish empires send Jesuit missionaries to Japan
    • 1620: Christianity is outlawed in Japan as a matter of national security
    • 1639: After a Christian uprising, Japan forbids all contact with the West
  • Japan & the “Black Ships”
    • 1853: U.S. Navy sends four (black smoke-spewing) warships into Tokyo Bay (1m clip)
      • Not yet a modern nation, the Japanese are forced to trade with the U.S.
    • 1863: The Order to Expel Barbarians is issued by the Japanese emperor
  • Japanese Buddhism & Empire
    • 1889: The Constitution of the Empire of Japan signed
      • Imperial Japan becomes the first industrial Asian nation
    • 1914: Imperial Japan assists WWI Allies against Germany, but denied racial equality
    • 1922: “Imperial Way” Buddhism gains popularity
  • Japan & World War II
    • 1936: Imperial Japan signs treaty w/ Nazi Germany, continues invasion of China
    • 1941: (7 Dec) Imperial Japan attacks U.S. Naval installations in the Pacific
      • Pearl Harbor (Hawaii), Guam, the Philippines, and Wake Island
    • 1945: U.S. drops two atomic bombs over Japan, ending the Empire of Japan
  • Post-War Japan
    • 1960s: Technology: U.S. is the world’s largest economy, and Japan is number two!
    • 1980s: Cultural shift to non-threatening, approachable kawaii (cuteness) in Japan
    • Today, fewer than 1% of Japanese identify as Christian
      • However, Christianity is exploding in China, South Korea, Taiwan, etc.

Reform Judaism

We recognize in the Bible the record of the consecration of the Jewish people to its mission as the priest of the one God, and value it as the most potent instrument of religious and moral instruction. We hold that the modern discoveries of scientific researches in the domain of nature and history are not antagonistic to the doctrines of Judaism, the Bible reflecting the primitive ideas of its own age, and at times clothing its conception of divine Providence and Justice dealing with men in miraculous narratives.

No. 2
Pittsburgh Platform, 1885

Late Modernity
The last 100 years or so

I. Modernity & Reform Judaism

  • 1700s: As secular nationalism sweeps across Europe, Jews are welcomed as citizens
    • Moses Mendelsohn paves the way for Jews to practice the “religion” of “Judaism”
      • You can now be a “German Jew” or a “French Jew,” etc. 
  • 1800s: A split in Jewish identity
    • Seeking to join modern life, many Jews assimilate into European society
      • Reform Jews work to modernize Judaism: Halakhah is NOT binding!
      • Orthodox Jews push back: Halakhah is binding!
  • 1885: American Reform Jews write the Pittsburgh Platform
    • The world’s religions are all valid paths to righteousness
    • The Bible is a guide for moral instruction, not a science or history textbook
    • The moral laws of Torah are binding, but most of the rest is a relic of the past
  • 1896: Theodore Herzl writes The Jewish State, giving rise to Zionism
    • Today, most Israelis and American Jews hold to progressive views of Judaism

II. Modernity & Christian Fundamentalism

Christian Modernism

So far as I can see, there are errors in the Scriptures that no one has been able to explain away. Men cannot shut their eyes to truth. 

Rev. Charles Briggs, 1891

Descent of the Modernist
E. J. Pace, 1922

  • 1400s: Catholic Biblical Interpretation
    • The Latin Bible is interpreted by Catholics as metaphor and narrative
  • 1500s: Protestant Biblical Interpretation: not trained as priests
    • interpretation is more basic, and accessible
    • 1560: chapter and verse numbers are added to aid laymen
    • The plain meaning of a text is always preferred
  • 1800s: Biblical Interpretation: Higher Criticism
  • 1910: The Five Fundamentals are published
    • The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is without errors of any kind
    • Jesus is the son of God, born miraculously to a virgin
    • Jesus was crucified to atone for the sins of the world
    • The body of Jesus was resurrected — literally a body raised from the dead
    • The miracles of Jesus are historical facts — they literally happened
  • The Fundamentalist-Modernist Split cleaves American Protestant Christianity
    • Liberal Christians see Christianity primarily thru the lens of reason
      • Tend to be college educated and vote Democrat
      • 75% of Mainline Protestants believe othe religions lead to Heaven
    • Fundamentalist Christians see Christianity thru the lens of tradition
      • Tend not to be college educated and vote Republican
      • 37% of white Evangelicals believe more than one religion leads to Heaven

III. Modernity & Political Islam

  • 1700s: In the face of Western modernity, Salafism (a 5th Sunni School) develops
    • Turn away from modernism and return to the 7th century
    • Bans against secular music, dancing, alcohol, smoking, movies, etc.
  • 1900s: Salafism gets a home base – the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
  • 2000s: Islamic Modernists: Muslims who want to integrate into the modern world
    • Opposite of Islamist ideology
    • Are the most frequent targets of jihadi terrorists
    • Diversity of opinion on modernization, gender equality, and individual rights
    • Some scholars consider this to be an Islamic Reformation (cf. Protestant Reformation)
    • Seek a way for countries to thrive together