A Nation of Heretics Pt. 2

The post World War II years were an idyllic time for Christianity in the US.   Here are some statistics from that era:

  • In 1930, 47 percent of Americans were affiliated with a church or denomination; the number had risen to 69 percent in 1960.
  • Most Americans had a favorable view of religious leaders; a poll from 1957 described the clergy as “doing the most good” in nations common life.   Far ahead of politicians, businessmen, and labor leaders. 
  • Americans spent $26 million on sacred architecture in 1945, $409 million in 1950, and a billion dollars in 1960.
  • Some of the biggest box office hits were biblically themed movies such as:  The Robe (1953), Ben Hur (1959) and The Ten Commandments (1956).
  • The Hays code which was a decency code for movies was created by a Jesuit priest.

So what were the causes of this unprecedented growth?  There are many theories, but major theory is that that generation had already seen the worst of the Atheistic, materialistic philosophies of Nazism, Fascism, and Communism.  Because of this they were more than eager to try a philosophy that was much more humane.  Christianity provided that fulfillment to the spiritual vacuum left behind by the materialist philosophies.   Ross Douthat explains this phenomenon as he writes,

“Humanism needed to be grounded in something higher than a purely material account of the universe, and in something more compelling than the hope of a secular utopia.  Only religious premises could support basic liberal concepts like equality and human rights.” 

Intellectually this was a also a great time for all denominations of Christianity with it being dominated by such respected thinkers and leaders as Reinhold Niebuhr, Billy Graham,  Fulton Sheen, and Martin Luther King.

The reign of Christianity seemed secure and incorrigible, but that wasn’t case during the later part of 1960’s when Christianity began to fall apart.  The positive skepticism that caused Post World War II generation to reject materialism gave way to another generation that was more than willing to shed  the foundations of the generation before with dramatic and long lasting consequences.

[1] “Bad Religion” Ross Douthat pg. 22
[2] ibib
[3] ibid


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