Christianity and Christian Fundamentalism in Literature Analysis


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Christianity is the religion that focuses on Jesus Christ as Savior to all followers. There are three primary divisions in the Christian religion, which are the Roman Catholic church, the Protestant churches, and the Holy Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Eastern church. All of these three divisions practice various rituals and beliefs, but as a whole, the followers of Christianity adhere to three basic elements of faith. The first element is that a story is told, which is the Gospel. The Gospel details and narrates the events and various aspects of Jesus’ life and teaching. The second element is doctrine, which followers accept as stemming from the belief that Jesus is God. Third, followers use Jesus’ life as an example for their own lives.

Christianity relies on God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as divine forces who guide their followers’ lives by emphasizing virtues such as patience, forgiveness, and love. Christians believe that perfection and happiness are found through God’s love. Christianity also strives toward universalism in that the followers and teachers of the religion and the Gospel act as witnesses, or examples for others, and in that way they spread the Gospel. Christianity seeks converts. It is unnecessary to point out how essential the written mode of communication is in spreading information to readers. Christianity is often found in literature for the objective of spreading knowledge of the religion. Christianity came...

(The entire section is 519 words.)

Christian Fundamentalism

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Fundamentalists are Christians who follow the fundamental aspects of faith. The movement of Fundamentalism is a reaction against other movements that criticize the Bible (that is, treat it more as a historical document than as the revealed Word of God) and that stress a rational, objective approach to Christianity. Revelations coming from research in astronomy, geology, and evolution led to the widespread belief among Christians that the Bible is not always literally true. Fundamentalists believe that it is. Fundamentalists vehemently oppose the modern critical approach to religion, doctrine, and Scripture.

The primary articles of Fundamentalist faith, dating from the beginning of the twentieth century and still followed as a general rule, are that Jesus Christ is God, that he was born of a virgin (Mary), that he died on the cross for all followers’ sins, that he was resurrected from the dead, and that he will return again in bodily form. The Trinity, or concept of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as one composition of God, is another belief. The existence of Satan is acknowledged, as is the original sin of Adam and Eve. Salvation through grace and baptism is another commonly held belief. Most central to these beliefs, however, is that all final authority for faith lies in the Bible. To Fundamentalists, the Bible provides the answers to all questions. The examples of Jesus’ work and the lives in the Bible are to be used and embodied in one’s...

(The entire section is 459 words.)

Important Works

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

In American literature, Christianity and Christian Fundamentalism are widespread themes, especially in early American literature. In the early 1600’s, John Winthrop was an influential writer. His work of 1630 (the year of his arrival in America), entitled A Model of Christian Charity, is of lasting importance in American history and religion. The work clearly sets out the ideals of a harmonious Christian community. Cotton Mather referred to Winthrop as the embodiment of a perfect earthly ruler.

William Bradford wrote a Puritan work entitled History of Plymouth Plantation, which was published in 1856. It relates events to 1646. This work details the Reformation in England and describes the oppression the Puritans suffered after their break from the Anglican church. This work provides an example of the questioning of religion that was taking place in the 1600’s.

Michael Wigglesworth saw in his own day unfortunate occurrences and, considering the approach of Judgment Day and the Second Coming of Christ, wrote a poem, “The Day of Doom” (1662). He gives examples from the Scripture as answers to his questions of religion and the motives of God. As Fundamentalists believe strongly in the Second Coming, they also use the Scripture as a reliable reference.

Mary Rowlandson, a Puritan woman, was captured by Indians in 1675 on one of the Indian chief Metacomet’s raids. She was held captive for almost eight weeks. After her release she wrote an account of the captivity. This was published in 1682 as Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, and she revealed her heavy...

(The entire section is 678 words.)

Nathaniel Hawthorne

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Another great voice of Christianity in American literature, if not the greatest, is Nathaniel Hawthorne. In his short stories and in a more famous novel, The Scarlet Letter (1850), Hawthorne depicts the Puritan ethos. Perhaps the most recognizable short story dealing with the topic of religious faith is his “Young Goodman Brown.” The main character’s faith in God is questioned when he faces realizations concerning corruption and hypocrisy in a supposedly perfect church. Hawthorne never gives an answer or solution to the issue. People of Hawthorne’s time were immersed in doubt, speculation, suspicion, and disillusionment. Yet, he contributed to the view that answers must be sought, or like Goodman Brown, people will live out bitter and spiritually empty lives. Another short story, “The Minister’s Black Veil,” questions not those involved in positions within the church but those of the congregation. Hawthorne challenges his readers to avoid becoming Reverend Hooper’s congregation by removing their own superficial veils and allowing religion into their lives.

From Hawthorne’s writings, there is a gap in American literary history in which there were no major writings concerned with Christianity. Most of the writings addressed social issues apart from religion. This is significant because the steady strong line between religious devotion and the socially aware individual has been bent or in some cases, completely severed. Wallace Stevens, in the twentieth century, revealed the transition across this line. He began writing when popular religious poetry was losing popularity. He embraced a modernist ideology and his new faith shows especially in his later poems. In his poem “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman,” he criticizes her rigid Christian Fundamentalist views, showing how the woman is so restricted in her beliefs and her views that she winces at even winking her eye. The winking of her eye would mean looking out the windows and acknowledging the modernist challenge, and she, as the Fundamentalist, simply cannot wink. Stevens wrote this during the height of the Fundamentalist debate leading to the trial in 1925. Since that time, many essays and nonfiction books have been written in American literature, discussing all sides of both movements.

Finding Identity

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

An individual looking for identity, specifically religious identity, can easily go to the great works and eras of American history and find perhaps what best suits that individual. A survey of Christianity and Fundamentalism in literature provides an educated, intellectual, and broad knowledge of the identities of believers, followers, and those in opposition of religious faith and doctrine from the time of the Roman Empire to present. The role that religion has played in history is primary. Ages have been shaped and identities have been found through eras of strong religious devotion, of questioning and unrest, and of religious resistance. The most important mode of communication for this world, the written word, continues to provide a source of religious and social history, as well as a source for an individual’s search for religious identity and existence. American literature depicts all identities on both sides of the religious debate, so that future generations may draw on them in pursuit of their own.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Evans, Rod L., and Irwin M. Berent. Fundamentalism: Hazards and Heartbreaks. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1988. Defines Fundamentalism, presents the movements challenging Fundamentalism, various interpretations of the Bible, and includes bibliography.

Levine, Lawrence W. Defender of the Faith: William Jennings Bryan—The Last Decade, 1915-1925. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965. Chronicles the political and religious life of Bryan, and his active involvement in the Fundamentalist debate.

Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicals, 1870-1925. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. Discusses American status before Fundamentalism, the debate, Christianity and culture, and interpretations.

Novak, Philip. The World’s Wisdom. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. Introduction to the world’s religions and each religion’s sacred texts.

Williams, Paul J. What Americans Believe and How They Worship. Rev. ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1962. Survey of the Christian church and all denominations, innovations, and movements. Also includes a survey of the role of religion in shaping American identity.