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

By George M. Marsden | Go to book overview

moderate premillennialists now gave greater importance to the preservation of civilization. American evangelicals, typified by Bryan, had always given Christian civilization top priority, and now they believed it to be gravely threatened. Postmillennialist confessional conservatives, represented by Princeton or by The Presbyterian, tempered their hope for civilization with Calvinist views of innate human depravity.59 Important points of disagreement remained and would continue to surface. Now, however, all had a shared interest in the cultural question and all regarded the state of American civilization with a mixture of hopeful loyalty and increasing alarm.


XVII. Fundamentalism and
the Cultural Crisis: 1919-1920

An overwhelming atmosphere of crisis gripped America during the immediately postwar period. The year 1919 especially was characterized by a series of real as well as imagined terrors. The disruption caused by massive demobilization and postwar economic adjustments was compounded by a number of acrimonious labor disputes and strikes and by a series of terrorist bombings. There was alarm over rapidly deteriorating moral standards and a deep suspicion of foreign influence. The immediate reaction was to focus on the sinister implications of the strikes and terrorism and to rechannel the enormous emotional force of wartime patriotism against a different foreign enemy—Bolshevism. In this "Red Scare," a real but limited threat excited near hysteria. 1 Clearly it was part of the general psychological disorientation of the nation. Americans had been whipped into a frenzy of wartime enthusiasm. Abruptly the war ended, leaving behind a directionless belligerence which sought a new outlet. It seemed as though the people needed an enemy, one that could account for the disruptions on the home front. 2

The continued ambivalence of most premillennialists in this highly charged atmosphere of national crisis is well suggested by the two accompanying cartoons, which first appeared in The King's Business during the summer of 1919. The first, on the cover of the July issue, while intimating an ideal of Christian civilization, points only toward a future hope. The other, from the preceding issue 3 is aimed at more immediate solutions to social problems. 4

These reactions to the widely proclaimed Bolshevik threat were not unusual in the atmosphere of acute paranoia which prevailed throughout the country in the summer of 1919, and do not necessarily indicate that premillennialism had become politicized by this time. 5 But the tension between the

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