I have sometimes found it challenging to confront the idea some people maintain that religion is a static experience (means of worship, doctrine, governance, etc.). I believe that people who adhere to this strict and inflexible idea operate chiefly from a position of fear. They fear they will lose their perceived truth because this truth is bound principally in their doctrinal and social beliefs. Case in point, what do you say (even as, myself, a Christian) to someone who emphatically believes that the only legitimate translation of scripture is the King James Version? Never mind its inaccessibility to many people or the several errors in translation, it is correct, even truth. Never mind that William Tyndale utilized the “thee, thou” language because it was used among the common man and therefore made scripture more accessible to the masses (why then not strive to translate into an intelligible language to the masses now?). And never mind that this scripture was purportedly God-breathed or inspired (theopneustos)- 2 Timothy 3:16-17– throughout the history of ancient Israel through the Apostolic era into the 1st century AD (although, I imagine an argument could be made here in trying to determine if Paul is only referring to the Hebrew Bible or if we can safely include the New Testament since the established canon of his day was only the Hebrew Bible). Given this information, it must only be fear that would tie a person to this belief, namely, that they perceive some truth in this translation and set of propositions which establish that translation as truth whereby the questioning and subsequent falsifying of that belief would thereby erode and destroy their truth. As a Christian to a Christian in this situation, I would warn them to find truth only in the person of Jesus Christ and not peripheral issues to his nature and person. Forgive my rant (it’s been bugging me for awhile).
Here again, in the city of Chicago, nativism rears its ugly head. Over a period of spellbinding growth, even after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and intense urban and industrialization Protestants felt themselves to be on-the-ropes. Viewing the poor, laboring, and largely Catholic immigrants as immoral by virtue of their lifestyles and backgrounds, they went about seeking to convert them to the true religion and a relationship with Jesus for the betterment of their poor condition and that of the nation as a whole. As a part of this conversion, immigrants (or people new to the country and Chicago) were expected to adopt the gender roles of their WASP ‘saviors’. This necessitated the acceptance of separate male/female spheres of existence in all things including the spiritual. Women were home having and raising babies and, most importantly, inculcating religious, specifically Christian, feeling within their children, ideally for the making of strong male character. It is curious here how women were chiefly invested in raising children of Christian character. This exacerbates the tension between the female spiritual and male material spheres of existence which helped to bring about such intense revivalism and especially revivalism in which men were actively sought as converts.
Revivalism is not a dead concept today. I found it curious to discover something of the origin of the revival concept. Let’s just say that the ‘Third Great Awakening’ revivalism is still alive and well in Floyd County, Virginia (and I’m sure many other rural counties in America). Go to Floyd, drive around and you will quickly come across signs, mostly outside of churches (not all churches but mainly some Baptist, Church of Christ/God, and Pentecostal churches). In the summer you’re especially likely to come find plenty of large white tents for revival gatherings. Oftentimes, these revivals last a week at a time. My first encounter with this intense revivalism came when I was nine or ten years old. My Presbyterian friend Russell and I were invited by our Baptist friend Cayman to his churches Vacation Bible School. We thought nothing of it. Both Russell and I participated actively and regularly in our churches activities including our own Vacation Bible School (which Cayman did not attend although he was invited). We were met with a very aggressive teaching which threw the both of us, despite our age, into concern. We were made to stay late after one class because we did not express an immediate and enthusiastic expression of acceptance when the teacher talked and asked us about Noah’s Ark and Goliath (for some reason, the exact height of Goliath was very important to our salvation). After a few days of this sort of inquiry our parents pulled us from the weeks activities and were saved (no pun intended).
But these sorts of concerns are legitimate to a great many people and have their origin in this period of revivalism. I enjoy watching A&E’s adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster book series staring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. Bertie Wooster (played by Hugh Laurie) is a very wealthy British bachelor who must constantly wrangle out of the machinations of his numerous aunts to see him marry various respectable but peculiar women. In this endeavor, he is aided by his valet (manservant or butler) Jeeves. In short, P.G. Wodehouse has a knack for capturing and satirizing the world of the British aristocracy and it is quite funny. This scene has them in New York City in the 1920s. The elderly woman in the scene has just come from the revival service of a certain Jimmy Mundy and now reviles the vice she encouraged her nephew to pursue previously (skip to minute 4:30):
As a side note, I recently re-watched Disney’s The Lady and the Tramp (1955) and was astounded to note the interlayering of gender, class, and race within the story. This is one of my favorite childhood movies and I had never noted these themes before. Wonderful and terrible all at once. Proof that this class is broadening my horizons and expanding the way in which I view the world and analyze information. Feel free to watch. It’s only 75 minutes long.