Another religious movement that was diametrically opposed to evangelicalism emerged in the eighteenth century. Upper-class Americans embraced Deism, which stressed morality while rejecting the traditional Christian concept of Christ's divinity. They took inspiration from the works of Enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire and Thomas Jefferson.
In Europe, Christianity was on the decline. Many people believed that God was no longer involved in human affairs. Others believed in a god but not the Christian one. The only sure thing was that they did not believe in Satan or Hell.
During this time, there were two main types of churches in America. The first were independent churches that didn't have any type of formal organization other than their local congregation. The second were presbyterian churches. These churches were organized into regional boards called presbyteries. Each member of the church belonged to a particular parish within the jurisdiction of the presiding elder. Elders were elected by their peers and served for three years. They could be re-elected indefinitely. Sometimes an individual parish would send more than one representative to Congress, so multiple elders might serve in an election year.
Independents and Presbyterians shared many beliefs including rejection of infant baptism, communion under both kinds and bread and wine, prayers before meetings, the importance of education for children, and the need for civil authority during worship.
Say it aloud: "Pause." Evangelical revivals in various mostly Protestant nations, as well as the impact of contemporary Biblical studies on churches, were features of Christianity in the nineteenth century. In Europe, there was a broad movement toward secularism, away from religious observance and belief in Christian doctrines. At the same time, many people came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah predicted by Judaism; they just didn't know who he was until later. Jesus' birth date is usually given as December 25, but some Christians have believed other dates are possible.
These developments affected how people viewed religion in general and Christianity in particular. They also had an impact on what we now call Christianity's "world view" or "theology," i.e., its understanding of God and human nature. In addition, we can say that religion changed in the nineteenth century because certain beliefs and practices that were once part of all religions but were eventually confined to Christianity became popular for the first time. For example, prayer meetings for spiritual guidance began in England around 1730 and were soon adopted by other Christians throughout the world. Such meetings are now important elements in many forms of Christianity, including evangelicalism.
Prayer has always been important in Christianity. The Bible is full of prayers from both Jews and Christians. But it was not until the nineteenth century that prayer meetings came into widespread use among Protestants in England.
Why were fundamentalist religions feeling threatened in the 1920s? Religion appeared to have no place in the secular culture of the time, and church attendance was declining. Many people felt that religion had been the reason for many social ills throughout history, from wars to poverty. They believed that religious teachings were responsible for justifying these actions. People no longer saw a need for religion to play a role in their daily lives.
Fundamentalist religions reacted to this situation by trying to return to what they considered the true meaning of their beliefs. They wanted to remove religion from any involvement with government, and return it to where it belonged: in the private life of individuals. These movements are known as "fundamentalism."
Some examples of fundamentalisms include the Religious Right in the United States, the Christian Coalition in Britain, and the New Christianity in China. All of these movements want to restore traditional values to society at large, often through political action.
People around the world were not only losing interest in religion, but also in learning languages. In the 1920s, most schools across Europe began teaching languages as a subject, because students were expected to be able to read and write letters from home. This ended up being very difficult for many young people because they were not learning English or other foreign languages.
The 1920s saw a significant religious resurgence among conservative Christians as a result of social developments. They were opposed to the impact of movies and jazz, as well as the changing way women dressed and acted. A widening chasm existed between contemporary metropolitan culture and more traditional rural communities. Religion provided a means for people to try to reconcile their beliefs with these new ways of thinking.
In the United States, most people identified themselves as Christian, but many religions were practiced within its borders. Catholics accounted for one-third of the population but only one Catholic in five attended church regularly. Protestants accounted for almost half the population but few of them went to church regularly. Non-religious persons made up about 20 percent of the population. Among adults, belief in God rose from 88 to 93 percent while attendance at worship services fell from 83 to 7 percent.
Religion played a major role in public life. The president was required by law to be a citizen of the United States and a believer in God. All states required their residents to attend some form of worship and many prohibited certain forms of labor on Sunday.
In 1920, there were approximately 100,000 priests working in the Roman Catholic Church. Half of them were over 50 years old. The majority of priests received no medical care through the Social Security system. If they became sick or injured they could either pay for private health insurance or rely on their parish for financial assistance.