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The Late Modern Period – 1800 to 1960 – (page in progress)

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. It was widely believed that this dramatic change in governance, accompanied by a similar rejection of the authority of the Church and religion in general, would allow 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 (individuals whose knowledge spans a significant number of subjects and who are known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems, otherwise known as “universal men”) was emerging in politics, science, literature, and art. This growing cohort was tied to the past primarily by their motives to overcome its faults.

Although there were substantial differences from country to country and decade to decade, historically punctuated by significant events, setbacks, and discoveries, the underlying trend toward self-government and separation of Church and State remained remarkably steady throughout the 19th and well into the 20th Centuries in the West. It appears that Enlightenment thinking did not penetrate as deeply into Africa, Asia, or the Arabic nations, however, which maintained their customary forms of social organization, often guided by alternative religious worldviews including tribal beliefs, Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam.

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 on July 4, 1776 and ratified an historic document called the Declaration of Independence which had been fashioned primarily by Thomas Jefferson. 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 at the close of the Revolutionary War, and the colonies went on to develop  and ratify a Constitution in 1789 that continues to guide the new but now aging American democracy. However, ten short years later at the close of the 18th Century in 1798, President John Adams issued the following warning, which has carried down through the decades since then and rings more true now than ever:

While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world: while the [country] continues sincere and incapable of insidious and impious policy: we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America, once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practicing Iniquity and extravagance; and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity while it is rioting in rapine and Insolence: this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world. Because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

France: On the European continent in France where Enlightenment thinking had taken such a firm hold, the American Revolution served as a stimulus for the populace to cast off the bonds of their king, Louis XVII. In an attempt to stave off revolution, Louis gathered a semi-democratic governing coalition in January 1789 called the Estates General, which included representatives of the clergy, nobility, and commoners. When this failed, the French Revolution broke out with the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 and issuance of the foundational “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” the following month.

Although Louis XVII struggled to maintain a working coalition of power with concessions that broke the hold of the nobility and clergy, he was overcome when the palace was stormed by Parisians in 1792 in the midst of divisive wars with Austria and Prussia. The French monarchy was abolished, a French Republic declared, and Louis XVII and his wife Marie Antoinette were charged with treason by the new National Convention and beheaded the following year. The situation in France was then further complicated by internal divisions within the revolution which resulted in the 1794 execution of Maximilien Robespierre, a passionate French revolutionary leader and Deist visionary who had been instrumental in leading the Paris Commune, establishing the French Republic, and guiding the notorious “Reign of Terror” that followed.

France’s path to democracy was much more fraught with difficulty than that of their American counterparts, a situation that was probably exacerbated by the fact that their revolution involved changing an entire culture rather than separating from a colonial authority an ocean away. Another factor undoubtedly was that the American colonies had initially been founded by religious minorities seeking freedom while France had a long history with the Church of Rome and its claims and hierarchy. Be that as it may, while Americans have enjoyed the political and institutional stability of the “one and indivisible Republic” for over 200 years, the French since 1789 have experienced a succession of short-lived regimes: a Directoire, a consulate, two empires, two monarchies, and five republics, as well as the Vichy regime during World War II.


The Second Great Awakening, 1790-1870

As the 18th Century was drawing to a close, another widespread Christian revival movement began in Kentucky and Tennessee and gained breadth and momentum throughout the first half of the 19th Century, especially among Baptist and Methodist congregations whose preachers led the movement. By the time the Civil War broke out the movement had begun to decline, even though its adherents played a significant role in the abolitionist movement that culminated in the War. Millions of new believers in Christ were added to churches and a number of new denominations were formed. Many have viewed its emergence as a reaction against the rise of skepticism, deism, and immoral attitudes and behavior in the new Republic that the established Christian churches appeared to be impotent against.

A motivating belief underlying the Second Great Awakening was that every person could be “awakened” and saved or “revived” through contrition, repentance, and conversion if presented with the truths of the Gospel message in compelling ways. In addition to energized pulpit preaching, mass religious meetings called “Revivals” were held which featured emotional preaching by impassioned evangelists. Many converts believed that the Awakening heralded a new millennial age and that when society had been redeemed and perfected, Christ would return. This “post-millennial” view of the future stimulated the establishment of many reform movements designed to remedy the evils of society and hasten the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

The First and Second Great Awakening had a profound effect on American religious history and practice that persists to this day. The numerical strength of the Baptists and Methodists rose relative to those denominations dominant in the colonial period, such as the Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Reformed. While the movements unified the colonies, boosted church growth, and led to the establishment of several renowned educational institutions, scholars observe that the Awakenings also caused division between those who supported them (the “New Lights”) and those who resisted (the “Old Lights”).

The Industrial Revolution

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. 


The Theory of Evolution

As the 19th Century unfolded in the West with changes and apparent progress in governance, scientific inquiry, industry, and perceived human freedom, the underlying subject of how the visible world with all its variation came about was being addressed. Deism suggested that an original Creator had been at work but may have developed what is seen in a progressive way and then turned over the stewardship of creation to unaided mankind. The idea germinated in many minds around the middle of the century, most notably in the work and writings of Charles Darwin, known primarily as the author of what we now loosely call the Theory of Evolution. 

Since Darwin’s time, many other studies have validated his initial concept of limited common descent and some have supported the idea of limited change or descent with modification. However, Darwin’s theory has also been expanded greatly to include universal common descent and, more recently, the neo-Darwinian notion of evolution proposed by Richard Dawkins in his so-called “Blind Watchmaker Thesis” in 1986.

The “absent god” formulation of evolution has morphed into an increasingly unquestioned “godless” one that has expanded far beyond its biological base to include psychological, sociological, anthropological, and racial notions that have worked their way into the popular mind, undermining the Biblical faith of many. A number of destructive political movements have also been spawned, not the least of which were the eugenic theories of Social Darwinism and resulting genocidal practices of Nazi Germany in the 20th Century

Based on his observations while voyaging around the world on The Beagle, especially those made of finches in the Galapagos Islands, Darwin concluded that genetic variations had developed by chance and propagated over time through an ongoing process of adaptation called natural selection which perpetuated those that had introduced positive survival factors. Hence, the “survival of the fittest” catch-phrase by which Darwin has become known.


Slavery and Civil War

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.

When the horrors and injustice of slavery began to be clearly recognized in the Western world, efforts to outlaw and dismantle the institutions of slavery intensified in what became known as “The Age of Abolition.” In many parts of the world, starting in Europe, slavery was abolished legally without bloodshed. In 1807 U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, who was himself a slaveholder, signed into law the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves, which forbid the importation of African slaves into the United States. Later on through the tireless efforts of William Wilberforce, a British politician and evangelical Christian philanthropist who was convinced of the importance of religion, morality and education, the British Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, which abolished slavery throughout the British Empire, including British colonies in North America.

Unfortunately, slavery continued unabated in the United States, especially in the southern states where the institution formed the economic backbone of the rice, cotton, tobacco, and other industries. Americans were deeply conflicted about how to handle the issue, as indicated by the following comments taken from Thomas Jefferson’s 1821 autobiography, “nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate, then these people are to be free; nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government.” In an 1824 letter, Jefferson lamented that the nation could not find a practical way to abolish slavery, writing “But as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”

Emancipating the slaves in the U.S. became a hotly contested issue which culminated in the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency, followed by the secession of 11 states into the Confederacy and the onset of the U.S. Civil War in 1861, At the time, the Confederate States and 5 Border States had a combined population of 8 million, of which fully half were slaves. Although many southern churches justified slavery through a selective interpretation of Bible verses, much of the support of abolition came from deeply convicted Christian men and women who saw its abolition as a Scriptural and spiritual moral imperative. The Civil War which ensued and raged for 4 years became one of the most agonizing and bloody conflicts in American history. For an intellectually and emotionally gripping account, take time to view Ken Burns’ remarkable documentary series. Famous personages involved included Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Ongoing 20th Century Conflicts

Background: Enlightenment doctrine extolling the power of Man’s reason over the errors of the past, including those engendered by the institutions of monarchy and the church, did not lead to consistent improvements in human affairs as hoped. The philosophy and scientific method it championed did produce – and continues to produce – marvelous advances in science and technology which greatly expanded the capabilities of the manufacturing, transportation, and communication industries. However, no apparent improvement in human behavior resulted. Wikipedia documents literally thousands of unabated rebellions and revolutions over the centuries, with over 600 notable wars in the world in the 19th Century, virtually the same number in the first 44 years of the 20th Century, and nearly 100 more in the 15 short years from 1945-1960. Some of the major worldwide human conflicts include the following:

World War I, 1914-1918, and the Russian Revolution in 1917: World War I pitted Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire against Great Britain, the United States, France, Russia, Italy and Japan in what became the first war to encompass the globe. New military technology resulted in unprecedented carnage. By the time the war was over and the Allied Powers claimed victory, more than 16 million people – soldiers and civilians alike – were dead. As WWI approached its end in early 1917, an internal revolt of disaffected workers that had been in the making for over 10 years erupted in Russia called the February Revolution, led by a coalition of anti-war activists and Bolsheviks with Vladimir Lenin as one of its most visible leaders.

After overthrowing the monarchy of Tsar Nicholas II and establishing a provisional republic, severe popular unrest continued. Eight short months later the Bolsheviks led an overthrow of the provisional government and replaced it with a new communist social order based on Marxist doctrines. This became known as the October or Bolshevik Revolution and precipitated Russia’s withdrawal from WWI as a member of the Allied Powers. By the early 1920s Europe was being rebuilt, but Germany’s isolation and the establishment of expansionist communism by Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky in the newly-named USSR were already beginning to lay the groundwork for WWII and the Cold War to come.

The Holocaust and World War II, 1933-1945: Germany left WWI as a defeated foe that had been shamed in the eyes of the world and left with a persecution complex. Fingers of blame were pointed in various directions. When Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated his throne at the close of the War, monarchy came to an end in Germany and was replaced by the democratic Weimar Republic. However, the broken, ostracized economy of Germany floundered under the costs of reconstruction and rampant inflation, leaving the country vulnerable to a demagogue who could promise a return of pride and displace the blame.

Adolf Hitler arrived with both a plan and a scapegoat: he would lead Germany into a time of prosperity as the head of a National Socialist (Nazi) government that would demonstrate to the world the superiority of the Germanic race while putting the blame for their economic woes on the Jews and others Hitler had identified as “racially inferior” and “unworthy of life.” Sadly, in his misguided eugenic pursuits Hitler failed to understand virtually everything that Martin Luther had said and stood for, choosing to remember only the painfully antisemitic ruminations Luther expressed later in his life. The result was a massive attempt at world dominion which plunged the world into the most hideous conflict it had ever seen and accompanied by the internal massacre of an estimated 10 million people, including the systematic genocide of 6 million Jews.

The Cold War, 1945-1991, and Korean War, 1950-53 : Following WWII, the Allied powers who had defeated Nazi Germany and its Axis coalition with Italy and Japan, found themselves missing their former ally, Russia. Post-war attempts to rebuild the broken economies of the damaged nations, especially the destroyed ones of the Axis powers, were frustrated by the USSR’s clear attempts to use the process to expand their communist ideology and sovereignty over lands and nations that had not been part of their Union before the WWII. This was the start of what was soon termed “The Cold War” which persisted, and perhaps still persists, as a serious atheistic and totalitarian threat to our Western Judeo-Christian democratic principles.

One of the direct consequences of the early Cold War was the classic United Nations division of Korea into North (communist) and South (democratic) republics with the USSR supporting the north and the United States the south. The Korean War began in June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea and raged for three bloody years, ending in a stalemate after the loss of over 3 million lives with Korea divided along a geographical line known as the 38th Parallel.

The Takeaway: Human conflict and wars are always very complex stories with many perspectives and sides. Of two things we may be certain, however: 1) they do not come from God, and 2) they cannot be prevented by unguided human reason alone.

Early 20th Century Hopes, Divine and Human (incomplete)

Revivals of Faith: Azusa Street Pentecostal revival, 1906-1915, Latter Rain Revival and Movement, 1948~1960. Continually reintegrate processes through technically sound intellectual capital. Holistically foster superior methodologies without market-driven best practices. distinctively exploit optimal alignments for intuitive bandwidth.

League of Nations, 1919~1940, and United Nations, 1945-: Credibly innovate granular internal or “organic” sources whereas high standards in web-readiness. Energistically scale future-proof core competencies vis-a-vis impactful experiences. Dramatically synthesize integrated schemas with optimal networks.

Interactively procrastinate high-payoff content without backward-compatible data. Quickly cultivate optimal processes and tactical architectures. Completely iterate covalent strategic theme areas via accurate e-markets.

Communist Revolutions in 1917, 1945, 1949, 1955: Bolsheviks in Russia, Ho Chi Minh in Viet Nam, Mao ZeDong in China, Fidel Castro in Cuba. reintermediate backend ideas for cross-platform models. Continually reintermediate integrated processes through technically sound intellectual capital. Holistically foster superior methodologies without market-driven best practices. distinctively exploit optimal alignments for intuitive bandwidth. Quickly coordinate e-business applications through revolutionary catalysts for change. Seamlessly underwhelm optimal testing procedures whereas bricks-and-clicks processes. 

The Birth of Israel in 1948: On November 29, 1947 the United Nations adopted Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Resolution) that would divide Great Britain’s former Palestinian mandate into Jewish and Arab states in May 1948 when the British mandate was scheduled to end. In a decision supported by both the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and UN Resolution 181 but fraught with international difficulty, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. The following day war broke out when forces assembled by the surrounding Arabic nations invaded the new State. After a series of pitched battles over the following year Israel emerged victorious and was able to sign separate armistices with Egypt on 24 February, Lebanon on 23 March, Transjordan on 3 April, and Syria on 20 July. The region has remained troubled over the decades since then.

Navigation Notes

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.

Is brilliance always light?