This all was heresy to a group of conservative ministers who condemned church leaders and urged the rank and pew laity to return to what they saw as the fundamentals of orthodox Protestant belief.
From 1910 to 1915 these reactionary theologians published articles on what they saw as the fundamentals of Christianity. Thus they became known as the fundamentalists. Among their beliefs was the idea that the Bible was never in error and was to be read literally, not as metaphor.
While rejecting Calvinist ideas of predestination and the Elect, fundamentalists sought to restore many orthodox Calvinist tenets--thus they embraced the idea that man was born in sin and thus needed punishment, shame, and discipline to correct sinful tendencies. Some who opposed what they saw as the liberal and progressive ideas of the mainstream and mainline Protestant churches decided not to go as far as the Fundamentalists, and so they retained the identification of being evangelicals (Ammerman; Marsden 1982, 1991; Martin). Fundamentalists, therefore, are evangelicals with a more doctrinaire and aggressive approach to battling secularists and religious liberals. As Marsden quips, "A fundamentalist is an evangelical who is mad about something," and yet both evangelicals and fundamentalists are "strikingly diverse" (1991: 1-2).
Protestant evangelicals and fundamentalists have historically connected apocalyptic prophecies in the Bible's book of Revelation to current political and social events (Boyer; Fuller). Robert C. Fuller notes that trying to match real life political figures with the evil Antichrist (prophesied as the sidekick of Satan in Revelation) became something of an "American obsession" in certain circles. This is especially true among those who embrace premillennial dispensationalism as their view of the End Times timetable. The rise of communism and anarchism during the post WWI period were easily viewed through the lens of a conspiratorial version of apocalyptic belief and was woven into the developing beliefs of premillennial fundamentalists. Liberalism and radicalism were not just heresies--they were part of a conspiracy against God.
According to Frank Donner:
"Bolshevism came to be identified over wide areas of the country by God-fearing Americans as the Antichrist come to do eschatological battle with the children of light," as prophesied in Revelation. Although based in Christianity, this apocalyptic anticommunist worldview developed a "slightly secularized version," explains Donner, and it was "widely-shared in rural and small-town America, postulated a doomsday conflict between decent upright folk and radicalism--alien, satanic, immorality incarnate (Donner: 47-48)"
One skirmish against this cosmic battle against alien and secular ideas was aimed against science--especially Darwin's theory of evolution--with "creationism" becoming a major cause for fundamentalists in the 1920s
Evangelicals and fundamentalists, however, received such bad press during and after the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial" that many of them withdrew from direct political and social involvement, building a separate subculture that lasted until the Cold War.
Michael Cromartie explains:
"For several decades, from roughly 1925 until the end of World War Two, a large sector of conservative Protestant social thought was influenced by a pessimistic form of eschatology and a pietistic individualism that looked with disdain on efforts to improve social conditions and political structures. These conservative Protestants had originally believed that the process of secularization was simply irreversible; this pessimism was reinforced by their pre-millennial theology. Some simply suffered from over-heated eschatological [End Times] expectations (Cromartie).
Leo P. Ribuffo has studied "The Old Christian Right" that flourished between WWI and WWII. He pays special attention to the influence of apocalyptic Biblical prophecy on the leaders of the Protestant "Far Right" such as William Dudley Pelley, Gerald B. Winrod, and Gerald L. K. Smith (Ribuffo: 2-24, 58-72, 83-116, 175-177). While these men all ended up on the political fringe, some of their ideas gained a wide following. In the 1930s and 1940s, a significant number of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists saw President Roosevelt and other "modernists" not only as moving inexorably toward collectivism, but also sliding down "a slippery slope from liberalism to atheism, nudism, and Communism" (Ribuffo: 110).
A large number of evangelicals and fundamentalists were highly critical and suspicious of the social reforms implemented during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. Liberals were widely seen as paving the road to communism as part of a vast conspiracy. Government welfare programs could be pictured as similar to the collectivism of Godless and perhaps Satanic Soviet communism.
Although fundamentalists and evangelicals tended to withdraw from the political fray, devoting most of their energy to inwardly-directed religious observance, they challenged modern ideas using such modern tools as radio and later television to communicate their message. Fundamentalists and evangelicals never went away. They lived within their own subcultures, saving souls, and watching for the signs of the times by matching current events to Biblical prophecies. To them, the social safety net and the welfare state were just more evidence that America was going to Hell.
Ammerman, Nancy T. 1991. "North American Protestant Fundamentalism." In Fundamentalisms Observed, The Fundamentalism Project 1, eds., Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, pp. 1-65. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Cromartie, Michael. 2000. "Religious Conservatives in American Politics 1980-2000: An Assessment."
Donner, Frank J. (1980). The Age of Surveillance: The Aims and Methods of America's Political Intelligence System. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Fuller, Robert C. (1995). Naming the Antichrist: The History of an American Obsession. New York: Oxford University Press.
Marsden, George M. (1982). Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925. New York: Oxford University Press.
Marsden, George M. (1991). Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Martin, William. 1996. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. New York: Broadway Books.
Ribuffo, Leo P. 1983. The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
God, Calvin, and Social Welfare: A Series
Part One: Coalitions
Part Two: Calvinist Settlers
Part Three: Roots of the Social Welfare Debate
Part Four: Apocalypse and Social Welfare
Part Five: Fundamentals, Prophecies, and Conspiracies
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