Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 530
The movement began in the early 1900’s, in reaction to a time in which even clergy and those in other respected religious positions and offices began to question the text of the Bible and some of its doctrines. This allowed for a historical study of the Bible and prompted more questioning brought on by modern knowledge and thought. Many of these Fundamentalists became quite vigorous in denouncing this historical examination of aspects of the Christian belief system and went so far as to have the clergymen and theologians who embraced the criticism dismissed from their positions.
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The popularity of Christian Fundamentalism flourished in the early twentieth century. About this time, Fundamentalism was beginning to be taught in schools so that the young people of the country would be prepared to resist modern temptations and defend Christianity, its doctrines, Scripture, and Fundamentalism. One institution of this type of teaching was the Los Angeles Bible Institute. As the retaliation against modern thought took a forceful role in Fundamentalism, the secular world retaliated when Fundamentalists went so far as to try to pass legislation that would forbid the teaching of evolution in the schools. In addition to some Southern states and border states, Tennessee passed such laws. A trial took place in 1925 in which high school teacher John Thomas Scopes was convicted (later acquitted on a technicality) of teaching evolution. Orator and politician William Jennings Bryan acted as a prosecuting attorney at the trial. Bryan became known as a defender of the faith. He was one of the most active and fervent supporters of the Fundamentalist movement and gave many speeches and wrote many tracts defending the Fundamentalist position.
Bryan believed that God was his divine Savior and that the Bible was irrefutably the Word of God. Already a political public figure, it is natural that he verbally denounced the modernism that challenged his own personal belief system. He failed, however, at being a credible expert on the Fundamentalist side. During the trial in 1925, a defense attorney named Clarence Darrow verbally bested Bryan and revealed in the courtroom that Bryan was not as knowledgeable in the points of Fundamentalism as was generally thought. It is reasonable that this embarrassment not only contributed to Bryan’s death shortly after the trial, but also to the decline of the Fundamentalist movement in the 1930’s.
Continuing acceptance of scientific theory by the Christian American public caused the movement to lose its momentum. The movement revived again when faced with two new theological movements, ecumenicity and neo-orthodoxy. Ecumenicity is a movement in which a better understanding of all religions and faiths around the world is prompted, along with a unification of Christian churches. Neo-orthodoxy is a movement in Protestantism that stresses the traditional doctrines of the Reformation, which in turn are against the doctrines of Fundamentalism. Resistance to these two movements began in the 1940’s. Since this time, a number of associations have been developed, such as the American Council of Christian Churches and the National Association of Evangelicals. In 1948, an international Fundamentalist group was also formed. The Fundamentalist movement is still in existence and promises to remain a part of America’s social and religious landscape.