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
- Blogging Through a Book: Hippies of the Religious Right by Preston Shires by The Practical Conservative
- Hippies of the Religious Right, reviewed by Hearthie