07/06/07 - fundamental and pentecostal

In today's excerpt - the origins and lightning spread in America of fundamentalism and Pentecostalism, just as some are predicting the demise of religion. They both emerge in the early twentieth century in reaction to a world grappling with the slaughter of World War I, the accelerating pace of the Industrial Revolution, the theory of evolution,  a new religious liberalism and unease with new waves of Catholic and Jewish immigrants:

"Between 1910 and 1915, [oil millionaires Lyman and Milton Stewart] issued a series of twelve paperback pamphlets entitled The Fundamentals, in which leading conservative theologians gave accessible accounts of such doctrines as the Trinity ... and stressed the importance of spreading the truth of the Gospel. Some three million copies of each of the twelve volumes were dispatched free, of charge to every pastor, professor and theology student in America. ...

"[D]uring the Great War, an element of terror entered conservative Protestantism, and it became fundamentalist. ... The horrific slaughter, they decided, was on such a scale that it could only be the beginning of the End. These must be the battles foretold in the Book of Revelation. ...

"In August of 1917, William Bell Riley [and] ... one of the editors of The Fundamentals ... held a massive conference in Philadelphia [to promote literal interpretation of scripture], attended by six thousand conservative Christians from all the Protestant denominations, and formally established the World's Christian Fundamentals Association (WCFA). Immediately afterwards, Riley escorted fourteen speakers on a superbly organized tour of the United States, which visited eighteen cities. ... The response to the fundamentalist speakers was so enthusiastic that Riley believed that he had launched a new Reformation.. ...

"At the same time ... the Pentecostalists were creating a 'postmodern' vision that represented a grassroots rejection of rational modernity ... returning to an even more fundamental level: the nub of raw religiosity that exists beneath the credal formulations of a faith.

"The first group of Pentecostalists had experienced the Spirit in a tiny house in Los Angeles on April 9, 1906. The leader of the group was William Joseph Seymour (1870-1915) ... who had long been searching for a more immediate and uninhibited type of religion than was possible in the more formal white Protestant denominations. By 1900, he had converted to Holiness spirituality, which believed that, as the prophet Joel had fortold, the gifts of healing, ecstasy, tongues, and prophecy ... would be restored to the people of God immediately before the Last Days. When Seymour and his friends experienced the Spirit, the news spread like wildfire. Crowds of African Americans and disadvantaged whites poured into his next service in such huge numbers that they had to move to an old warehouse on Azusa Street. Within four years, there were hundreds of Pentecostal groups all over the United States and the movement had spread to fifty countries."


Karen Armstrong


The Battle For God: A History of Fundamentalism


A Ballantine Book by The Random House Publishing Group


Copyright 2000 by Karen Armstrong


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