Rapid change of religion in the 1800s
In the 1800s, in Latin Christendom itself, Christianity lost its centuries-old place as the dominant religion to a resurgent, exuberant, Olympianity. Christianity no longer provided the self-evident worldview. It no longer told us who God is or about his relationship to us and ours with him. It no longer provided the shared explanation of why things are the way they are. It no longer served as the source of society’s form, culture’s content, and the form and content of our personalities.
Olympianity now did those things. Even people who identified themselves as Christians no longer accepted the Christian worldview as self-evident. They too adopted Olympianity through scientism: the mistaken belief that with some empirical observation and use of logic man may overcome all powers of evil and penalties of sin, master all truth, and control the world for good.
1800s: scientistic challenges to the Christian worldview
Geologists: pre-biblical fossils?
Geologists challenged the Christian worldview. The Bible put the date of Earth’s origin at about 4,000 BC. Geologists started discovering fossils of extinct species they believed had lived considerably earlier.
Zoologists: evolution not instant creation?
Early zoologists came up with the idea of categorizing animals in terms of species. As they did so, the first glimmers of evolutionary theory began. From their point of view, if one species of animal evolved from another, then God could not have created all species instantaneously as told in the creation stories of Genesis.
Darwin: evolution through natural selection?
Charles Darwin (1809-82) published The Origin of Species in 1859. In it he provides scientistic evidence of the evolution of species through natural selection. Charles himself remained a Christian. He continued to affirm God as creator. The growing Olympian nature of his society and culture, however, led him to personally reject a literal interpretation of the creation stories in Genesis as unscientistic and, therefore, false.
Fifth-column scientism: biblical scholarship
Literary scholars first developed methods to explore possible layers of tradition in the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer. Some then applied these same critical methods to the Bible.
This application of scientistic methods of analysis led critics to doubt the historical accuracy of the Bible. In 1835 David Strauss (1808-74), a German theologian, shocked Christendom. In that year, he published The Life of Jesus in which he dismissed all claims about Jesus being divine and Gospel stories of miracles as pious fictions rather than historical facts. In response to public outrage, leaders of the University of Zurich decided to pension David rather than have him begin his new job there as professor of theology.
Feuerbach and later psychologists
In 1841 Ludwig Feuerbach (1807-72), a Germanian philosopher, published Das Wesen des Christentums. Mary Ann Evans (1819-80), better known by her pen name George Eliot, translated Feuerbach’s book into English and it was published as The Essence of Christianity in 1854. In it Feuerbach argues that God is the outward projection of man’s inward nature, needs, and aspirations.
Comparative study of religions
One unexpected impact of European imperial expansion in the 1800s was much greater familiarity with the tremendous variety of religious practices of peoples around the world. The study of these religious practices from very different cultures, without previous contact with one another, led to an awareness that they not only bore remarkable similarities to one another but also to Christianity. People in Christendom began to regard Christianity as less unique and, consequently, less true.
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