To understand what the Fundamentalists were reacting to, you need to know where liberal Christianity came from. Finding the roots of any philosophy always comes with the danger of not starting early enough in history, but you have to start somewhere. A good place would be the end of the “Dark Ages” because it was then that scholars started to more freely comment on the Bible.
The Italian scholar Petrarch coined the term “Dark Ages” in the 14th century when he noted the lack of Latin literature over the preceding centuries. The name came to also denote the lack of historians and of any decent architecture. This was primarily a European phenomena as
in Iraq and Cordoba
If you look at lists of important writing through European history, you will see a huge gap after the Greeks, then Erasmus. He wrote of free will and religious tolerance, those were radical ideas in his time. He wrote of the need for church reform, as did Martin Luther, but Erasmus wrote in Latin and was less partisan than Luther. He did not gain as many followers. This is unfortunate as Luther was less tolerant of other religions and his Lutheran party became increasingly violent, something the scholar Erasmus wanted to avoid.
Fighting over who should be able to interpret the Bible and how, led to war. Catholics were reading mass in ancient languages and telling the congregation what it meant and Luther and others believed the scripture alone should be one’s guide. This was known as Sola Scriptura. This led to wars. At the Peace of
Augsburg in 1555, part of the
treaty stipulated that princes within the Holy Roman
Empire could select either Lutheranism or Catholicism as their
official religion. (Thank you oh wise Prince for selecting for me from so many
choices). Later in that century, John Calvin entered the debate with another
form of Christianity. Relative peace was maintained until 1618, the beginning
of the 30 Years War.
Noteworthy, during this time, were the trials of Giordano Bruno and Galileo. Bruno’s ideas were less scientific than Galileo’s, but they were still considered wrong strictly based on dogma, not on a review of his scientific accuracy. Some consider the trial of Galileo more of a political one rather than anti-scientific, due to the pressure on the Roman Catholic Church from the emerging Christian sects. They may have wanted to demonstrate their resolve to remain dogmatic. Also at this time, one of the largest monarchies of the
Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburg family,
was allowing their subjects to choose how they practiced Christianity, further upsetting the Vatican. Notably,
near the end of this war, Descartes published his famous works, stating, “I
think, therefore I am”. He is considered the father of modern philosophy.
Finally, when the 30 Years War ended, The Peace at
Westphalia stated that Christians had the right to
practice their faith publicly under any denomination (any Christian one of
course). Pope Innocent X called the treaty null and void, but his powers were
diminished. This was the beginning of modern international law, ending the
Soon, critiques of the Bible were openly discussed. Scholars began to notice errors and discrepancies. This became known as Higher Criticism. It is not criticism as in "criticizing", but a search for the true meaning of the text. Also about this time was the earliest written statement that the Bible was inerrant. I don’t think the statement came so late because it was a new idea, so much as it was the first time that anyone felt the need to write it down and make an explicit rule for their denomination. Simply saying the Bible is the word of God had been sufficient up until then, in my opinion.
Eventually, this led to the idea that the Bible is just another document. True spirituality comes from the individual’s soul.
You might also notice that Isaac Newton was born near the end of The 30 Years War and his scientific breakthroughs were nurtured by the newly formed Royal Society. The society performed experiments, published their results and reviewed the works of their members. They repeated each other’s experiments and compared results. If someone refuted another’s ideas, evidence was required to back up what they said. In other words, modern science was taking off.
This leads us up to Charles Darwin and to where we were in the first of this series. The only question left is how did the Roman Catholic Church come to dominate
Europe for 1,000
years? To the point wars had to be fought just for the right to go to the
church of your choice. Today, most of the world considers that wrong. So, was
the RCC right about their theology? So right that they should demand everyone
follow them, lest we all burn in hell? If not, then what is right? Were the
Lutherans or Calvinists right to start a war over their ideas? These questions
seem almost silly today, but they dominated European history.
In the last of the series, I’ll look at how this idea of dogma, of one true God, took over all other philosophies.
First in the series
First in the series