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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Studies of eight Canadian fundamentalists Elliott, David Raymond


The fundamentalist movement, which became prominent in North America during the 1920s and 1930s, has often been depicted by scholars as a populist reaction against urbanism, industrialism, immigration, and modern thought. Undoubtedly those elements contributed to the rise of fundamentalism, but fundamentalism must be seen against the broader background of intellectual and ecclesiastical history. Building on the previous works of Ernest R. Sandeen, Bruce Shelley, and George Marsden this study finds the roots of fundamentalism in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century schismatic movements—Quietism, the Plymouth Brethren, Keswick holiness, the Salvation Army, British-Israelism, and pentecostalism—which had structural, intellectual, and behavioural similarities to earlier medieval heresies. The leaders of the above-mentioned schismatic movements and the twentieth-century fundamentalist leaders did not accept ecclesiastical authority. Like medieval heretics they were often charismatic individuals who promoted popular theologies whose major emphases were not part of the creeds of established Protestant churches. Even though fundamentalists had a self-perception of being conservatives, they were far more radical than nineteenth-century theological conservatives. The fundamentalists, to use a phrase used by John Maynard Keynes, operated in an "intellectual underworld." Fundamentalism was dominated by a dualist theology which was influenced by the views of the second-century heretic Marcion, who over-emphasized Pauline theology and rejected the Old Testament, and the third-century heretic Mani, who mixed aspects of Zoroastrianism, Buddhism) and Marcionite Christianity. Some of the fundamentalists even linked themselves with the medieval Cathars or Albigensians and other dualists who were neo-Manichaeans. Fundamentalism can therefore be called neo-Manichaean because of its dualistic theology. Satan was seen as a real personality who could possess individuals physically, control the weather, and cause accidents. Minor incidents were seen in cosmic proportions. Fundamentalists often denied the human personality and sexuality, but those suppressed elements often found expression in bizarre ways. The neo-Manichaen views of the fundamentalists contributed to conspiracy theories and schismatic behaviour. Other features of fundamentalism, such as premillennialism, separatism, and pentecostalism, had their antecedents in the thinking and behaviour of another second-century heretic, Montanus. Fundamentalist leaders were most often "new" men and women. Often they lacked the usual credentials possessed by members of the clergy; usually they did not have university and seminary educations, and frequently they came from family backgrounds where organized religion did not play a great role. Lacking ties with the religious "establishment," the fundamentalists, in their contest with "modernism," frequently turned to popular theology, which had been influenced by medieval heresies. The ideas from this "intellectual underworld" became the controlling features of their theologies. This dissertation examines the intellectual development, careers, theologies, and ideologies of eight Canadian religious sectarians: A.B. Simpson, P.W. Philpott, Aimee Semple McPherson, T.T. Shields, William Aberhart, Clem Davies, L.E. Maxwell, and Oswald J. Smith. The ideas of these sectarians demonstrate the intellectual heterodoxy which characterized fundamentalism. The Keswick holiness movement, the most neo-Manichaean of the networks, seems to have been the largest and had the greatest influence. Fundamentalist leaders were extremely authoritarian. By breaking their followers away from established institutions and forms of thought, the leaders of fundamentalism created a new sub-culture which had a great psychological hold over its adherents. Through their creative use of the modern media and unusual ideas these sectarians were able to attract many away from the mainline churches which had become quite secularized through their promotion of the "national gospel." Simpson, McPherson, Maxwell, and Smith built religious "empires" which had an international influence. Of the eight sectarians studied all, but Aberhart and Davies, had a great impact upon American fundamentalism. Fundamentalism was more than a conservative reaction to modernism; it was a different religion from mainline Christianity. Its ecclesiology, eschatology, hermeneutics, forms of worship, music, and architecture were quite divergent from what had characterized Protestantism.

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