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S5:E10 Social Darwinism and the Spanish-American War

S5:E10 Social Darwinism and the Spanish-American War

Social Darwinism and the Spanish-American War

The 1800s were an era of big questions, many of which we answered in cruel and selfish ways.

  • Is one race better than another?
  • Is one religion? If so, which one? In what ways?
  • Is one economic system better than another?
  • Is one system of governance like a democratic republic like the US, or socialism, monarchy, theocracy, communism, best?

Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Social Darwinism

Some people answered these questions with a resounding “yes”. But if we think our people and ways are better than anyone else’s, what responsibility do we have to spread those things? Men like Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt were firm believers in social Darwinism, though their vision of it meant teaching those less “civilized” people our ways. And they were okay with the United States taking power over them.

Meanwhile, there were men like William Jennings Bryan who refused to think of others in social Darwinism terms. He spent years fighting that dark philosophy, ultimately prosecuting the Scopes Monkey trial to stop the spread of social Darwinism. But the seeds of eugenics were planted.

Cubans held in concentration camps by Spain

Caught in the middle were the people of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Phillippines, and other colonies of the Spanish empire. Spain was busy imprisoning Cubans in concentration camps. Their ruthless behavior toward America’s neighbors caught the attention of the US Senate, which was already champing at the bit for a fight. Men in the United States were worried about their waning influence on society. Groups bellyached about how men were not men anymore thanks to cities and offices. In the minds of some, war was the answer to weak-willed men. And Spain provided that war.

Our guest today is Paul T. McCartney author of “Power and Progress: American National Identity, the War of 1898, and the Rise of American Imperialism”. He teaches at Towson University.

**CORRECTION – In the original version of this story I referred to the USS Maine as the HMS Maine. That was incorrect. HMS stands for “Her Majesty’s Ship”, which makes no sense for American ships. The current version was changed for accuracy.**

Discussion Questions:

  • Do you believe your people are somehow superior to another people group? Why?
  • Does that sound like an attitude Jesus would have?
  • If you are somehow superior, what is your responsibility to other people?
  • Should the US help people who are being oppressed around the world? When should we intervene?
  • Do you think that men are in decline? If so, what is the answer to that?
  • Do you better relate to Teddy Roosevelt or William Jennings Bryan when it comes to war? Or are you a pacifist?
  • How would Jesus have responded to the cruelty of Spain?
  • What do you think about social Darwinism?

Helpful Links and Sources:

S5:E1 What is an Evangelical?

S5:E1 What is an Evangelical?

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Who is an evangelical?

Who is an evangelical? If you go by the news today, you probably think evangelicals are all American middle-class white men. Nope! Evangelical Christians come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. They can be men or women from anywhere in the world. They can speak any language. And they can have a lot of variety in their beliefs.

This season on the Truce Podcast we are examining the history of Christian fundamentalism. How did fundamentalism begin? What is Christian fundamentalism? Is Christian fundamentalism a good thing, a bad thing, or somewhere in between?

In this episode, we’re joined by author and professor George Marsden. He’s the author of Fundamentalism and American Culture, which is THE book everyone else refers to when they talk about fundamentalism. According to Marsden, fundamentalism is “militantly anti-modernism protestant evangelicalism”. That is a lot of big words! By the end of the season, you should understand all of that. One important part of that definition is the word “evangelicalism”. It is one of those words that has been used so much in so many different ways that it can be difficult to define it. There are whole movements to create new definitions these days. But in order to move forward this season, we need to pick some frame of reference. I chose David Beggington’s definition of what defines an evangelical:

Bebbington’s Quadrilateral

  • Biblicism (a focus on the Bible)
  • Conversionism (an emphasis on evangelism)
  • Crucicentrism (the centrality of the cross)
  • Activism

Those four things, according to Bebbington, are what make up an evangelical. Again, it is a hotly debated subject.

So when did evangelicalism begin? Many of the sources that I found pointed to the revivals in the decades leading up to the American Revolution. Evangelists like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield spread the gospel using a post-millennialist vision of the end times mixed with Calvinism. This was part of the First Great Awakening. Then there were others after the revolution who spread an Arminian view of salvation. Guys like Finney. Belief in God became more personal, without the direct oversight of a priest or minister. It became an individual’s responsibility to look after their spiritual growth.

Welcome to season 5! God willing, I’ll be releasing new episodes every other week.

Discussion Questions:

  • What is an evangelical?
  • What is a fundamentalist?
  • If fundamentalists are evangelicals who are angry at something, what are they angry at? Are you one of those people?
  • Do you believe in the Calvinist view of salvation or the Arminian one? Does it matter? Why?
  • The Great Awakening movements established a sense that belief in God was not something that needed to be handed down by a priest or minister. Do you think that was a positive move? What are some potential drawbacks (if any)?

Helpful Links and Sources:

Correction: The original version of this episode incorrectly represented Arminian belief. It involves the belief that once grace is offered by God that a sinner can reject the offer. The original version stated that the sinner made the first move to initiate a relationship. That is incorrect. Arminians believe that God makes the first move, but His offer can be rejected. The error has been corrected in this version, My apologies for any confusion.