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November 5, 2004

A really good question. Mark Schmitt asks it:
We are clearly in the middle of one of the great periods of Christian revival in American history, the third or fourth of the “Great Awakenings” in American Protestantism. Each such period has begun with a change in the nature of worship itself, essentially a private phase, and moved onto a public phase where it engaged with the political process. These have been significant moments of progress for this country. The Second Great Awakening led in its public phase to the Abolitionist movement. What some historians consider the Third Great Awakening beginning in the 1890s led to the Social Gospel movement, settlement houses, and the beginnings of the progressive era idea of a public responsibility to ameliorate poverty.

The right question, I think, is not whether religion has an undue influence, but why it is that the current flourishing of religious faith has, for the first time ever, virtually no element of social justice? Why is its public phase so exclusively focused on issues of private and personal behavior? Is this caused by trends in the nature of religious worship itself? Is it a displacement of economic or social pressures? Will that change? What are the factors that might cause it to change?

[08:47 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on A really good question.:

julia ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2004, 09:53 PM:

I don't know that this is religious revival more than it is learned helplessness and the Stockholm syndrome.

If you think you have no hope in this life, I guess it makes sense to do what you can to get capital in the next one.

How this squares with the bizarre neoCalvinism their party practices I couldn't begin to say.

Darice ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2004, 10:00 PM:


I blame the mega-church trend. There's one down the street from us, with facilities that include not only the church and Sunday school classrooms, but a snack bar, a teen club, a gym, a bowling alley -- the idea being that the church members never have to spend time around people who don't think exactly like them.

And to expand this beyond Christianity -- the megachurch trend goes hand in hand with the gated community trend. The residents don't have to see or talk to anyone from outside, because there's a big fence and a gate and a security guard. No doubt if they could get a moat put in, they would.

In this situation, how can the church members (or the gated-community residents) see that the poor need assistance? That social ills need to be taken care of? That not-like-you is not bad or threatening, but just different? They can't. And actually interacting with open-minded people from outside might taint them. So they stay in.

(This is NOT true of all churches, or even all mega-churches, of course; there are many churches who make a point of service to the community by helping the poor, etc., and many wonderful Christians who are open to -- delighted to -- have grand discussions with people not-like-them. But this withdrawal is definitely a trend I'm noticing.)

Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2004, 10:14 PM:

I have an honest question: Don't religious conservatives consider abortion a social justice issue?

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2004, 10:18 PM:

I don't have the time or the energy to fully expand on this answer, but I suspect that the root of the answer lies in the inspiration for the various Awakenings. This is a tremendous simplification, but the political movements that surrounded the Second and Third Great Awakenings were reactions to widepread poverty and privation. (The Temperance movement was born out of the havoc that alcohol wreaked among the poor.) The current religious movement, which is part of a current which began in the 1960s, is a reaction to widespread affluence and cultural change. The earlier movements were progressive; this current movement is reactionary.

Social justice has no role in a reactionary movement; what reactionaries want is social structure, everything in its ordered place.

Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2004, 10:42 PM:

Not a religious conservative here, and yes, the ones I've spoken with who are very anti-abortion do. Err, I suppose if we're being PC here, that would be pro-life.

I can understand their viewpoint: saying "I don't personally believe in abortion, but do not feel I have the right to force my personal beliefs on others" is the same -- to them -- as saying "I don't personally believe in murder, but do not feel I have the right to force my personal beliefs on others".

This should not, however, be confused with my viewpoint.

Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2004, 10:45 PM:

This isn't a religious revival. It's a desire to appear to be doing the religious thing, but at the lowest personal cost possible. That's why you don't see justice, but its opposite.

Why has this _appearance_ of religiosity become so important in recent years? I suspect it has something to do with the Baby Boom generation coming to terms with its mortality, but I really don't know.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2004, 10:50 PM:

Wow, I really don't have it in me to categorically say that all those millions of people's feelings aren't really a religious revival.

The previous waves featured plenty of humbug, too. It's all part of the package.

Rilina ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2004, 11:01 PM:

This isn't a religious revival. It's a desire to appear to be doing the religious thing, but at the lowest personal cost possible. That's why you don't see justice, but its opposite.

As an evangelical with progressive political leanings, I have to say that I find comments like this (which I've seen just about everywhere lately) extraordinarily depressing. Frankly, I don't see how mass generalizations regarding the motivations of evangelicals are any less ignorant than the worst statements of the religious right.

I do think the original question is an interesting one--though there is certainly a concern about social justice in American evangelical churches, it's not what gets publicity. I would observe that (1) yes, many pro-life evangelicals would consider their work in that field to be social justice and (2) a lot of evangelical social justice work is done internationally by missionaries.

julia ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2004, 11:16 PM:

I suppose it has to do with how you define religion. I tend to be extremely skeptical when the result of a religious revival is a group of people with a narrow, exclusionary w0rld view coming together to decide that God does not love their opponents.

Don't trust it in Iraq, don't trust it in Israel, don't trust it here.

The justification for all this factionalism all seems to be founded on the political barnacles that have grown up over the established religions over the years as they've responded to their political circumstances rather than what their founders have had to say.

If the imperatives of two thousand or seven thousand years ago are still alive, I don't see why I have to accept more recent expediencies in order to respect them.

Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2004, 11:42 PM:

Two answers, I think:

(1) Protestantism always has a hard time taking the works of mercy seriously: they are, after all, a manifestation and consequence of faith, not the main event. Is it better, after all, to fast twice a week and tithe 10% to the poor; or to pray, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner"? Protestantism leans heavily toward the second. And this movement is hyper-protestant.

(2) From their perspective, they are engaged: Antiabortion = Abolitionism.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2004, 11:45 PM:

The result, or a result?

I'm a little less eager to say to, for instance, the Sojourners folks that nothing they do matters, because it's completely and definitively established what "the result" is. History has been written. We know everything.

Maybe not.

Like I said somewhere else, religious groups have their lefts and rights as well, and one of the most perverse results of the religious-secular divide is the way secular people wind up so vigorously endorsing the religious right-wingers' claims against their religious-left opponents.

And none of this actually answers Mark Schmitt's question. (Darice and Kevin, on the other hand, may be on to something.)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2004, 11:47 PM:

(The above was in answer to the generally wonderful Julia. Brad DeLong, as we used to say on the Well, "slipped in.")

Brad, if the answer lies in the nature of Protestantism, then how do you account for the distinct social-justice thrusts of the last two Great Awakenings? Because they sure weren't spearheaded by Roman Catholics.

Magenta ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2004, 11:52 PM:

(lecture mode)
I think the significant difference between the current "revival" and most past ones is that premillennial dispensationalism is a relatively recent concept. That's right, all the stuff that the books like the "Left Behind" series are based on come from a highly unorthodox reading of Revelations. It does not really have room for many of the usual tropes of Christianity.

A man named J N Darby came up with a lot of these ideas about 150 years ago, but they were mostly considered non-mainstream by most churches until the last 20 or 30 years. The ideas that "we are living in the End Times" has been an element of Christianity since it's inception. But most of the time, that aspect is ignored or subsumed to more useful tropes.
I think there is a qualitative difference between most of the previous American revivals and the current one. As mentioned, the others, with the possible exception of the original Puritans, brought widespread and progressive social change. These were not at odds with the culture at large, rather they revived and opened up the culture as a whole. This one seems to be the first that is contracting it, and, as mentioned, seems to be almost anti-social, and certainly is anti-progress.

For more information try:

Or read:
"Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform" by William G. McLoughlin. The University of Chicago press reprinted it a couple of years back, so it's around, and many university libraries have it.

(/lecture mode)

And some of it is that religion has stopped "afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted". We are all too comfortable now, and much of the current revival is to give certainty rather than doubt.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 01:03 AM:

Lots of good stuff here.

I'm not sure how this fits in, but I suspect that electronic media has had a strong effect -- mostly bad -- on evangelical christianity. I suspect that radio and TV makes the movement more cohesive, but also less personal. The spectacle of the preacher and the chorus become the point of it all. It makes them susceptible to manipulation for base ends.

And, y'know, that dredges up old memories:

Twenty years ago the same people we're now supposed to fear and suck up to were seen as gullible fools for being fleeced by the likes of Jim & Tammy Fay Bakker, and conned by stage magicians posing as holy men.

Can you really blame us for feeling a bit . . . disgusted by the thought of suddenly having to take them seriously?

* * *

So, who out there has read Elmer Gantry?

Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 01:45 AM:

I think Brad has hit the nail on the head with point #1 of his comment.

What I began seeing in evangelical Christianity (and I was deeper into it than any of you know) back in the mid- to late-70s, and ever since, has been a movement towards reaffirming the whole faith-versus-works issue between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Entire weeklong workshops were dedicated to it: my half-brother dragged me to one that lasted two days (two days too long, imho) of lectures on the evils of relying on social justice and good works for redemption. That faith, and only faith, could lead to redemption, and only faith marked one as a "true" Christian. (By their works shall you know them seems to have been lost in the bathwater.)

The movement seems to be a full embrace of this: by declaring faith as a particular kind of Christian one is redeemed. And only through faith. Doing social justice is for "others." (Unless you're a missionary, in which case one is doing social justice for poor unChristian people, who will be saved by faith, anyway.)

I am indeed simplifying this, and I'm sure will take heat for that, but I see the trend continuing -- pushed into politics. It's contiguous with the "nothing I did before I was born again 'counts' now" routine.

The disconnect makes a lot of sense to me -- I saw it every day of my life for decades, working with and immersed in the culture.

This is not to say that all of evangelical Christianity pulls this party line. They do not, most assuredly. My cousin is a prime example of someone who has lived a life of doing social justice and good works, particularly in his retirement. It is a particular subset of evangelicalism. There are many, and they are intertwined. But I can point to one large megachurch which has preached the "faith only" disconnect for many years, as the first megachurch in the country, and has spread its roots widely across America: The Rock Church in Virginia Beach, VA. It spawned many other megachurches in its day, and the subset has spread.

(The Rock was Robertson's original church, and grew as PTL grew. My sister-in-law's father was pastor there, ghu help me.)

pericat ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 02:05 AM:

Kevin wrote:

The current religious movement, which is part of a current which began in the 1960s, is a reaction to widespread affluence and cultural change.

and The Bomb. If you have (or know someone else to have) the power to destroy everything, make as though it had never been, wouldn't you feel questioning the nature of that power, its origins and the nature of both creation and destruction, to be an imperative?

julia ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 02:07 AM:

One of the things that makes this very hard for me is that many, many years ago when I was waiting tables in a convention hotel in North Carolina, I knew a woman who worked with us ten or twelve hours a day as a hostess. She had three children and a runaway husband and she was working for seven dollars an hour and benefits so her children would have healthcare.

She sent fifty dollars to Jim and Tammy after they got caught, because they were godfearing people who had caught a bad break.

It's was very difficult for me then, and still is now, to fold the genuinely decent, charitable impulse she was showing into my perception of the situation, which left me wanting to scream "Are you out of your mind?"

I don't by any means discount the urge to align oneself with something broader than oneself. I think it's probably one of the few forces that keeps us from falling into the abyss.

I just get really twitchy when it's arranged by Karl Rove.

(and, uh, blush)

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 05:13 AM:

"Frankly, I don't see how mass generalizations regarding the motivations of evangelicals are any less ignorant than the worst statements of the religious right."

Well, for one thing, the worst statements of the religious right involve visiting brutal Old Testament punishments on disliked people. Set aside abortion, for a moment; think of what some of the religious right wants to do to gays and lesbians. From my sympathetic but heretical viewpoint, I mutter about motes and beams. And I don't mean to suggest that my side in this is perfect, but I've never seen the liberal left advocate anything like that.

Returning to the original question, I think there is a social justice element in this revival, but it is not expressed at the polls. Also, the increasing transparency of our society and the expanding knowlege of psychology are forcing evangelicals to engage the internal contradictions of the common christian sexual teachings--hence what I suppose I might call the "sexual values" votes.

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 05:36 AM:

I'm not sure that the mega-church, as such, is significant. Look back into the history, and this all-embracing social structure has been in the other great revivals. But Sunday Schools, to take just one element, didn't start as primarily teachers of religion. They were schools, teaching literacy and numercay to the poor, as well as teaching the religion.

Look at the Victorian revivals, and you find a lot of the rest there.

I suggest the key is the element of retreat, rather than the churches being involved with everything. They're saying "Come and hide with us."

I ought to be careful here, but the Victorians had the Salvation Army, and we're seeing the Salvation REMFs.

Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 09:24 AM:

Well, I said it was *difficult* for Protestantism to take the works of mercy fully seriously; I didn't say it was *impossible.* And I have always been struck by the way that the religious strands of pre-Civil War Abolitionism were more about making the Abolitionists feel righteous than about freeing slaves.

But it is a very good question--what's special about this branch of revivalism. Take a look at http://www.pandasthumb.org/pt-archives/000588.html...

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 10:21 AM:


The people I know who tithe these days tithe to the church--their particular church--rather than to the poor. That's a very effective way to build a church--especially one with a gymnasium.

I've come to the conclusion the left (by which I mean myself) should loudly and publicly adopt a secular version of tithing. It doesn't have to be ten percent, but it needs to go explicitly to some form of public service.

Lawrence Lessig suggests (I believe I heard him do so in this talk--the presentation is worth downloading, all twenty meg of it. There's also a transcript) that we should donate to civil liberties an amount equal to what we spend on connectivity.

That's not precisely what I mean, but it's awful close. It's a component.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 10:24 AM:

Dang it: I meant to link correctly to this talk. That'll teach me to preview last-minute additions.

Nicholas Weininger ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 10:55 AM:

Note that it is possible to arrive, based on a thorough consideration of history and philosophy, at the belief that the voluntary non-political institutions of civil society-- including, but by no means limited to, church-based charities-- are better means of dealing with poverty and suffering than federal social programs.

Matt Yglesias-- no laissez-faire man, he-- in his post on this subject sympathetically pointed out the churches' large role in voluntarist anti-poverty action internationally. The size and vigor of that role leads me to think that, maybe, at least some of the people in those churches hold the belief I've described above. I could be wrong; I claim absolutely no expertise on the question; but isn't the possibility worth considering?

Because if that holds, you might be able to have a real discussion with some of these folks about what the best institutions for dealing with poverty really are. That discussion would, however, require you to marshal some actual substantive *arguments* about why you think government programs do better. Indignation and disbelief and self-congratulatory assumptions of the form "well, they just believe in faith rather than works" or (as I've seen many times on other similar threads, but so far thankfully not this one) "they believe that rich people are ordained by God to be rich" will not do it.

Scott Martens ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 11:56 AM:

It's not that acts of mercy aren't taken seriously among Protestants. Catholics have to do good works to gain salvation, but this can lead to insincerity. Protestants are saved by faith, but doing good works when you don't need to is how other Protestants recognise that faith isn't insincere. Protestants are supposed to just help the poor out of pure joy and willingness to do what Jesus would want. Failure to do so makes others question whether you're really faithful.

The Great Awakening was built heavily on just this sort of social pressure. But instead of using good works as the way you recognise that someone's faith is genuine, American religious conservativism has substituted righteousness. Righteous people hate abortion, righteous people aren't gay. But above all else, righteous people have no doubts about what is right. God said it, I beleive it, and that's the end of it. Sound like any American politicians?

Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 12:02 PM:

Patrick, chill. Why do you think the religious feelings of those millions are a _revival_? What's new is the way they're being used, by people with little religious feeling, who now form a block in their own right.

Jeez. Sometimes I think you're too much in love with your own indignation.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 03:48 PM:

I think there's a real religious revival going on (1) because prior periods of revivalism are a well-documented fact of American history, (2) because a large amount of sociological data about the last three decades suggests another iteration of this well-established pattern, and (3) because I know plenty of people whose lives have been affected in one way or another by this broad pattern, in both positive and negative ways.

I'd be the last to argue against the idea that it's "being used, by people with little religious feeling, who now form a block in their own right." Quite the contrary, I think that's exactly right. However, I don't think it's just a matter of pre-existing piety being harnessed by a new generation of political opportunists, nor do I think it's something that was entirely trumped up by the Jerry Falwells of the world--or the Karl Roves. Big trends aren't that simple.

As for "indignation," I think you're reading it where it isn't there. I'm not indignant about anything you've said; I just disagree with some of it. If you don't like my manner of argument, it's a big Internet.

Norvin ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 03:48 PM:

I think Schmitt's question is roughly the left-wing equivalent of claiming that "the terrorists hate us because they hate freedom"--it's a decision to view our opponents as subhuman, doing what they do for no good reason. As several people have already commented, some evangelicals do indeed view being pro-life/anti-abortion/whatever as standing up for the rights of an oppressed group (namely, fetuses) whose humanity is not currently recognized by the law. I don't see it that way at all, myself, but I don't think we're going to turn any red states blue by pretending that people who believe this must necessarily be idiots who haven't thought about the moral questions involved. Sure, some of them are (some of us probably are, too). But calling them names isn't going to get us anywhere; we've got to get a conversation going.

Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 04:49 PM:

Patrick, if you're going to call a trend that began over three decades ago -- and hence encompasses the entire lives of about forty percent of all Americans -- a 'revival', that's your privilege as an editor and professional word guy. For many of us, though, it's the status quo.

But wow, I really don't have it in me to categorically redefine a word like that.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 05:34 PM:

Carlos, why are you being so grumpy? The term "revival" came from Mark Schmitt's post, and he most certainly does mean something that's been going on for a while, just as the earlier periods of American religious fervor lasted multiple decades.

I can't help but think that you're having a very vigorous argument with something that nobody thinks. What my being an editor has to do with it, I don't know.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 05:36 PM:

Carlos, neither Patrick nor I can figure out what your beef is. Care to explain in more detail?

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 06:38 PM:

Perhaps religion is only a symptom of what's going on with the Religious Right. After all, as several people have noted here and elsewhere, religion is a strong component of the Left too.

Also, if I meet someone who professes to be both religious and a conservative, I will by no means assume that this person is a member of the Religious Right. That person might be a Reagan Republican; these days Reagan Republicans and liberals are, ironically, fellow travelers.

Perhaps what's really driving the Religious Right is not religion, but rather xenophobia. Also, authoritarianism: a large number of people who want to be told what to do, and a small number of people who want to tell them what to do.

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 06:39 PM:

julia's remembrance above, , of a struggling worker donating money to help "Jim and Tammy [Bakker] after they got caught" brought back the disturbance I felt at the end of the Coen Bros latest, a "re-imagining" of [Spoiler Alert The Ladykillers where the money looks like it's going to a dodgy-sounding religious cause (it doesn't seem like the sort of place that is throwing itself & its money into relieving the suffering of the poor & sick).

Jess ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 07:04 PM:

...if you're going to call a trend that began over three decades ago -- and hence encompasses the entire lives of about forty percent of all Americans -- a 'revival', that's your privilege...

I think the dustup here is over what the word "revival" means. In this context it doesn't refer to evangelical camp-revival meetings - three days of hymns and bible-thumping and thank-you-Jesus . It's a reference to socio-historical events that lasted decades. Take a look at the chart here:


Some of the Great Revivals lasted over one hundred years. Not the happiest of thoughts to someone like me, when the current one only began in the 1960's, though it appears that improved technology can speed the cycle up a bit.

m ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 07:19 PM:

i think some of what we are seeing is a result of a combination of movements. one is that the sciences, theoretical physics at least, are coming to intersect with the spirituality (other dimensionality) of our world. another involves what someone brought up earlier - the millenium movement. it's not just evangelicals or fundamentalists or zionists, but includes alternative religions and native beliefs of people all around the globe, that we are indeed not only living in end times, but extremely close to a point of enormous change - however they picture it. both of these movements create a sense of urgency and tension about what remains a dramatic, unprecedented experience - a quantum leap of knowledge/existence that we have only been able to speculate about and imagine.

what makes this point in time stand out from the general idea of living in end times, for the fundamentalists/evangelicals/zionists, is that political events in the middle east recently seem to be coinciding with prophecies - or at least giving these believers the spark they need to be energized about the possibility of the final pay-off - what they've lived their entire lives in hopes of reaching, and what 2,000 years of previous generations have not seen. it seems to me that this has set in motion a new urgency in the fundamental sects, and their focus has switched from the biblical "rules to live by" to the "preparation" stage for the second coming of christ. now is not the time to focus on social issues - this world is passing - but on discerning the signs and navigating the last torturous days before the harvest.

or something like.

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 08:01 PM:

Some pertinent definitions of revival:
A restoration to use, acceptance, activity, or vigor after a period of obscurity or quiescence.
A time of reawakened interest in religion.
A meeting or series of meetings for the purpose of reawakening religious faith, often characterized by impassioned preaching and public testimony.
An evangelistic meeting intended to reawaken interest in religion.

Looking at British history -- which we were taught rather more than Australian, and much more than American -- there was a religious underpinning to the social movements in the nineteenth century towards equality, bettering prison & working conditions (e.g. getting children out of mines & factories & into school), less cruel treatment of animals & so forth.

Of course, religion had been used before -- as it sometimes is now -- to justify these things, as with apartheid in South Africa. The loss of religious faith & "social Darwinism" was used to justify or excuse those who wanted to (and still wish to) not change those conditions, or to remove as many of the improvements as possible.

Support of country, family & religious values as well as fighting "godless" ideology is often used to cloak &/or justify much State torture, terror & repression as seen in Greece, Spain & parts of South America, Indonesia & so forth. In other countries or at other times, of course, the ideology is used in almost exactly the same way for the same purposes.

Basically, this history has led me to deep suspicion of such political & religious ideologies.

One of the things that has led me to not condemn outright all religion & strong political & economic faiths is that people of good will can twist them to serve good purposes as well as the greedy & ambitious twisting them to serve their lusts. Unfortunately, as Yeats said, "the worst are full of a passionate intensity"

For these reasons, I determined in the last census to say "no religion", because some people have been using these figures to justify their hate-full versions of religion as having public support. Unfortunately, some have also characterized the "no religion" people as being 'adrift and lost' and without faith or spiritual beliefs, which I would feel deeply untrue of myself at least.

Jonathan Edelstein ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 08:16 PM:

what makes this point in time stand out from the general idea of living in end times, for the fundamentalists/evangelicals/zionists

Since when is Zionism a millennial theology (or are you referring exclusively to Christian Zionism)?

Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 09:04 PM:

PNH, TNH, I don't see any recent surge in religious belief in this country that would merit the word 'revival', which to my mind has the connotations of something that has been revived. Are we, as a country, more observant, more devout than we were in 1954 or 1964? I doubt it.

I'm not even sure the kind of observance has changed all that much, at least since the days Billy Graham had primetime specials on network TV and Hal Lindsey was on the bestseller lists. A shift away from mainline Protestantism, towards personal experience, and a political rapprochement between some conservative Catholic and Protestant groups; been there, done that. We elected a born-again president in 1976. He had lust in his heart.

It really bothers me to see this treated as a new thing, since this is the America I've lived my whole life in. It's nothing new, and it shouldn't be surprising.

What I do see as new is a trend towards using bigotry framed in religious themes as a political tactic, in exactly the same way that Nixon used race in his Southern Strategy, and for much the same reason. It's not meant to sway people with deeply held religious convictions, though I suppose it might. It's meant to skim off the bigot vote, by providing it with a socially acceptable, in fact nearly unimpeachable cover for much less acceptable motives.

So I question the usefulness of this entire concept of religious revival, especially as used in post mortem analyses of the recent election. It strikes me as political self-flagellation of the worst sort. Is this a swing group you really want on your side? I am with/against the Medium Lobster on this.

And while I respect Schmitt's inquiry, I don't think Fogel is very good on his supposed Fourth Great Awakening.

Dusty ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2004, 11:47 PM:

Let's see what's in the cauldron afflicting our country:

1 1/2 cups of institutionalized (unspoken) racism
2 cups of cognitive dissonance
3 tablespoons of concentrated greed
1 cup of paranoia

Simmer for a decade or two over fire and brimstone. Stir heavily with fear of hell and a little terrorism, mix in some modern technology to keep it connected, and then add a sprig of Bullsh to give it focus.

Our job for the next four years is figure out a way to spike the Kool-aid!

Tom S ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2004, 12:30 AM:

This is a bit OT, and I apologize in advance for the length.

There has been tolerance for a variety of religions in our history, but it seems only when a new sect hives off from its 'mainstream' parent (evangelical Baptist, Methodist, 'Free Will' or 'Gospel' churches are an example). I'm speaking here of christian religious currents only.

Anyone outside that mainstream has had a difficult time establishing legitimacy. The Mormons didn't have an easy time of it. The Theosophists (don't laugh -- they were well-financed and in the late 1890's had nearly 200 communes across the U.S.) didn't either. American history has all but ignored Black churches -- many of which were and are still separate, and many are not as equal, as Black churches in established Protestant sects.

Evangelicals have a tradition in tent revivalisim, of travelling preachers, of charismatic leaders. These people preached an estatic transmission of faith and knowledge directly from god, manifested through them as if they were old-Testament prophets. This is distinctly different from the Catholic or Protestant churches, which may be identified with faith or sect first, and then the person of its priest or minister.

Some of the evangelicals became wealthy and influential -- e.g., Billy Sunday and Amiee Semple MacPherson -- but their 'temples', their road show healings, radio programs asking the faithful to send donations, never seemed to outlast them. These same traditions continued -- only, technology provided more opportunities, and a few preachers became more clever about their trade.

Billy Graham and Robert Armstrong were the first to begin televising their services in the 60's. Pat Robertson, Swaggart, Jack van Impe and Falwell jumped on the bandwagon later, and discovered there was a good deal of money in it for the enterprising and well-organized. Then came the PTL and 700 clubs, and the CBN, and vitamin suppliments for the faithful.

People like Robertson and Jerry Falwell created well-organized businesses that motivated their followers in the same manner as any political party; except that the goal was to motivate them to send money. But the evangelicals were still viewed as outside mainstream America, and religion was still viewed as a private matter.

I don't know who made the decision to begin motivating evangelical followings toward political goals, but I tend to think it was a fusion between Republican strategists (to whom Fallwell and Robertson were leaders who could deliver votes) and the evangelical preachers (who saw their chance for more legitimacy, more power, more money).

Ralph Reed became their in-house strategist, and the Moral Majority was born. Later, that became the "Christian Coalition" -- and the use of the word 'christian' is, I think, no accident. It was an exercise in product branding.

What these people have done is to force religion to become a public matter, something which they wish to use bind up all aspects of public and private life in America -- call it "values", or whatever one likes, but religion (and a specific brand of it) is what's being pushed on the country. It has never been *the focus* of public debate in America before.

The issue is not whether a public dialog about religion is legitimate, but whether a Protestant sect-- with a history that has more to do with hucksterisim than faith -- will be given the power to create for everyone the rules for public life and private affairs.

jim bodie ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2004, 05:40 AM:

Back to the original question about the lack of social justice, I would assign a lot of the cause of that on the redefinition of 'abundant life' by Oral Roberts and the rest of the preachers who have followed his lead. When I read of the promise of having life more abundantly, I think of a rich spiritual life and connection to God via Jesus. The abundant life of the current american church is all about the material success of the family. Charity begins at home and it is only proper that parents should provide for their families. A lot of the reach for more luxuries is an overshooting of that original goal. Today abundant life means that you should be a landlord. Get the biggest mcmansion & the most lethal suv. Thats how the devil whispers in your ears and before you know it you are so fixated on money that you are worshipping mammon. I am highly dubious about the sustainability of this lifestyle as we move into a high energy cost future.

Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2004, 10:23 AM:

I think that the comments from Magenta and others about dispensationalism have some real merit. If you believe that the world is coming to an end soon, after a period of general misery and the perversion of all institutions to the power of the devil and preceding the end of history itself, your priorities are going to be different than if you believe that the world will roll on and on and that you and others will be judged for whatever it is you did in the generation given to you to live in. In the '80s I spent some time in Pentecostalist churches (specifically, the Foursquare denomination), and I remember folks finding it not at all strange to routinely frame comments about their children's college choices with the acknowledgment that all of this was of course contingent on the Lord not returning just yet. In my experience, now out of date, the charismatics were best at immediate needs like shelter and food, much worse at anything long-term or that might suggest structural change.

I also think that the Protestant movements crucial to this administration's power are big enough that lots of generalizations are all true of them, just of different parts. Many of these arguments would be more interesting if people knew enough to cite specific examples.

MB ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2004, 12:33 PM:

One important note: Each of the Great Awakenings also ushered in the great wars against American Indians, beginning with King Phillips War in the 1670s. There's actually a pretty decent body of scholarly literature on the subject.

So does Mark have any advice for those of us Indians looking forward to another period of institutionalized genocide?

MB ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2004, 01:06 PM:

Obviously, my Colonial American Hisotry is rusty. First Great Awakening began in the 1730's. Led to third wave of Indian Wars, including those known as the French and Indian War. The Great Migration preceded Metacomet's War (KPW). Still, Protestant's "awakening" have never been great for native peoples (or any other group capable of mass demonization.) In fact, have Arabs become the new Indians?

Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2004, 08:55 PM:

I know zilch about religious history in the US but wanted to correct a misconception about the state of physics in M's comment above:

While there are a few cosmologists such as Tipler and Morris who have embraced theist ideas in explaining the origins of the universe, there are as many or more who are looking at more exotic approaches. For an introduction for laypeople, I'd look at the later chapters of Three Roads to Quantum Gravity

Sorry for the slight veer off-topic.

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2004, 09:48 AM:

m: but there have been quite a few groups over several hundred years convinced by numerous signs in their time that they were living in "end times". All have suffered a Great Disappointment. Some here would be able to give examples & links of histories. It seems to fulfil some psychological need among some people, alas, they can cause great damage.

Perhaps widespread TV documentaries & popular historical features in tabloid papers covering a bunch of these could be part of a "fightback" to get people into a less frightened, more thoughtful & future-oriented state of mind? (Realistic, even.)

Carlos: "It's meant to skim off the bigot vote, by providing it with a socially acceptable, in fact nearly unimpeachable cover for much less acceptable motives." Somewhat OT, a large jolt to my enjoyment of "O Brother, Where Art Thou", was the disgust of the 1920s small-town southern public on knowing someone was involved with the Ku Klux Klan. It seemed quite unrealistic.

Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2004, 11:47 AM:

Epacris: the whole movie was unrealistic -- it was a myth. And the myth actually reflected a swath of public opinion from the Depression too.

I grew up in a house full of "mountain" and "race" records from the 20s, 30s and into the 40s. I can tell you that there were songs which were racist, and songs which were not, and there were songs making fun of the Ku Klux Klan, and songs which were recording a deep hatred of the Ku Klux Klan.

I can also tell you that the Ku Klux Klan did not target only blacks, Jews, and those who would marry them. They also targeted "communists" -- by which they meant also union organizers and sometimes school teachers.

What I can't tell you is what proportion of Southern rural whites held which opinion. But that's not important, when you're making a broad, mythical movie like "O, Brother Where Art Thou" -- what's important is to grab a shining little nugget of truth, no matter how tiny, and polish it and hold it up in a prominent place, and surround it with light, and say "look at this, we can all embrace this."

And the shining little nugget of truth was: rocking music soothes the savage breast and makes it want to dance (okay,that doesn't look right, but you know what I mean). And reject fear and hatred.

Okay, everybody go watch it again and again.

M. Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2004, 07:08 PM:

Maybe I have my facts wrong, but I recall hearing that the reaction of a fair number of middle-to-upper-class whites after school integration seemed to be inevitable was to send their children to "Christian academies".

So, my flip answer is, "What do you expect from a trend strongly influenced by people educated in schools where the word 'Christian' was used as a synonym for 'Whites(-who-can-afford-it)-only'?"

My less-flip answer is that the movement has merged Social Darwinism with the Elect/Preterite divide of T.U.L.I.P. Calvinism to end up with, "All I have achieved I is immutably mine even if I nominally don't deserve it, and so none can be taken from me legitimately. All who are poor or despised deserve to be, and it's evil for us to try to do anything about it beyond the individual charity we're supposed to do as an outward and visible sign of our Election."

There're also a fair number of Preterite over-seas who are in our way...they are as chaff anyway, so don't pay them too much mind as we go through them to get those wolves.

Elected by the indwelling of the Holy Market, justified and covered by the blood of the unlucky.

Donald Johnson ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2004, 07:59 AM:

Someone may have already said this--I didn't have time to read through the thread. But I think the fact that Bush proposed 15 billion dollars of spending on AIDS in Africa and other places is at least partially the result of evangelical prodding. I don't bring this up because I'm overly fond of how my fellow evangelicals have been acting in the political sphere, because I'm not. They (or the white ones anyway) tend to be jingoists who ignore America's foreign policy sins and most other sins that don't involve sex. But there are leftwing evangelicals like Jim Wallis and I think their influence has had some good effect on the rest of the community. Not enough, but a little.

Whether Bush is actually delivering on his 15 billion dollar promise is another question. I think Kerry or Edwards promised to double that amount in one of the debates, but that didn't seem to swing too many evangelical votes their way.

Donald Johnson ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2004, 08:03 AM:

Oh, Matt Y made my point in the link above this post.

d. brenneman ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2004, 01:56 PM:

in response to the original question:

I think the "current flourishing of religious faith" and its lack of emphasis on what I'd consider "social justice issues" has a lot to do with the idea of mercy/grace and who deserves it. This reminds me of American Jesus and the points Stephen Prothero brings up regarding changing ideas of Mankind's relation to God, which is probably a long rabbit trail I should avoid.
Certainly sexual sins are the big no-no's in the evangelical community, and I think that's what's really being hammered home right now. It's much easier to emphasize the us/them divide over something as "clear-cut" as sexual partners.

oh, and in regard to M. Turyn:

I'd have to say that I don't really think T.U.L.I.P Calvinism has really been taken to heart; certainly it would be hard to find Southern Baptists willing to admit to the Total Depravity of Mr. Bush, and Limited Atonment is also liable to raise some hackles
However, I will say that there's a certain grim Calvinism to the "All who are poor or despised deserve to be" mindset that's just below the surface in many of my conservative friends/family.

M. Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2004, 10:11 AM:

Sure, I don't expect the Southern Baptists to be dead-on Calvinists, and I've never heard someone who really seemed to believe in their own Total Depravity, which goes somewhat against American Optimism, but I think they're willing to believe it of the out-groups (but every culture finds a way to do this). More generally, I think that a few petals have fallen off to flavour the national tea.

In particular, I think the antinomianism potentially implicit in the Persistence of the Elect allows many of us to feel that we're the Good Guys regardless of what we do; I can never forget the shocked faces of the officers convicted of raping Abner Louima, expressions that seemed to scream, "But we're the good guys!"

And I think that Unconditional Election and Limited Atonement translate into the capability of some to accept the system as good even should it seem to work well only for a few. Some are saved, some are damned, and that's how the Source of Love willed it.

Irresistible Grace? It fits in really well with the narrative of the spoiled wastrel who squanders every opportunity given him for thirty-five years, and then is pulled up to be God's Chosen Maximum Leader. More generally, though, it flies in the face of the myth of how anyone, even Richard Mellon Scaife, can pull himself up by his own damn bootstraps.

d.brenneman ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2004, 12:24 PM:

quoting M. Turyn:

More generally, I think that a few petals have fallen off to flavour the national tea.


In particular, I think the antinomianism potentially implicit in the Persistence of the Elect allows many of us to feel that we're the Good Guys regardless of what we do.

I agree wholeheartedly. I think these points are touching on the heart of the matter.

Since we (as Americans) are the "Good Guys", why look at things from another (and therefore Bad) perspective?

These stances spring from deep-rooted theological convictions; and those ways of seeing the world aren't easily changed.
I suspect that's because a cohesive theology is rarely articulated in many congregations (at least, the ones I've been in).

It seems like the megachurches tend toward emphasising a more emotional experience.

Sharon ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2004, 03:35 PM:

If this were satire, it'd be funny, but it's not, and it isn't:


Tina ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2004, 12:25 PM:

Disclaimer: I've only skimmed the above posts, so none of this is argument/debate regarding them.

I think there's a couple things going on in terms of both a religious revival and the nature of it.

Some of the trend back towards observant religious folk is probably simply the social cycle of parental rebellion. That's a simplistic way of putting it but I suspect y'all are smart enough to know what I mean: things come in cycles in part (though not entirely, of course) because of the large number of people who swear they aren't going to be like their parents.

Leaving that aside, though: people are scared, and scared people tend to question their mortality more, and that goes hand in hand with re-examining their religious beliefs. I do not mean to imply in any sense that people only get religion because of being scared of death, but I do mean to state that people who might not think much about religion otherwise are more likely to under those circumstances. So marginal believers may become more fervent, agnostics may suddenly wonder more, etc.

I think whoever up there suggested some of it is a result of the Internet culture is on to something. I think the wide availability of world-wide news and rumors concerning it contributes to the fear, and to some degree, hopelessness.

And people who are fearful and hopeless about their futures are less inclined towards the generosity that help address social ills.

At least that's my feeling on it.

Republic of Palau ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2004, 08:09 AM:

Like Tina, I only skimmed, so apologies if anyone has already made this point.

Recently I read/heard (I wish I could remember where, should've made a contemporaneous note) both the current US version of Christianity and the Bin Laden version of Islam described , rather than bona fide religions, as millennial death cults.

Works for me.

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2004, 11:04 AM:

I don't think "the current US version of Christianity" is a phrase that describes anything. I agree that the version the Irreligious Wrong subscribe to is a millennial death cult, but don't tar all American Christians with that brush.

I stress this because if we play Christians vs. Everybody Else, with us as the Everybody Else, we'll lose. That's the Republicans' game -- and it disgusts even some Republicans.

Tina ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2004, 02:33 AM:

Yes, please allow me to second what Xopher says.

Although I stress it for a different reason. I stress it because lumping all Christians together gives me hives. And when I get hives, I get grumpy. And my being grumpy on my birthday would not be fair.

I would actually extend that to ask that people not lump all of any group of larger than about 4 people together as "all the same". Even fundamentalist Christians differ in their brand of fundamentalism, for instance; witness the debate in the "how far does this right wing extend, anyhow?" section over the Left Behind books for an example of this.

I also apply this to, y'know, political groupings. And stuff.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2004, 01:23 PM:

Me three to what Xopher and Tina said.

Several of the most vehement critics of the Religious Right I know are themselves religious Christians, and at least one is pretty conservative.