In the first chapter, Shires begins to lay out the groundwork for his exploration of how the counterculture spun off Christianized hippies. He does this by pointing to the rise of modernism, with its whispers of neophilia and materialism that carried a clinical yet intense passion for material gain and economic security. He doesn’t get quite as blunt as what the Third Child study researchers found, that the Boomers’ parents were people who thought hiding your Christian faith was fine if it meant getting a raise. But he does point out that the Boomers’ parents were very invested in Getting Paid and that they accepted the idea that church is just for Sundays easily.
When I started hanging around in evangelical circles, there was a free-floating idea that “Church is just for Sundays” was a recent thing and that in the 1950s, say, it wasn’t like that. This is completely wrong. “Church is just for Sundays” is roughly a century old at this point in terms of American religious practice. By the 1950s it was even codified that there was no particular immorality or degenerancy attached to not attending.
One very interesting thing Shires does in the first chapter is explain that the liberal-material Christian view was an accommodation with the advances of technology and scientific thinking. He briefly mentions something I’ve encountered in some of the early 20th century American writers I’ve read, the pushback against early-stage Affluenza which predated the counterculture by a couple of generations. It is beyond the scope of his book, but the post-frontier Nature-love types like Gene Stratton-Porter were forerunners to the counterculture Christian-hippies.
Part of the fallout of the high highs and low lows of technology-driven rapid prosperity was liberal Christianity and wider social mores adopting conformism as a tool against unchecked greed and lust for profits and as a way to preserve economic prosperity and social stability. They were anti-technocrats, but ones who integrated a technocratic perspective into their faith, secularizing the story of the loaves and fishes as merely a model of sharing. That watered-down, materialist approach was already a dominant force in American Christianity prior to the counterculture.
The modernist, liberal Christians whose perspective dominated much of the middle classes that Christian-hippies came from were essentially Pelagian individualist materialists. There was nothing supernatural about God and faith, it was just about love, and further, love that could be expressed by just living a good life and not being too greedy. There was no Again to be Born.
The “Chrippies” rejected this idea of worship being a Sunday thing and optional at that as too private and self-contained a way to be Christian. They wanted a more muscular, open, light blazing kind of faith. Which leads to Chapter Two, a discussion of the counterculture.