Hippies of the Religious Right

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Hippies of the Religious Right: From the counter-culture of Jerry Garcia to the Subculture of Jerry Falwell. By Preston Shires. Originally published in 2007. 287 pages.

You can tell an awful a lot about a man based solely on when he was born. Or at least, that’s what I read somewhere once, although I can’t tell you where even though I just spent 5 minutes clicking about trying to find it. Nevertheless, I believe there is a large grain of truth to the sentiment, and it strikes at the heart of what Preston Shires discusses in his book, Hippies of the Religious Right.

If I understand him correctly, Shires is exploring the culture and expression of belief in the young generation of the 1960s, many of whom became the devoutly religious and politically active in what was referred to from the late 1980s and onward as the “religious right”. That spirit of activism, coupled with the importance of the individual  are ideas of the 1960s with its rebellion from stilted, politically correct, hypocritical religious practices, gave way to a generation of Christians determined to be open, authentic, and inclusive in their faith.

It’s normal to be liberal when you’re young and grow increasingly conservative as you age. I read that somewhere also, but having lived it and witnessed in others, I can safely attest to the veracity of the statement. Given that, it makes sense that as the hippies of the 60s who never really abandoned faith in Christianity as the one true way grew up, they would return to the fold bringing with them what *worked* from 60s activist culture.

In a nutshell, Shires contends that:

Ever since the coming of the Jesus Freaks, born of the generation gap and rebellion against the technocratic establishment, evangelicalism has been injected with an activist fervor that encompasses the whole of life. That activism and commitment stimulated and nurtured the Christian Right. p.209

He continues the thoughts:

The greatest irony of the traditional interpretation of the Christian Right as a negative reaction to the sixties’ counterculture is that most evangelicals agreed with such a definition in the late 1970s ans still agree with it today. And with this understanding, they confidently stand dismissive of the sixties’ counterculture. But if it had not been for the counterculture, there may never have been a Christian Right, because the counter culture gave to evangelicalism the rebellious spirit, the youthful activists, and the committed voters it so needed. p.210

In other words, large swaths of the mainstream church were lukewarm (like Laodicea, I suppose), lacking any kind of real fervor or alternative to the greater corrupted society. Enter sixties’ radicalism.

I appreciated the pains Shires went to to present his arguments with as little ideological interjection or pontificating as possible. He made it clear early on the book that he would not be doing so, and he kept his oath. He leaves it to the reader to make their own decision about the rightness or wrongness of the conclusions he has drawn.

I am of two minds on the matter myself. On the one hand, I agree completely that the seeds of the religious right as we have come to know it were not only planted by the 60’s counterculture, but were nurtured and watered by the young people most influenced by that culture. What I’m not sure of is whether that was ultimately a good thing. The potholes along that roadway as a means of spreading the gospel have proven to be wide and deep, disabling the journeys of many earnest Christ seekers along the way.

Preston Shires definitely gives his readers a lot to think about. It’s a good book, although the tone is very academic and studious. If you’re interested in reading it, be warned that it’s not a quick conversational read. It really is written for those of us who are sincerely interested in the topic.

4 out of 5 Stars

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19 thoughts on “Hippies of the Religious Right

  1. hearthie says:

    This book was dry as melba toast left out in a desert for a week. For real.

    I resonated with it because it discussed my denomination’s start. I knew about the Jesus Freaks (having gone to my intro to Calvary Chapel class). The most helpful thing for ME was the language split, as the mainline churches don’t think of Christianity one little BIT the way I do. Oh. Well, no wonder we’re talking past one another and ticking each other off…

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  2. Elspeth says:

    This book was dry as melba toast left out in a desert for a week. For real.

    I tried to put it more gently than that, but yes. LOL. That’s probably why I kept putting it down, reading something a bit more engaging, and then picking it back up.

    I am pretty interested in the topic so I stuck it out. There is something to be said for seeing how things connect to each other. In this case the 60s counterculture to the emerging religious right of the 80s/90s.

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  3. smkoseki says:

    E: The potholes along that roadway as a means of spreading the gospel have proven to be wide and deep

    Heh. I always ask: what will St. Ignatius of Antioch think? Will he recognize this gospel? Clearly not; It’s simply not the same religion.

    H: …mainline churches don’t think of Christianity one little BIT the way I do. Oh. Well, no wonder we’re talking past one another and ticking each other off…

    Heh. My point exactly.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. hearthie says:

    SMK – I have more in common with most of the faithful Catholics I know than the bulk of the Mainline Protestants I know – or at least those who aren’t 10 seconds from leaving their churches.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jamesbbkk says:

    Murray Rothbard tells us in “The Progressive Era” that it was pietist religious types that launched the project of state intervention and meddling in the USA during the early 1900s. 60’s radicals and religious rightists later never abandoned such interventions and meddling or even questioned their morality, only presenting small differences in which state interventions they preferred over others.

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  6. Elspeth says:

    The Progressive Era” that it was pietist religious types that launched the project of state intervention and meddling in the USA during the early 1900s.

    There is some truth to this, Prohibition being the most famous example of course.

    Note also though that there were radicals at work during those eras as well. If you read the writings of the earliest suffragettes, they were interested in changing more than just voting laws.

    All of this was in the early 1900s.

    My interest personally is in the folly inherent in trying to make Biblical Christian faith a political commodity.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. hearthie says:

    “the folly inherent in trying to make Biblical Christian faith a political commodity.”
    This.

    I lived through this – my old church essentially took over the city schools of the town next to us and the city council too. It left SO much resentment in its wake, not even funny. Much more backlash than work that got done in the first place.

    And because the church got so into all the politickng and worrying about buying new property etc, the sermons (which is why we saw so much growth in the first place) took last place and then folks found somewhere else to be.

    I don’t think it is possible to remind those of us who are working in the field that it is about JESUS not about what looks good on paper. Including me, as I got my nose smacked about that this morning.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. smkoseki says:

    E: There is some truth to this, Prohibition being the most famous example of course. Note also though that there were radicals at work during those eras as well. If you read the writings of the earliest suffragettes, they were interested in changing more than just voting laws. All of this was in the early 1900s.

    I’m totally ignorant of this. What books can anyone recommend?

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  9. Elspeth says:

    Just for you, smkoseki, I am copying AND pasting in its entirety a post I wrote back in 2011 about first wave turn of the century feminism. It’s long. Then I’ll leave a follow up comment later this evening if I have some time. Here goes:

    I thought we might shed a bit of light on the so-called first wave of feminists, whom Christian feminists (is that an oxymoron?) often hold up as God-fearing, Bible believing women who simply wanted to end female oppression. Whether or not these women had legitimate arguments on one or two points is not something I want to debate, though I will if the reader insists. Aside from being anti-abortion, however, the philosophy of most of these women was very similar to that of the more “radical” feminists of the 60′s, whom most all Christians agree have done a great deal of damage to family life, and by extension to society at large. Allow me to introduce to those who may not know, a few members of the first wave.

    Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), who refused to allow the word “obey’ to be a part of her marriage vows:

    “The memory of my own suffering has prevented me from ever shadowing one young soul with the superstitions of the Christian religion.”

    “The Bible teaches that woman brought sin and death into the world, that she precipitated the fall of the race, that she was arraigned before the judgment seat of Heaven, tried, condemned and sentenced. Marriage for her was to be a condition of bondage, maternity a period of suffering and anguish, and in silence and subjection, she was to play the role of a dependent on man’s bounty for all her material wants, and for all the information she might desire…. Here is the Bible position of woman briefly summed up.”-

    Introduction to The Women’s Bible, which Stanton authored.

    Those are just two of the quotes I found from Mrs. Stanton, never mind that the second is total misrepresentation of what the Bible teaches. She is recorded as having felt like a caged bird bound to the domestic drudgery of her home. In fact, she is reported to have breathed a sigh of relief after being freed from her domestic drudgery when she hired full time help in the form of a nanny/housekeeper who remained in her employ for 30 years, freeing her to jump into the suffrage movement with both feet. Apparently the domestic drudgery was okay for that woman to endure.

    Lucy Stone (1818-1893), first woman recorded to have kept her own name after marrying. In fact, she was very much in line with today’s thinking since she was 37 and well educated before she finally tied the knot. She was arrested for refusing to pay property taxes when she wasn’t allowed to vote. I actually agree with her in principle on that one. My problem is that we are often told that no women were allowed to own property before these women fought the good fight on our behalf.

    Susan B. Anthony(1820-1906), whom I have a bit more regard for since she was at least never married and therefore never had a family to treat as a stumbling block to all she might be without them. Still, the view of the white woman as being oppressed on the level of the African slave is something that I will never be able to agree to. A couple of quotes from Ms. Anthony, as I’m sure she would be called today:

    “I beg you to speak of Woman as you do of the Negro, speak of her as a human being, as a citizen of the United States, as a half of the people in whose hands lies the destiny of this Nation.”

    “I do not consider divorce an evil by any means. It is just as much a refuge for women married to brutal men as Canada was to the slaves of brutal masters.”

    (I do not believe women should be subject to a husband’s brutality either, but how many divorces can honestly be blamed on that?)

    “Oh, if I could but live another century and see the fruition of all the work for women! There is so much yet to be done.”-

    I, too wonder what Ms. Anthony would think if she could see today’s empowered woman.

    Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927), the first woman to run for president in 1872. Married 3 times, and a fierce proponent of the idea of “free love”, she is quoted as saying:

    “To woman, by nature, belongs the right of sexual determination. When the instinct is aroused in her, then and then only should commerce follow. When woman rises from sexual slavery to sexual freedom, into the ownership and control of her sexual organs, and man is obliged to respect this freedom, then will this instinct become pure and holy; then will woman be raised from the iniquity and morbidness in which she now wallows for existence, and the intensity and glory of her creative functions be increased a hundred-fold …”

    So much for the oh-so-holy first wave of feminists.

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  10. SMK says:

    Thanks for that interlude. Good stuff, but whetting my appetite! There must be authors who go after this more generally? Remember I’m so ignorant of this time period I need more basic material. Suggestions anyone?

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  11. Bike Bubba says:

    Regarding first wave feminism, agreed; they did tend to come from a lot of liberal theology, or frankly from a lack of theology altogether.

    Regarding brutality leading to divorce, I believe the stats today are that about 25% of marriages involve some level of physical violence, of which a portion involve visible injuries and such. So along with adultery–30% I’m told of married people cheat–we would infer it’s a fairly significant rationale for divorce.

    Note that I say “rationale” and not “root cause”. Being the son of a guy who beat his wife, I’d argue that there were root causes of the abuse, and as one might guess, it did involve differing views of theology and how life ought to be.

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  12. Elspeth says:

    I have been looking for some good books on the time period. When I get a good line I will let you know.

    Planning on reading A Fierce Discontent some time in February 2019.

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  13. Elspeth says:

    @bike:

    Interesting stats. Although -color me naive- the women I know of who had abusive husband’s? Theology was not even an issue. Husbands with abusive wives? Of the two I knew one if THOSE had theology as an issue.

    I have clearly been sheltered because men who take their faith seriously and abuse have been mutually exclusive in my world.

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  14. SMK says:

    A Fierce Discontent – now I think this kind of book may be just the ticket. The technology changes in transportation & communication w/ WWI really conflate things I think, making it a mess of social movements changing too rapidly to lock it in.

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  15. Daedalus Lex says:

    Interesting. Growing up amidst hippies in the 1960s and 70s, I have to say that not a single one of my old friends ended up in the religious right and most all of them are at quite the opposite extreme. Maybe I am an anomaly, but that’s one person’s experience from the trenches, anyway.

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  16. hearthie says:

    SMK – if you read much of the early 20th century, or even the turn-of-the-century, then add in the breakup caused by WW1 it doesn’t shock you to see where we are now. The 50s were an anomaly in the 20th century, a reactionary moment. They weren’t typical. The 60s/70s were both a pendulum swing against the 50s and a continuation of the trends clearly present in the 20s or earlier. (It is entirely plausible to call moderns neo-Victorians in truth, although not in the popular imagination).

    For me, the item of interest is the natural/soulful ideology vs. the artificial/mental ideology. (Hey, this is why I’m a hippy). If one considers the push towards extreme cleanliness/artifice and away from the dirt of former centuries – the plastic, the bottle feeding, the weird baby raising ideas, the white bread and jello, you can really get into the heads of early 20th century people. We were doing a “new thing” and shucking off the past. Some of that was good – hygiene got a big boost in the late 1800s, thankyouverymuch – but quite a bit was throwing baby out with the bathwater. Compartmentalization.

    And so, likewise, the Mainline churches. God on Sunday, not on Monday in the office. This is why I have more in common with you, Prot/Cath divide be darned. God every day, all the time, for both of us. I don’t go to church to be seen doing the right thing.

    And thus the hippies. Returning to the land, returning to rustic traditions, returning to crafts, doing yourself. And a PERSONAL relationship with God, based on love. Not based on “I showed up on Sunday in a suit”. The rebellion indicated by bare feet and electric guitars was all about not wanting that divide, and a real push-back against hypocrisy. So yeah, some hippies turned into Jesus Freaks (hello, where my church started) and some of them stayed all about free love and “spirituality”. -shrug- At least they’re not lying about where they are, that’s helpful for evangelistic efforts, IMO.

    For those of us (me too) for whom the dressing up was part of the joy of community worship, it’s a bit sad to see all the denim … but I get it. I remember the misuse of fashion. I remember when my childhood church went prosperous and the ladies who had a couple of Sunday Best dresses were outshined by the ladies who could afford nicer things. I think we might be ready to readjust that pendulum back – you should see the difference in response in my church between the Old Hymns (that everyone still knows) and the new stuff… we’ll see. We’ll see rather soon, I think, as we will be changing pastors now.

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