Progressive and Conservative Religious Ideologies: The Tumultuous Decade of the 1960s.
Soon to be sixty years since "the Sixties," not surprisingly that decade, or better put, that creative moment in American life, is now increasingly subject to a more balanced retrospective analysis. Richard Lints's look backward is among the most insightful we have in regard especially to religion's role in the cultural shifts of that crucial moment. What sets his approach apart from others is the depth of analysis of religion in its cultural embeddings, avoidance of easy stereotypes often attached to that period, and the search for an interpretive paradigm in keeping with the complexities that must be dealt with in any comprehensive analysis. To start with the latter, his introduction is appropriately entitled "the Problem of Naming." He invokes the often-cited term "post-modern" to describe the cultural upheavals of that time and their lasting effects but not in some overly abstracted fashion; rather, he uses the label to describe a shift in cultural conditions and consciousness--a change in metanarratives characterized by the decline of belief in progress and the promise of modernity (science, reason, optimism) and the rise of a subsequent era known for its loss of foundations, greater openness to truth from within, and a sense of irony and ambiguity. Something happened of significance reshaping the world after the 1960s, almost everyone agrees on that, so the question becomes how to label it, and what conceptual lens through which to examine it, and Lints sets out to convince the reader that the "post-modern" descriptor offers a unifying and expansive approach.
A central assumption throughout the analysis is that conservative religious movements arising out of the 1960s were more progressive than generally alleged and, similarly, the progressive movements were more conservative than typically remembered. Lints rejects a simplistic view of "culture wars" and regards liberal-versus-conservative interpretations as inadequate for grasping the subtle and paradoxical patterns between religion and the larger culture. Instead, he emphasizes that the highly touted counterculture of the time had both a left and fight wing to it, both of which were disillusioned by the promise of modernity even as they were committed to different hopes and dreams that it offered. "The left hand side of the revolution pinned it hopes on human potential by way of participatory democracy," writes Lints (21), "while the fight hand side committed itself to human potential by way of religious individualism." Both in effect were concerned about human freedom and opportunity for individuals to pursue the ends and choices they themselves made.
The author examines this complex of religion-and-culture patterns as it plays out in chapters on civil rights, gender, mass culture, epistemology, radical theology, and evangelicals. Throughout he looks at ways in which themes of protest and retrieval intersect each other in ironic ways. In the Civil Rights Movement, there was both an assertion of radical discontinuity with a discriminatory past and a revolutionary retrieval of a heritage of freedom; something similar of course occurred with the rebirth of feminism. Mass culture and the rise of an "empty self' signaled something of a break from modernity yet fostered controversies over the "end of ideology." It was a moment as well when the older foundations of logical positivism in philosophy and traditional views in theology would give way to dislocations of philosophy's role in society and "Death of God" and other forms of radical theology. Evangelicalism grew because it captured the radical impulses as a means of protest against the cultural and religious establishments and gave boost to a more democratized religious spirituality, a reclaiming of the individual and his or her faith and of a country long deemed as theirs.
Lints's comprehensive argument is quite persuasive. More than just a transitional moment in the nation's history, the 1960s was marked by great ironies, as he says, in the "repudiation of long cherished traditions and the recovery in changed form of those very same traditions" (227). No one to my knowledge has charted this metamorphosis in as much depth and nuance
across as many spheres in cultural and religion as he has. As one who is often wary of post-modern rhetoric, I came away from this book impressed, and somewhat surprised at how well he connects the discourses of postmodernity, particularly viewed as the demise of foundationalism, and the ensuing cultural conflicts of this period. Linking the two discourses places the highly descriptive analysis of the latter in much of the popular and scholarly literature in a far broader framework of theoretical discussion. Not just an enhanced framework, it also offers profound insights into the ambiguities, incongruities, and paradoxes within the religious and cultural terrain that is the focus of attention here. Scholars of American religious history will appreciate this synthesis and reframing of the materials. Still, questions may arise as to whether the post-modern paradigm with its high level of generality obfuscates as much as clarifies religious and cultural changes "on the ground," as is often said. But the latter is not the primary purview of this book, instead what is important are the inter-connections of ideas linking the moral, cultural, political, and particularly the religious arising at the time. As such, the book is very helpful in helping us better understand the complex, influential role of religion in the process of cultural formation.
Wade Clark Roof
University of California, Santa Barbara
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|Author:||Roof, Wade Clark|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2011|
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