Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 10: No 2) >> Simms's Reading of History as Prophylactic Against American Religious Fundamentalism: The Issue of Fictive Technique in History >> Page 31

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 31

Secondary Scholarship | 2002
Transcription facts has become especially negligible and the relevance of art, poetry, fictional
narrative, manufactured speeches and dialogue more pronounced. While this is
true in secular history, it is especially important to the understanding of sacred
history, or biblical history. Were modern people to understand these insights of
Simms, it might have gone a long way toward blunting the effect of that very
modern turn of mind known as fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism and the Historiography of Simms: A Concluding
Theological Observation

Fundamentalism is a common form of the disorder we have been
describing. It is quintessentially a modern thought form. Though it presents itself
as appearing for the defense of primitive documents, the Sacred Scriptures, so is
much of modern thought founded upon the notion of returning to the primitive
roots of things and beginning all over again: such was the intention of Rousseau's
appeal to the "noble savage," Locke's rejection of theological development in
favor of returning to the simple reading of the Bible as if it were "a book written
yesterday" in Eric Voegelin's words, and the Romantic movement's return to
nature. The very idea of modern "revolution" suggested a turning of the clock of
the ages back to its original setting, so that the corruption of intervening traditions
would all be swept away. We can recognize much of this in fundamentalism.
More directly and descriptively, however, it is a univocal reading of the
Bible and, along with that, the sense that "facts" of the Bible must be defended
lest the whole of the Bible be proven untrustworthy. This quite evidently stems
from a "nominalistic" understanding of reality, one in which truth resides in
individuals and universals are merely the "names" of things. Thus
fundamentalism can be understood as a religious phenomenon influenced by the
modern triumph of nominalism and the decline of realism not only in the
philosophical schools of the period but also in the popular mind.
Simms's region of the country proved more resistant to fundamentalism
than other parts of the country. When the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy
was dividing mainline Protestant denominations and schools in the North and
Midwest in the 1920's, it was scarcely felt in the South. It became a cause among
independent Baptists in the South, and other smaller churches that appealed to the
white backlash against the dominant culture, but it did not prominently affect
churches in the South until sometime in the 1970's. By this time, the South had
begun to absorb much of the philosophical prejudices already at work in the North
a century earlier. The influence of poets and critics such as Simms, theologians
such as R.L Dabney, classicists such as Basil Gildersleeve, in the nineteenth
century; and literary figures such as the Vanderbilt Fugitives, and critics such as
Richard Weaver in the twentieth, certainly kept at bay the worst efforts of the