14: Religion in the 20th Century

I. Fundamentalism vs. Modernism

Descent of the Modernist
E. J. Pace (1922)

Key Terms

  • Fundamentalism
  • Modernism
  • Cold War
  • Megachurch
  • High Criticism
  • A. Interpreting the Scriptures
    • Catholic Hermeneutics in the Middle Ages
    • Early Protestant Hermeneutics (Sola Scriptura)
  • B. The Influence of Higher Criticism
    • The Scientific Revolution
    • Higher Criticism: The Science of Texts in Modern Universities
    • The Fundamentalist Response - The Bible is inspired by one author, the Holy Spirit, and is therefore without error or inconsistency.
  • C. Consequences of Higher Criticism
    • Heresy trials: Presbyterians & Methodists defrock some ministers
    • Two approaches to Christianity: threatened or liberated by modernism?
    • Liberated because they could use reason and interpretation
    • Threatened because this approach challenged historic beliefs
  • D. The Five Fundamentals (1910)
    1. The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is without errors of any kind
    2. Jesus is the son of God, born miraculously to a virgin
    3. Jesus was crucified to atone for the sins of the world
    4. The body of Jesus was resurrected—literally a body raised from the dead
    5. The miracles of Jesus are historical facts—they literally happened
  • E. The Fundamentalist-Modernist Split
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Rev. Charles Briggs (1891)

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 and fact






II. The Social Gospel Movement: Power to the People

  • Non-Secular Ideal Government
    • Response to secularization in ethics
    • Similar focus on the needs of society but from a religious perspective
  • Focus
    • Collective sins of society
    • Greed and struggles over power
    • Inequality in labor
    • Inequality in education
    • Collective salvation of society
  • Accomplishing perfection
    • Level economic division
    • Advocate for distribution of wealth and resources
    • Programs for poor and needy
    • All parts of society reconciled with Christ
    • Move religion from the private sphere to the public sphere

III. Modern Antisemitism

  • Prelude: A History of Jews in Pre–Modern Europe
    • Denied land ownership
    • Blamed for natural disasters and plagues
    • 1182: Expulsion of Jews from France
    • 1290: Expulsion of Jews from England
    • 1348: Black Plague
    • 1492: Expulsion of Jews (and Muslims) from formerly Islamic Spain
    • 1497: Expulsion of Jews from Portugal
  • 1800s: Jewish Responses to America
    • Freedom of Religion guaranteed by the First Amendment
    • 1880: Reform Judaism – Judaism as a “living fountain” that can and must change with the times. Modern people need a modern Judaism.
    • Jewish Americans take on the dress, diet, and customs of America
    • Orthodox and Conservative Jews split with the Reform Movement
  • Early 1900s: American Responses to Jews
    • U.S. Immigration bans
    • Emergency Quota Act of 1921 (no more than 3% increase)
    • Immigration Act of 1924 (no more than 2% increase)
    • 1930s: German American Bund – swastikas and American flags fly together in patriotic marches. GAB asks Americans to side with Hitler
    • Jewish–Americans and pop culture: White Christmas & Easter Parade
  • America, Jews, and World War II
    • U.S. Immigration bans upheld thru the war: no safe passage for Jews
    • Americans fight in WWII to curb Nazi expansion, not the Holocaust
    • Preservation of the WASP culture thru 1960s (c.f. KKK movement)
    • 1940s: a new social category – Ethnicity
    • Race: White | Nationality: American | Ethnicity: Jew
  • American Defamation League: a 2007 study (LINK)
    • Education a strong predictor: less education = more antisemiticism
    • 1960s: 30% of Americans have antisemitic views
    • 2000s: 15% of Americans have antisemitic views
    • Now: 10% of American Whites, 32% American Blacks, and 29% of foreign–born Hispanics in America have antisemitic views.

IV. Becoming a More Christian Nation

How to Spot a Communist

1950s Newsreel LINK

Joseph McCarthy, 1950

Today we are engaged in a final, all out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity.

Education and the Establishment Clause

  • Historical Overview
    • Reaction to World War II
    • Spread of Communism to China
    • Soviet atomic bomb tested in 1949
  • Hollywood Blacklist
    • Started in 1946-47
    • Celebrities involved in film, television, books
    • Employment highly discouraged because of suspected Communist activities or sympathies
      • Charlie Chaplin
      • Orson Welles
      • Langston Hughes
      • Burgess Meredith
      • Gypsy Rose Lee
  • Senate Hearings
    • Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
    • Potential Communist sympathizers in government, other influential roles
    • Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?
  • American Reaction
    • Affirm Americanism
    • As American as apple pie, origin 1960s
    • Promote one of the greatest differences from Communists: religion
    • 1954 - “One nation, under God” added to Pledge of Allegiance
    • 1956 - “In God we Trust” named official motto
    • What about separation of state and religion?

V. African American Religion
From Black Churches to the Nation of Islam

Genesis 15:13-14

Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.

  • A. Black Churches 
    • Heirs of the Social Gospel Movement
      • Support social activism
      • Social Issues - poverty, racism
      • Non-violent tactics in the struggle for civil rights
        • Jesus: Turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39)
        • Jesus: Telling Peter to sheath his sword (Matthew 26:52)
    • African American Churches
      • Minister-activists of 1950s-60s
        • Martin Luther King, Jr, Baptist pastor
        • Ralph David Abernathy, Baptist pastor
      • Predominately African-American churches promote a sense of belonging
      • All are brothers and sisters through Christ (Philippians 4:21)
      • The populist preaching style and charismatic praise and worship forms of 1960s Black Churches will influence 1980s Megachurch worship
  • B. The Nation of Islam
    • Islam brought to America by slaves
    • Negative view of Islam, in part because the Ottoman Empire’s involvement in World War I
    • Islam provided an opportunity to return to African heritage and provide a sense of belonging, but it wasn’t aggressive enough for some
    • Nation of Islam origins in 1930s
    • NOI Cosmology: Blacks were the original people and whites were devils
    • Blacks are the prophesied race in Genesis 15:13-14
    • Malcolm X - former Nation of Islam leader who converted to Sunni Islam
    • Malcolm assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam in 1965

Barry Goldwater, Republican

I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across the country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in the A, B, C, and D. Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?

The religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected with them recognize that religion has no place in public policy.

VI. The Religious Right
1980s-Present

White Evangelical Voters

2000: 68% George Bush (R)

2004: 78% George Bush (R)

2008: 73% John McCain (R)

2012: 78% Mitt Romney (R)

Jerry Falwell, 1989

Our goal has been achieved... The Religious Right is solidly in place and... religious conservatives in America are now in for the duration.

American Megachurches 

1970: 10

1990: 250

2003: 740

2006: 1,210

2013: 1,665

  • A. Evolving Political Parties
    • Abraham Lincoln (R): strong federal government, civil rights
    • Theodore Roosevelt (R): National parks, fought big business
    • Martin Luther King, Jr.: Republican civil rights activist
  • B. Goldwater Republicans
    • Barry Goldwater: the 1964 Republican nominee for President
      • Strong belief in personal liberty (“Goldwater Republicanism”)
      • Religion, sexuality, abortion as private matters—not gov concerns
      • Importance of the environment, disinterested in foreign wars
      • 1987: John McCain (R) succeeds Goldwater as Arizona senator
    • Desire to keep religion out of politics
      • J. Carter (D), 1981: last Pres. not to mention God in State of the Union
      • Reagan (R), 1984: God invoked more times than any other State of the Union address in history
  • C. The Moral Majority
    • Founded by Jerry Falwell, 1979
      • Church and state should not be separate
      • Denominations aren’t important anymore, only that you’re a conservative Christian (Catholics and Jews welcomed by some)
      • 1989: the Moral Majority organization ends with the Religious Right “solidly in place” (Falwell)
    • Today, 80% of White Evangelicals identity with the Republican Party
      • As a result, Christianity is now more often tied to fiscal conservatism, a sharp contrast to the Social Gospel movement 50 years before
    • 1980s and the Media
      • 1980s Politicians invoking God in the media... leads to Televangelism
        • Church pulpit as televised presentation (PTL)
        • Christian talk shows (700 Club)
        • Christian news broadcasts (CBN News)
        • Christian movies and television programming (Left Behind)
      • 1980s Arena Rock... leads to the success of Megachurches
        • Church worship begins to resemble the spectacle of Arena Rock w/ lights, cameras, stadium seating, and charismatic presentations
        • Megachurches are typically charismatic and “nondenominational”
    • Mainline Christian Concerns with Nondenominational Megachurches
      • Nondenominational churches have charismatic leaders who aren’t answerable to a larger body (e.g. a General Conference of churches)
        • The televangelist message is powerful and spreads quickly
        • But the televangelist has no oversight, so he (or she) can say practically whatever he wants—which then becomes the prevailing belief of thousands of Americans
        • There is also the issue of power: while ungoverned, the bad behavior of some televangelists may have driven some away from the Church
      • Another issue is that televangelists, as TV stars, have to stay appealing
        • So they tend not to challenge prevailing opinions: don’t rock the boat!
        • Without huge donations, their media power fades