Hippies of the Religious Right, Chapter Two: The Counterculture

So in Chapter Two, Shires has a brief discussion of the counterculture.  He drops all the right names (Roszak, Ellul) and along the way breaks down the appeal of the counterculture for what became Christian hippies.

The major thing for the “Chrippies” was that they wanted to keep the Golden Rule, freedom and expressive individualism of their parents’ modernist, secular approach to life and belief, but drop the conformism and money-hunger.  They “logic trapped” their parents by pointing out their obvious hypocrisies.

We in the future now might look at how easily and smoothly hypocrisy is dismissed as irrelevant in general political discourse, but the younger Silents and older Boomers were able to pull off confronting hypocrisy because their parents were in fact behaving in an untraditional way.  The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit was two-faced in a way that was historically rather new and thus freshly and particularly susceptible to cries of Hypocrite.  And the children of these parents took advantage of it, pressing that advantage as hard as they could most chances they got.

When you present an adulterer as a moral exemplar people might think you’re a hypocrite.

But the eagerness to trap their parents and authority figures in nets of hypocrisy exposed something Shires presents rather neutrally, the way in which freedom as a movement and ideal superseded the Civil Rights Movement rapidly.  People born from 1944-1960 had an 86% rate of formal religious training (Sunday school, catechism class, and the like) and while this filled many of them (the future Chrippies, what Shires terms the “spiritually sensitive”) with a longing for faith as a seamless garment, with life and belief as one, in practice they sought freedom from orthodox spiritual direction, instead delving into drugs as a path towards that goal of a seamless garment of life-faith.

The use of drugs for individualized spiritual awakening is an interesting contrast to the Dexedrine housewives of the postwar and 1950s timeframe.  The mainstream use of drugs to enforce conformity, particularly with women’s highly constrained and very modern form of the housewife role, is not mentioned by Shires, being outside the scope of his work.  But it something to consider for the era he’s speaking of.

Shires also discusses the original “We have to be intolerant of intolerance!” that was a prominent theme among these seekers and spiritually sensitive youth pursuing an ideal of pure love.  Weirdly, he downplays the sex-cult aspects that arose out of this love-worship.  He mentions an example of humane, saving love from M.A.S.H. the movie, in which a suicidal doctor is brought back with the love of his coworkers via them staging a pretend Last Supper and dosing him with a sleeping draught…only for him to be revived in “Heaven” where a beautiful nurse has sex with him.  Not exactly Biblically grounded (a recurring phrase Shires uses regarding the spiritually sensitive who became what I’m terming Chrippies or Christian hippies).

Shires describes the nurse as “compassionate and compliant”.  This implicit approval for “free love” with Christian sprinkles explains some of the odder acceptable fringes that flowered in the wake of the Jesus movement and the Christian hippies it produced.

Shires’ own language reveals some telling things about what roles women were to play as some of them rebelled against the artificial and novel form of the housewife role their parents and older sisters were performing.

Anyhow.  On to Chapter Three!

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Hippies of the Religious Right, Chapter One: Modern Culture– Mainstream and Mainline

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.

Blogging through a book: Hippies of the Religious Right, by Preston Shires.

This is a book about how the counterculture spun off the Religious Right.  It’s by a guy who thinks that was totally awesome and wrote this book laying out the timeline.  This book was written over a decade ago, in 2007, so it will not be covering the Obama era or the impacts of social media on his thesis.  I may attempt that when I am done reading it, though.

Anyway, as I finish a chapter, the link will be added to this post.

I read the preface, which is just a quick summary of my first two sentences using the example of Billy Graham’s son.

Hopefully this will get me back on the reading books silently saddle.

Chapter One

Chapter Two