Christianity, Patriotism, and anti-Communism in Cold War America
Harry Stout: Upon the Altar of the Nation
Was Rise in Christianity more pro-Jesus or pro-America?
Many people look back to the immediate post-World War II period as a wonderful time that would be great to re-create. While there were definitely BIG problems with America at this time, such as rampant racism and segregation, there was less crime and many people seemed more concerned with their neighbor than they do now. Some people argue that the 1960s was a period that began the decline to a more secularized and wicked America. There are definitely some problems that are prevalent today that were not as big a deal in the 1950s.
Some people argue that this was a great period of Christianity, and it would seem that more people were members of religious organizations than at any time in American history. I've read several textbooks that indicated this. In the 1940s and 1950s (and up into the 1980s), communism was the bogeyman that threatened the American way of life. There was a fear that the commie pinkos would take over America and make us a godless, atheistic hellhole like those poor Russians had to live through. There can be little argument that the Soviet Union was a great utopia. I just read a blog post today at the Religion in American History blog regarding the Christian patriotism of none other than Conrad Hilton. Most people think hotels or Paris Hilton when they think of Conrad Hilton. However, he was a patriotic American Catholic who believed religion was the only way to combat communism.
In an environment reminiscent of the Salem witch trials, McCarthyism spread across America in the early 1950s. Joseph McCarthy had his lists and the HUAC investigations threatened anyone who had even the slightest appearance of communist or liberal sympathies. Many people joined churches at this time. I've questioned whether these people were more pro-Jesus or anti-communist and pro-American. Of course, the answer probably varied by individual, but it is quite the correlation.
Many people in American history have equated the mission of Christ and the mission of America. I think this can be a dangerous combination. It's hard to equate the treatment of Indians or African slavery as Christian. When Christians equate Christianity and an extreme American patriotism, their jingoism runs the risk of supporting some very anti-Christian activities. A couple of writings that have caused me to question this are Robert Bellah's ground-breaking essay on American Civil Religion and Harry Stout's Upon the Altar of the Nation, which itself was my first introduction to Bellah's ideas. Stout rightly pointed out that both sides in the Civil War claimed God's support of their cause. Since they were so diametrically opposed to each other, at least one side had to be wrong (I would argue the South). Both used this rhetoric to justify the relatively uncontrolled killing and believed they had God's sanction.
I realize that people can be pro-Jesus and American patriots at the same time. However, I am questioning how much the rise in Christianity was related to each during the early Cold War period. I'm interested to see the opinion of others.
Conrad Hilton and American/Christian Patriotism
- American Church History: American Christianity and Communism during the Second Red Scare
My thoughts on the post from the Religion in American History blog at my own website.
- RELIGION IN AMERICAN HISTORY: "Connie" Hilton\'s Praying Uncle Sam
The initial post that got me thinking today.