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A Public Service Message trom the American Income Life Insurance Co.Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Fundamentalism in Religion BY RALPH L. LYNN It is tempting but no doubt a mistake to think that people are born either fundamentalist or modernist. In any case, whether the subject is religion, economics, or politics, we seem to find plenty of each at any stage in history. The focus here is on religious fundamentalism. Any discussion of it should be preceded by a bit of definition and history. Fundamentalism in religion seems to be a defensive reaction to the challenges of the new, the strange, the threatening. It is a defensive reaction against modernity in general. Faced with modernity, the frightened faithful pull their ideological wagons into a circle and throw up a barrage of unexamined beliefs and uncriticized custom. Prompted by the current resurgence of fundamentalism in religion, Professor Nancy Ammerman of Emory University recently spent nearly a year as a working member of a fundamentalism church while openly studying the church and its members as part of her doctoral program. Her book is called Bible Believers: Fundamentalists in the Modern World \(Rutgers University She says that religious fundamentalism in the United States began in centers like New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Boston about 1870. In view of the definition of fundamentalism, it is not unexpected that the period around 1870 saw the emergence of disturbing developments including the phenomenal growth of cities, the impact of the new industrial establishments, the challenges posed by the advent of masses of Jews and Catholics from Europe, and the challenges posed by the work of Darwin and Marx. In the midst of these destabilizing influences, many frightened faithful set the pattern for succeeding waves of fundamentalists: they sought peace of mind by adopting a rigid pre-scientific view of the world. In addition to the usual fundamentalist literal interpretation of the Bible as being “inerrant” in scientific as well as in spiritual matters, these frightened people adopted the idea that the world would grow steadily worse until the second coming of Jesus. This is called premillenialism. They also made much use of some obscure verses in the New Testament which they interpreted to mean that, with the second coming, the “born again” then living would be “raptured.” This means that, at the second coming, these saved ones would rise to meet Jesus in the sky, leaving the sinners all agape. They also made much of the separation of the saved from the world about them. The church in which Professor Ammerman did her work began by separating from another fundamentalist church which was allowing its members quite unrebuked to attend the movies. Two questions remain. Why has the current fundamentalist movement among Southern Baptists been so successful? And why did fundamentalism arrive so late in the South? In all probability, the success of the current movement is possible only because of television and the use of modern methods of organizing and mobilizing forces. Television, with its calm acceptance of the reality of Darwinian evolution and its programs which flout traditional moral standards, has frightened masses of people with its endless invasion of living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchens. And television as used by demagogic fundamentalist preachers has enabled them to spread their ideas among these frightened masses. A final reason for the current spread of fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist denomination: the promoters have adopted the most sophisticated political methods to mobilize their supporters. Obviously the movement came late to the South because the South was not exposed to the nineteenth century developments which so frightened their predecessors in the North. Those developments had not yet so completely penetrated the South even in the twenties and thirties of the current century when the Southern Baptist suffered a relatively anemic attack of fundamentalism. But World War II and the subsequent industrialization of the South have brought to bear a thousand alien forces and ideas which have frightened some Southerners far more than the late nineteenth century changes frightened some Northerners. This late arrival of fundamentalism in the South has a result which is unfortunate for the fundamentalists. This is the advance of scholarship. In the late nineteenth century, scholarship was still primitive enough that academically respectable professors at the Princeton Theological Seminary undertook a “scholarly defense of inerrancy.” Nothing of this sort now seems possible. Ralph L. Lynn is Professor Emeritus of History, Baylor University. American Income Life Insurance Company EXECUTIVE OFFICES: P.O. BOX 208, WACO, TEXAS 78703. 817-772-3050 BERNARD RAPOPORT Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer 18 FEBRUARY 24, 1989