The Late Modern Period – 1800 to 1960 – (page in process)
The disaster known as the Sinking of the Titanic occurred on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the “unsinkable” R.M.S. Titanic, the pride and joy of the White Star Line and, at the time, the largest moving object ever built, when it struck an iceberg and sank. She was the most luxurious liner of her era — the “ship of dreams” — which ultimately carried over 1,500 people to their death in the ice cold waters of the North Atlantic in the early hours of April 15, 1912, leaving only 705 survivors. The Sinking serves as a poignant symbol and reminder of the potential cost when humanity places undue pride in its own understanding and accomplishments.
Enlightenment hope ushers in Late Modernism
The 19th Century opened with a burst of hope that the world could be made a better place through the rejection of outmoded rule by monarchy and its replacement with democratic forms of government, a similar rejection of the authority of the Church and religion in general, and allowing the full flowering of man’s presumed innate creativity and genius to lead society in a process of continuously improving progress.
A new, enlightened breed of modern polymaths (“universal men” or individuals whose knowledge spans a significant number of subjects and who are known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems) was emerging in politics, science, literature, and art, a growing cohort tied to the past primarily by their motives to overcome its faults.
Although there were significant differences from country to country and decade to decade, historically punctuated by significant events, setbacks, and discoveries, the underlying trend remained remarkably steady throughout the 19th and well into the 20th Centuries.
Revolution – Paths to Freedom and Independence?
Several seminal personalities, first in France and later in England and other parts of Europe, as well as daring new discoveries and ideas came to the forefront in the 17th Century which, together, began to captivate the imagination of Western Civilization:
United States: After decades of growing tension between the North American colonists and their British oversight through the King of England, Parliament, and appointed governors, strife began to break out in 1775 with strong voices breathing the air of enlightenment thinking calling for independence. Colonial leaders gathered in Philadelphia and ratified a document fashioned primarily by Thomas Jefferson, called the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1776. Several harrowing and bloody years of warfare later, with many evidences of intervention by Divine Providence, Britain conceded defeat and signed the Treaty of Paris releasing the United States from its control and authorizing it to form its own government. General George Washington surrendered his military commission, and the colonies went on to develop the Constitution that continues to guide the new American democracy.
France: He went on to study, write, and develop a dualistic doctrine of mind and matter which led him to question every area of study until he felt he had arrived at a rational explanation, thus shifting the prevailing quest for knowledge from the dominant “what is true” to the new “of what can I be certain?” His approach was adopted by John Locke , expanded upon by David Hume later, and widely adopted. Although Descartes believed in a rational God and remained a nominal Catholic throughout his life, his philosophy clearly separated the subjective action of the human mind from the workings of God, and his writings were placed on a list of “prohibited books” by the Pope in 1666,
In the 18th Century dramatic changes began to take place with the development of mechanization and hydraulic power in what became known as the First Industrial Revolution. Agricultural, transportation, and manufacturing machines powered by water and steam were invented that revolutionized the way the land was tilled, crops gathered, people and supplies moved, and products manufactured. Railroads began to span countries and even continents; steamships plied the seas and waterways; and water-powered textile factories and coal-fired industrial plants flooded the market with machine-fabricated consumer goods. In response to population growth and the changes of industrialization, people began to migrate from farms to large urban areas where factory jobs were opening up.
This was followed a century later by the Second Industrial Revolution which employed new sources of fossil fuel and electric power, greatly accelerating the first revolution and adding physical illumination and rapid communication throughout the developed world. As the 20th Century unfolded, electronics opened up wireless communication that promised to turn the world into a vast interconnected community.
This Library of Congress tintype shows Sgt. Andrew Martin Chandler of the 44th Mississippi Regiment (left) and Silas Chandler, circa 1861, in an enigmatic Civil War photo of a white man and a black slave, both in Confederate uniforms.
The Theory of Evolution
While religious unrest and Enlightenment thinking were stirring through Europe, something somewhat different was happening in the growing American colonies across the Atlantic. In marked distinction from the early explorers of the New World, especially those in South and Central America, who had primarily been motivated by the mercantile and Catholic imperial ends of their Portuguese and Spanish sponsors, those who came to the more north central Atlantic shores of America from Jamestown to Plymouth were primarily motivated by religious ideals.
The heritage that Americans have owned for centuries traces back to born-again Protestant Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated (over 70,000 in the 1630s alone) to escape religious persecution in Europe and establish a new, more godly society in the New World based on their faith. Down the coast in Jamestown an English settlement of confessed members of the traditional Anglican Church was established. Afterwards similar Irish, German, and Dutch colonists came. Sadly, the first African slaves were brought in 1619.
Slavery and Civil War
In the beginning, Portugal and Spain (see previous page), inspired by commercial zeal, were primarily interested in overseas trade to the Americas and Philippines. With few exceptions, they managed to avoid developing significant colonial populations.
By contrast, as competition heated up in the 17th century the English, French and Dutch pressed forward and established colonies, initially in neighboring regions along the North American Atlantic coast between the French possessions in modern Canada and the Spanish claims in the South.
As time and exploration advanced, the early imperial empires lost their cohesion. The British won against their French rival in North America and India, against the Dutch in Southeast Asia and against the Spanish in South America. Although the U.S. gained independence from England, British supremacy was maintained in India, South Africa, and especially on the seas with the almost peerless Royal Navy and modern free trade.
20th Century Disasters
Although Enlightenment philosophers and “luminaries” (if we may use that term) presented a veritable smorgasbord of ideas about human “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” there are four (all illuminated by the light of the first) that may serve to summarize the intellectual and social movement that resulted, a movement which is very active to this very day:
- World War I and the Russian Revolution: The power of human reason alone (homo solus) can explain the world and lead to right and moral answers in the absence of any active participation of God in the affairs of mankind. Belief in God is optional at best and destructive at worst.
- The Holocaust and World War II: The law-like order of the natural world, presumed to be established by a rational but distant Creator or seemingly rational creative process. Anything natural was deemed to be intrinsically good, true, and reasonable. Inclusion, diversity, toleration.
- The Korean War and Cold War: The “natural rights” of individuals, including the right to self government and the freedom from legal constraint to pursue happiness in any way that can be naturally justified. Liberalism and equality.
Post War Hopes
League of Nations: In Europe, Enlightenment thinking had become more and more dominant and was now beginning to suffuse into American culture.
Communist Revolutions: In the early 18th Century a strong current of revival started in New England and began to spread throughout the Colonies leading to what came to be known as “The Great Awakening.” Under the spiritual influence mediated by passionate and persuasive preachers like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and many others, multitudes of colonists became aware of and began to confess and turn away from their keenly perceived lack of gratitude and spiritual failings.
The Birth of Israel: The ranks of churches swelled, alcoholism and domestic strife subsided, and communities rose to higher levels of piety, peace, and harmony.
The effect of Enlightenment thinking was more pronounced in Europe than it was in the American Colonies. However, by the end of the 18th Century there were several prominent leaders in America who identified with the Enlightenment, most notably Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Enlightenment Deism, which confessed belief in an absent creator God who was not active in the affairs of man, permeated their worldview and many of the founding documents of our nation, especially the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson even produced an edited version of the Bible with all references to the miracles of Jesus or the divinity of Christ removed.
How did the God of the universe respond to this challenge? Gently, patiently, and with a plan that can be discerned more clearly in retrospect. He allowed His more devoted followers to be persecuted in Europe, then guided them in huge numbers to the shores of the New World where He helped them set up a society in America that was open to carrying the Gospel (“good news”) message to the world. Then, when their insight and commitment began to wane, He poured out His Spirit and brought waves of Awakening.
“The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom rules over all.” Psalm 103:19
Look below and you’ll notice Up and Down buttons in the middle. Using these buttons you can navigate directly through our timelines. For each timeline we will take a detailed tour using the outside buttons to investigate historical events and people noted on the current chart (the preferred route, especially for your early visits to our website). Our Chart 7 tour is allowing us to look more closely at the spread of the Gospel, and the establishment, expansion, and various movements in the Church in the centuries leading up to where we are now. Our next stop will allow us to examine, in the light of the past, the Postmodern world we’ve been living in since about 1960.