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

By George M. Marsden | Go to book overview

sensus of rationality and morality wed to Protestant religion and the revival. This tradition provided a basis for holding on to the Christian faith at all costs—which of course was the principal issue. Yet it provided no fully adequate way to account for the collapse of the consensus. Dispensational premillennialism did offer an explanation of the cultural and religious decline. Yet most fundamentalism, or at least fundamentalism as a movement, was dispensationalist only part of the time. Much of the time it was very typically American. That is, it combined with its Christianity certain nineteenth-century American ideas about truth and morality. These values, as well as a traditional and Biblical Christianity, had to be saved from the delusions of the critics. The intellectual, moral, and religious issues were too intertwined to be sorted out thoroughly.

Although there was a respectable philosophical heritage behind this outlook, it could easily become anti-intellectualism when translated into popular rhetoric. If Blanchard, a college president, had difficulty explaining the prevalence of the new views in Common Sense terms, less distinguished popularizers could only explain the breakdown of common sense as the sinister work of evil men. That is the message of a 1925 statement attributed to Billy Sunday:

Our country is filled with a Socialistic, I. W. W., Communistic, radical, lawless, anti-American, anti-church, anti-God, anti-marriage gang, and they are laying the eggs of rebellion and unrest in labor and capital and home, and we have some of them in our universities.... If this radical element could have their way, my friends, the laws of nature would be repealed, or they would reverse them; oil and water would mix; the turtle dove would marry the turkey buzzard; the sun would rise in the West and set in the East; chickens would crow and the roosters would squeal; cats would bark and dogs would mew; the least would be the greatest; a part would be greater than the whole; yesterday would be after tomorrow if that crowd were in control. 39


XXV. Fundamentalism
as an American Phenomenon

In many respects fundamentalist Christianity was not unique to America. It had affinities with revivalist and pietistic movements around the world, and was often successfully propagated overseas by its vigorous missions. Yet almost nowhere outside of America did this particular Protestant response to modernity play such a conspicuous and pervasive role in the culture. 1

One of the closest counterparts to American fundamentalism is English

-221-

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