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S5:E27 Leopold and Loeb

S5:E27 Leopold and Loeb

The perfect murder goes completely wrong

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were wealthy young men in the early 1920s. They lived in big homes in Chicago and had world-class educations. They were both pushed hard academically, and Richard was sexually abused as a child. Both graduated early from high school and college. The two were an odd pairing. Nathan was quiet and awkward, not particularly handsome. Richard was gregarious and outgoing, good-looking… and a psychopath.

Nathan loved Richard, and the two sometimes had sex with each other. Richard realized he could control Nathan by trading intimacy for criminal activity. They started with typical juvenile delinquent behavior. Soon, though, Richard wanted more. He considered himself a master criminal, someone too smart to get caught.

Nietzsche’s concept of the ubermensch or superman

He and Nathan were exposed to the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche wrote that the ultimate purpose of humanity was to evolve into what he called the ubermensch or superman. Leopold and Loeb thought they were that evolved human. Therefore, they should be able to plot and execute the murder of a young boy without ever getting caught.

Only, they were so bad at it that it took very little time to pin it on them. Only the brilliance of Clarence Darrow, the country’s most prominent defense attorney, could save their lives.

In this episode, we’re joined by Candace Fleming. She’s the author of the book Murder Among Friends about the crime.

The version of Also Sprach Zarathustra used in this episode is courtesy of the Creative Commons License and was produced by Kevin MacLeod.

Sources:

Discussion Questions:

  • Now that you know what the song Also Sprach Zarathustra is about, does it change your opinion of the piece?
  • Do you think Nietzsche was right to worry about what would happen after Christianity took a back seat to world events? What should have been our response?
  • With this little bit we covered about Nietzsche today, what do you think of his work? Can you see why it makes Chris nervous just to mention it in an episode?
  • Do you see the connection between evolution and superman?
  • Were people like Darrow and Bryan right to be concerned about young people learning Nietzsche’s philosophy?
S5:E27 Eugenics

S5:E27 Eugenics

The history of eugenics and Buck v. Bell

Eugenics. It’s one of those words that gets thrown around these days, often by people accusing “the other side” of wrongdoing. But what is eugenics?

I invited law professor Paul Lombardo, author of “Three Generations, No Imbeciles”, to join me to try to answer that very question. It turns out that that question is harder to answer than you’d think. In the early 1900s, the word “eugenic” was often used to mean “pure” or to imply that a product was healthy for babies. But that word also extended into segregating certain populations from society and forced sterilizations.

It is important to understand the history of eugenics because some Christians use the fear of eugenics as a lens to understand the Scopes “Monkey” trial. I think that is an accurate connection, but we really should understand it. Did William Jennings Bryan support eugenics? Can Christians support eugenics? Many did. There were even competitions that rewarded pastors for writing pro-eugenics sermons. That was especially true for liberal pastors.

In this episode, we attempt to answer some tough questions. I hope you enjoy it!

Helpful Sources:

Discussion Questions:

  • What is eugenics?
  • How did the term “eugenics” differ in the early 1900s from today?
  • Are you in favor of eugenics? Why or why not?
  • How is eugenics tied to evolution? How is it not?
  • Do Christians have a responsibility to play when it comes to protecting people with special needs?
  • What can we do to help those with special needs?
S5:E25 The Battle for the Presbyterian Soul

S5:E25 The Battle for the Presbyterian Soul

Harry Emerson Fosdick was the “bad boy” of modernist preaching

Harry Emerson Fosdick had a certain reputation. He was the theological “bad boy” of modernist theology when he stood at a lectern in the 1920s and delivered his famous sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”. He was in New York City. One preacher, preaching one sermon. But this one talk spread all over the country and created real upset. Could modernist theology win in the Northern Presbyterian denomination?

J. Grescham Machen didn’t think it should. He was a fundamentalist and wrote in response to Fosdick’s sermon. But how does one keep out heresy?

The fundamentalists decided to call in a big-name Christian celebrity — William Jennings Bryan. He was on a cross-country crusade to stop the teaching of evolution in public schools. Not because he didn’t believe in science. He did. The problem that Bryan saw with teaching evolution in school was the cruelty that humanity would express if they believed they were nothing more than animals.

The battle between liberal and conservative Christians was a public one. William Jennings Bryan and Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote competing articles in The New York Times. Would it cause a split in the Northern Presbyterian denomination?

Sources for this episode:

Discussion Questions:

  • What do you think are the basic beliefs required to call something “Christianity”?
  • What if someone does not believe those things but still calls themselves a Christian?
  • Does it matter when people try to use a word to describe themselves that does not apply to them?
  • What is to be our response when we encounter someone who spreads false doctrine?
S5:E24 Mr. Fundamentalist

S5:E24 Mr. Fundamentalist

William Bell Riley was the real “Mr. Fundamentalist”. And few have heard of him.

So far this season I’ve covered William Jennings Bryan, a man who enjoyed the nickname “Mr. Fundamentalist”. But he wasn’t really a fundamentalist. Experts point to another man as the true face of fundamentalism. That man was William Bell Riley. He was a famous preacher in his day, bouncing around the midwest until he settled in Minnesota. He founded the Northwestern schools to spread his vision of Christianity and picked debates with modernists at the University of Chicago. He formed the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association to help deliver denominations from modernism.

But… he lost. A bunch.

In this episode we explore the life of William Bell Riley to discover why he and the fundamentalists burned brightly, only to fizzle out a few years later. William Bell Riley was the real “Mr. Fundamentalist”. And few have heard of him. That is for good reasons. Riley was popular in his circle and had a big impact. But his lasting legacy is now tied to his schools because he helped take the movement underground and out of the usual channels of public life.

Helpful Links:

  • God’s Empire by William Vance Trollinger
  • Minnesota History article about Riley
  • New Hampshire Confession
  • Fundamentalism and American Culture by George Marsden
  • The Evangelicals by Frances Fitzgerald

Discussion Questions:

  • How should we react to heresy?
  • Do you look for strong leaders like William Bell Riley or do you prefer calm leaders? Why?
  • Do you have a creed you live by? Does your church profess one? Why or why not?
  • How do Bible schools shape our world? Have they impacted your life or the lives of friends?
  • Riley and his friends lost in part because they were all trying to be leaders. Do you think you could submit to the leadership of others? If so, who?
S5:E23 World War One and the Modernist – Fundamentalist Controversy

S5:E23 World War One and the Modernist – Fundamentalist Controversy

The Great War Helped Create the Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy

The modernish/ fundamentalist controversy was heating up in the early 1900s. Conservatives saw this coming a long way off but could not stop modernism from taking control of seminaries and popular pulpits. It was everywhere. It all came to a head with WWI.

Theological conservatives saw WWI as evidence that the world was getting worse. To them, it was a chance to fight for patriotic reasons. Modernists were also pro-war because they thought this was the “war to end all wars”. There would be no more war after this and democracy would take over the world. The liberals fired the first shots in this theological battle because they thought that premillennialism encouraged people to root for the end of the world. That is how the Great War helped Create the Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy.

William Jennings Bryan was Secretary of State in the US during this time and did his best to keep us out of the war.

This episode features the voices of George Marsden (author of “Fundamentalism and American Culture”) and Michael Kazin, professor at Georgetown University and author of “What it Took to Win”.

Special thanks to the National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois, Wyoming for letting me record with permission.

Sources:

Discussion Questions:

  • What was the purpose of WWI? What caused it?
  • Would you have been for or against the war in the 1900s?
  • How can pre and post-millennialism shape a person’s view of the world? Does it have to?
  • How does social Darwinism tie into WWI and WWII?
  • Is WWI an outcome of changing morality?
  • How would you tell a large audience of Christians to adapt to changing morality?