Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925

By George M. Marsden | Go to book overview

beyond its reach. Since mid-century some American evangelical theologians, especially in New England, had been moving in this direction under the influence of romanticism and Idealism. This solution also appealed to the strong sentiment and moralism of American Protestantism.

At the Evangelical Alliance meeting of 1873, the new direction was suggested by the most popular American preacher of the day, Henry Ward Beecher. Urging that American preaching should strive for such unassailable sentimental goals as "to inspire men with an idea of manhood," and to kindle the "nobility of a heart opened when God has touched it," the famed Brooklyn preacher had discovered a formula that would for many years allay the fears of respectable evangelical Americans concerning the new science and learning. "While we are taught," said Beecher, "by the scientists in truths that belong to the sensual nature, while we are taught by the economists of things that belong to the social nature, we need the Christian ministry to teach us those things which are invisible." 36


II. The Paths Diverge

PROLOGUE: THE VICTORIAN SETTING

The people facing this crisis were "Victorians." 1 Their culture was dominated by a Protestant middle class which combined an at least formal reverence for their religious heritage with a deep concern for morality, respectability, and order. The leaders of this culture believed that they had a mission among the poor at home and among the heathen abroad (in the words of President McKinley) to "uplift and Christianize." The Victorians placed great value on both rationality and sentiment. Their era, characterized by the desire for order in society, was a technological one—an age of statistics, standardization, professionalism, specialization, and tremendous industrial expansion. It was an age of print, a medium well suited to preserving the interests of permanent order. Yet it was also an age of emotion and romantic sentiments. Victorians loved their orators, especially those who could make them weep. 2

Change was rapid and doubtless often disconcerting. The social changes were the most dramatic. America was changing rapidly from a culture dominated by small towns and the countryside to one shaped by cities and suburbs. Waves of "uprooted" immigrants, together with rapid industrialization, created virtually insurmountable urban problems. Industrialization, with the drive for efficiency usually overcoming traditional moral restraints, created ethical, social, labor, and political problems beyond the capacities of

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