That Old Time Religion

Steve Bruce (God is Dead: Secularization in the West, 2002, p. 211) reminds us how Old Time religion has changed. (His book refutes popular “economic” theories of religion, but contains other historical information as well.)

“As part of a rich and insightful examination of how evangelicalism was evolving, James Hunter in 1982 surveyed a large number of young evangelical students in a variety of colleges with a series of questions that had been used in studies in the 1950s and 1960s [J.D. Hunter Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation, 1987 ]. In 1951 almost all of those asked thought that ‘social’ dancing (tangos, waltzes and the like) were ‘morally wrong all the time’ and most were similarly opposed to folk dancing. In 1982 none of the young evangelicals objected to either. A similar proportion of the first generation (98 per cent) regarded drinking alcohol as sinful; in 1982 only 17 per cent thought it morally wrong. In 1951 almost half thought watching ‘Hollywood-type’ movies was morally wrong; in 1982 none did. The responses to questions about sex are interesting. The evangelical consensus against ‘petting’ and sexual intercourse was so strong in 1951 that the questions were not asked. In the early 1960s, 81 per cent of evangelicals thought ‘heavy petting’ morally wrong all the time. Twenty years later, less than half Hunter’s sample took that view."

Keep in mind that Hollywood movies of the 1950s and earlier were censored. They contained no nudity and nothing more explicit than kisses. Also, while evangelicals used to forbid divorce – like Jesus - now the Bible Belt leads the nation in divorce. In the old days, evangelicals said only whores used makeup. There are many more examples of how Old Time Religion gets radically transformed.

In the old days, evangelicals often knew the Bible and its teachings about Jesus. Now they don’t, and there’s even less impediment to change. Now most evangelicals subscribe to some form of the Gospel of Prosperity. In the old days, they would have recognized it as heresy.


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