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Religion in America Since | Columbia University Press

Although Billy Graham made several successful visits to England and although postwar Europe, shattered by years of war, had an equal or greater need of spiritual renewal, the American postwar religious revival had no European counterpart. America became, increasingly, the one special case of modernization and religion going forward hand in hand rather than one at the expense of the other. Chapter 2 Religion and Materialism: — Fighting Godless Communism In the s the apparent breakdown of the American capitalist system prompted some Americans to look for radical alternatives.

Was it not intolerable to have productive factories standing unused and fields lying fallow at a time when millions of people were short of food, clothes, and housing? The alternative to this weird situation, a few Americans believed, was Communism. The Russian Revolution of had collectivized all production and distribution of goods. Now, at least in theory, the society made what it needed and distributed it justly and equitably, having abolished profits and class differences. Backward Russia was hurrying forward into the twentieth century; could not an already advanced America leap further into the future under Communism?

The American Communist Party was never large, but in the mids it was vigorous and outspoken, organizing labor unions, strikes, and demonstrations for social justice. The end of the war soon changed that. Wartime warmth became Cold War chill when the Soviet Union refused to permit open elections in Eastern Europe, set up Communist dictatorships there instead, and began to persecute Christians and Jews.

America and the Soviet Union almost went to war in over access to Berlin and Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia. In the completion of the first Russian atom bomb and then the Chinese Communist revolution under Mao Zedong exacerbated the Cold War confrontation. In American soldiers poured into South Korea to repel a North Korean Communist invasion that was backed by Communist China, and they fought there until the truce of Inside America, first the government and then numerous private agencies began searching for evidence of internal espionage and Communist subversion.

They discovered that Soviet spies had infiltrated the Manhattan Project creator of the atom bomb and that Communist sympathizers and Party members had worked in many federal agencies during their era of rapid expansion in the s. The Korean War heightened anti-Communist fears and gave Senator Joseph McCarthy Republican, Wisconsin his chance to exploit them with claims of an immense conspiracy to subvert America and the Christian civilization it led. McCarthy was a rough-and-ready opportunist who never lacked for critics, but even liberal Democrats, who saw him as a mere Republican scoundrel, agreed that Communism was a severe threat.

Several historians have shown in recent years that the issue was particularly welcome to American Catholics. After all, Americans, being Christians, believed in life after death and felt confident that if even the world itself were destroyed in a righteous cause, they would go to their heavenly reward. Communists, by contrast, were atheists, held out no hope of life after death, and would be correspondingly less willing to escalate a confrontation all the way to nuclear exchange.

For a hundred years they had endured accusations that they could not be wholehearted Americans because they were loyal to the pope, a despotic foreign monarch, and because Catholic authoritarianism violated the republican ideal of liberty. It enabled Catholics to depict themselves as the real champions of freedom, the surest defenders of Christendom against its anti-Christian enemies. As the historian Charles Morris has noted: By the s.

American mass opinion. It was a watershed in Catholic history: the nagging Catholic grievance that their patriotism and Americanism had never been fully appreciated was, in Catholic eyes, finally and gloriously put to rest.

American History: The New World - Colonial History of the United States of America - Documentary

In , the year of the Russian Revolution, the Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared to three Portuguese children in the village of Fatima, amazed them by causing the sun to spin visibly in the sky, and told them a series of secrets. One was that two of them would die young. They did. Another was that World War I would end the following year it did , but that an even more catastrophic war would break out under Pope Pius XI it did. The Virgin also told the children that people everywhere should pray the rosary for the conversion of the Russian people to Christianity because the future of the world was in jeopardy.

Last, she confided to Lucia, the child who survived into adulthood and became a nun , a third secret, along with the instruction to whisper it to the pope in Catholics from Europe and America went on pilgrimage to Fatima almost as enthusiastically as they went to Lourdes, where the Virgin had appeared to another poor rural girl, Bernadette, half a century before. A Hollywood film 24 Religion and Materialism: — about Lourdes, Song of Bernadette , won four Oscars and may have contributed to the inspiration of a nine-year-old Catholic boy, Joseph Vitelo, from the Bronx, who said that he had seen the Virgin, blond-haired and wearing a blue dress, in his backyard in November She promised him that water would burst from the ground there on November 14, just as it had at Lourdes.

Thousands of hopeful New Yorkers gathered beside his house that rainy night expecting a miracle, only to suffer a drenching disappointment. The Catholic authorities, aware that popular devotions often go haywire, had given Vitelo no encouragement, but they had given their blessing to Lourdes and Fatima, which formed part of the spiritual backdrop to Cold War Catholicism.

Parishioners took seriously the injunction to pray for the conversion of the Russians. Mary-Ann van Hoof, also saw an apparition of the Virgin and received from her urgent instructions to pray for Russia and against Communism. Crowds gathered around her too. Church authorities again gave them no encouragement and were wary of Mrs. Still, that such apparitions should be happening at all, and gathering big audiences, showed how religiously significant American Catholics felt the issue of antiCommunism to be.

At the other end of the Catholic spectrum, one of their most learned theologians, John Courtney Murray, S. That year, however, he abandoned Communism, reverted to the faith of his youth, and became a professor of economics at one of the great bastions of American Catholicism, the University of Notre Dame.

Religion in Germany since 1945

Still a journalist too, he began a regular column, syndicated to Catholic newspapers nationwide, on the dangers of Communism and appeared frequently as a witness in court cases and congressional hearings against alleged Communists. Catholics regarded him as a prodigal son, returned to the fold after a misspent youth.

Leftists regarded him as the worst kind of traitor to their cause. Catholics were by no means alone in their anti-Communism. A wide array of Protestants was equally assertive on the topic. In he met Billy Graham, who encouraged him to create an organization explicitly linking evangelism and anti-Communism. The Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, founded in , was the result.

Schwarz regarded Communism as a vicious parody of Christianity. My opposition to Communism was not based upon economics or politics but upon its false doctrines about God and man. Communism had a doctrine of God—that God did not exist but that the idea of God had been projected into human consciousness by the universal existence of the Class Struggle; that it had a doctrine of Man—that man was a collection of atoms and molecules without soul or spirit and that all human ideas and emotions were derived from experiences provided by the economic environment; that it had a doctrine of Sin—that sin resulted from the experience provided by Capitalism; that it had a doctrine of Redemption—a Communist revolution; and that it had a doctrine of the future— that the Communist victory was inevitable due to the progressive nature of being.

Reinhold Niebuhr — and Paul Tillich — , both Protestant writers, Jacques Maritain — , a Catholic, and Will Herberg — , a Jew, gave intellectual substance to the religious revival of the postwar era. They were often featured in the press as spokesmen not only on religious issues but also on political and cultural affairs.

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Like the popular religious writers of the late s whom we met in the previous chapter, they were all interested in the relationship between religion and psychology. Their answer was in each case a guarded yes. Audiences were particularly receptive because Tillich and Maritain were both European exiles German and French, respectively who had carved out prominent places for themselves in their adopted America, and now acted as interpreters between the Old World and the New. Reinhold Niebuhr, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, had been born and raised in rural Missouri and small-town Illinois, the son of German evangelicals and brother of another talented theologian, H.

Richard Niebuhr of Yale Divinity School. He had been a socialist and pacifist in the s but changed his mind in the early s as he became convinced that socialism and pacifism were based on the fallacy of human perfectibility, and that they could not come to terms with the ineradicable reality of sin.

The United States from 1789 to 1816

In an immensely influential book of Christian ethics, Moral Man and Immoral Society , Niebuhr argued that while individuals might aspire to, and even occasionally achieve, moral purity, groups of people can never do so. A society, acting collectively, cannot duplicate the moral exaltation of an individual and should not attempt it.

Instead it must strive for responsibility and maturity, avoiding messianic plans. Societies that strive for perfection, Niebuhr argued, are intolerant of human frailties and eventually perpetrate great evils.

The events of the s and s had borne out his words in unexpectedly vivid ways. He had watched the growth of Nazism with dismay—it seemed to him a terrifying form of parody religion. In January he had broken with his liberal Protestant brethren, nearly all of them isolationists, by advocating American intervention in World War II, and had founded a new journal to lobby for war, Christianity and Crisis.

Niebuhr, at the height of his fame in the early Cold War years, published one of the most influential religious books of the era, The Irony of American His- Religion and Materialism: — 27 tory It must chart a course into the future cautiously, realistically, and with a full awareness of its imperfections. His postwar books, notably The Courage to Be , outlined a new way of thinking about God and a new vocabulary. God, he argued, should no longer be thought of as a being. Instead, it is the willingness to carry on living in the face of the existential anxieties we all feel: the dread of death, meaninglessness, and personal guilt.

As God cannot be enclosed in a temple or a church, so theology cannot be restricted to Biblical and ecclesiastical tradition. Tillich answered that the courage to be, in the face of the threat of nonbeing, consisted of two elements: the courage to be as oneself, an individual, and the courage to be as part of a collectivity. America might pride itself on being a nation of individualists, but what struck him as it struck the sociologist David Riesman and other social critics of the s was the high degree of voluntary conformity shown by citizens.

A person may have experienced a tragedy, a destructive fate, the breakdown of convictions, even guilt and momentary despair: he feels neither destroyed nor meaningless nor condemned nor without hope. The typical American, after he has lost the foundations of his existence, works for new foundations. This is true of the individual and it is true of the nation as a whole. One can make experiments because an experimental failure does not mean discouragement.

The productive process in which one is a participant naturally includes risks, failures, catastrophes. But they do not undermine courage.

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This means that it is the productive act itself in which the power and the significance of being is present. The central figure in the early-twentieth-century Catholic revival of Thomism philosophy in the tradition of Saint Thomas Aquinas , he had made frequent visits to Canada in the s and was there, lecturing in Toronto, when the German army overran France in Maritain was a convert to Religion and Materialism: — 29 Catholicism; so was his wife, Raissa, but she was racially Jewish, so a return to France would have been suicidal.

He became, like Niebuhr and Tillich, a highbrow religious figurehead during the s. The United States, he declared, was not in its essence either greedy or materialistic. Although its citizens were certainly capable of moneymaking, they did it with a high sense of moral responsibility, spent it generously, philanthropically, and in accordance with elevated idealistic schemes. Nowhere else in the world was there so much enthusiasm for education in the humanities or such an abundance of spiritual vitality.

He even argued that the United States was the closest approximation in practice to the ideal form of society he had outlined in his book Integral Humanism twenty years earlier. Behind the facade of violence and callousness of modern life, this something of old, subtle Christian flavor lies, I think, deep in the soul of this country.

Among the distinguished Jewish intellectuals of the s was Will Herberg. Born in New York in , the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he had joined 30 Religion and Materialism: — the Communist Party as a teenager and become a leading Marxist theoretician in the debates of the s. He left the Party after the Soviet show trials and the Hitler-Stalin pact, bitterly disillusioned, recalling: Marxism was to me, and to others like me, a religion, an ethic, and a theology; a vast all-embracing doctrine of man and the universe, a passionate faith endowing life with meaning, vindicating the aims of the movement, idealizing its activities and guaranteeing its ultimate triumph.


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He approached Niebuhr about the possibility of becoming a Christian. Niebuhr, in what has now become a famous conversation in the history of American religious pluralism, told him that he ought to rediscover the riches of his own Jewish heritage first and see whether he might not find a home there. He cited a survey in which 80 percent of Americans said they believed the Bible to be the revealed word of God and yet 53 percent, when asked to name one of the first four books of the New Testament, could not do so.

How was this paradox to be explained? And yet there cannot be much doubt that, by and large, the religion which actually prevails among Americans today has lost much of its authentic Christian or Jewish content. Even when they are thinking, feeling, or acting religiously, their thinking, feeling, and acting do not bear an unequivocal relation to the faiths they profess.