Monday, May 30, 2005

The Rise of Right Wing "Fundism"

On my board someone echoed Sam Harris's (End of Faith) sentiment that liberal theology didn't do enough to stem the tide of the "fundies." The liberal theologians didn't criticize them enough. While that may be true to a certain extent, it's understandable why they didn't. But we can't find much decent analysis about the reasons for the right-wingization of American religion. I think I can shed some light on that isn't often shed. But one must realize that fundamentalism goes way back in American clutter. There are many good books written on the phenomenon of American conservative mentality and American religion. Martin Marty was one the beast Historians of American Civil religion. Another excellent source is a book by McLaughlin on American Revivals. I think if I recall its called Awakenings in America or something like that. There's also a guy named Smith with a revival book. I read all of this back at Perkins, under the tutelage of Billy Abraham.

As to the charge that liberal leaders didn't do enough to discourage it:


That is absolutely ignorant. The guy (Sam Harris) has no understanding of history. I get the idea he doesn't even bother to do historical research about any of the statements he makes. He probably thinks his understanding of history is so good he doesn't need to research it.


Fundamentalism goes way back in American culture, back to the founding of the original 13 colonies, but it was really structured the way we know it today by the civil war. Calvinist mentality created a degree of guilt over the failure to obtain wealth. That set the conservative mind set in American culture, as each new shifting in American landscape, Wallace's "chaining of the Maze ways" brought new and deeper retest into the mythical "golden age of the past" when people were truly virtuous and faith was truly faithful; the great "golden age" the Reagan era kept evoking.

W.W.I played a major role too, and most of what we know as the fundi movement came about as a result of the shift from post millennialism to pre mil. But of course that was connoted by WW1 and the civil war. But I would be totally remiss if I didn't include the two great awakenings, especially the second one, as the real seed bed of fundamentalism.

Essentially, Post millennialism was liberal, although believing liberals not the 19th century European kind; but socially liberal, abolitionist, progressive era crusaders, social Gospels and the like; in fact there was a major feminist egalitarian movement among Evangelicals in the mid 19th century, that would also figure into the post mil mix. Post millers said we will make the world a better place through our Christian social reforms and Christ will return to find a Christian world. that's where the phrase "Christian century comes from."

So they had all these well meaning liberal crusading types who had very strong Christian triumphalism but only in a purely liberal social sense. That's how they thought of Christian victory. Some of the early influences coming out 2nd great awakening were in the Charles Finney camp.

But after the civil war all that began to change. Post mil began to waver, the war turned everyone cynical and convinced them that post minims wasn't going to work. It also brought in right wing groups, anti-foreigners, anti immigration, anti-reform, or conservative reform such as prohibition of liquor.

If you saw Gangs of New York, the Cutter chatter (the Butcher played by Daniel Day Lewis) represented that kind of thinking. The beginnings of the Jung ho American New York hard hat type.

at this point the mid to late 19th century, liberals in America were growing strong. They didn't have televangelists but they had guys like them, and the most famous ones, such as Horace Bushnelll, were liberal. They did criticize fundies, except there weren't many fundies in the contemporary sense. But that didn't matter because the incoming right winners who themselves as preaching the social Gospel and carrying on the torch of Finney and holiness movement, but the center was slipping over to the right.

After W.W.I post minims was totally dead. Everyone figured cyclically that the world get worse and worse, the war made them see it this way. so the new right wing fundie pessimism was born; the word will get more and more evil until Christ comes back and saves a tiny little remnant from a vastly evil black antichrist world.

Then they started with pre-mil thinking; we can avoid all that because the rapture will come first. Meanwhile the real liberals had no more post millennialism, they had enough of that and began embedding the 19th century Germanium liberalism and questioning the whole faith and rewriting the faith to exclude any super naturalism and taking out all aspect of what fundies consider true faith.

But the funds were largely confide to camp meetings and tent revivals, the rural areas. They were thought of as uneducated hicks, or deep inner city dwellers in Greta poverty. But it was after WW 2 brought them to California and other places, to the city to work in defense that they became part of main stream America and their views began to take over the air waves as they became prosperous enough to buy air time and respectable enough to avoid ridicule.

Reinhold Neibhur tried to instigate a show down with Billy Graham in the 50s over anti-communism. But he couldn't go very far because he would have been seen as a communist. He had an uphill battle because his position was complex and people preferred Graham's simplistic optimism of "get saved and beat communism."

By the 60 the liberals were so far out they weren't even in the ball park of faith anymore, or those that were so shell shocked by the seeming secularization that when the Jesus movement came along they eagerly embraced it because it seemed great; be a Christian hippie meant for them being open and caring about others and living up the social gospel at last. but people like Graham just used it to try and drain off young people protesting the war. So by the late 80's the church was ready for taking over by the Regents and the extreme right wing. The overall center of the country moved right and the funds didn't seem so far out anymore

2 comments:

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Meta

Fundamentalism definitely has a long history -- predating America. But I think the original question -- whether liberalism has done enough to combat fundamentalism -- misses one point: a certain percentage of fundamentalism is a reaction to liberalism. The extremist fundamentalists see themselves as as defending historicity against the extremist liberals. When liberals "fight the fundies", many times they don't understand this dynamic, alienate the center, and end up strengthening the fundie cause. (Then fundies fight back, alienate the center, and unwittingly end up strengthening the atheist cause.)

Take care & God bless

J.L. Hinman said...

That's an excellent ponit. I should have highlighted that, I think I meant to allude to it.

I consider that modern fundamentalism began with Darby and Warefield and that Chicago statment and the fives points and all that. That picture of inerrency which they assume to be the "original divine way to read the bible" that didn't exist until the 19th century.

There have always been conservatives, and fanatics. But there have not always been those who cliam to isolte the "fudnatmentals" in five arbitrary pionts and then calim the Bible is inerrent.