James W. Fifield, minister of the First Congregational Church
of Los Angeles, recalled in 1954 that a man once speaking with
John Dewey commented, “Mr. Dewey, I don’t see how
you can believe all this collectivist thinking and all these collectivist
things and still call yourself a Christian,” to which Dewey
responded, “I don’t” (Fifield 51). Although
Dewey eschewed religious supernaturalism, he embraced a pragmatic
vision that allowed any new experience in hopes that it could
make the world somehow better. He argued for social improvement,
so long as, on the way, it not become detrimental to the concept
of freedom or personal liberty. “It is this active relation
between ideal and actual to which I would give the name ‘God’,”
wrote Dewey in his 1934 treatise A Common Faith (Dewey
Conservative thinkers twenty years later, however, remained skeptical
of Dewey’s pragmatic educational models, increasingly concerned
that they prepared American children for globalization. Pragmatism
left little room for the idea of a preordained universe, and globalization
signaled the possibility of economic and political ties to nations
neither capitalist nor religious. Mid-twentieth century America
clung to the Manifest Destiny of earlier generations, claiming
a superiority and godliness diametrically opposed to Communist
claims of superiority and godlessness. American religiosity tempered
and shaped American anti-communism, creating the pervasive sentiment
that the United States engaged in a religious battle with a religious
foe, rather than a political battle with a collectivist answer
to capitalism. This American pietism shaped the American character.
It defined Americanism. But a definition of Americanism that categorically
included religious belief dispossessed a disbelieving minority
in a nation whose First Amendment had consistently been interpreted
as offering freedom of and from religion.
Throughout the nation’s history, majority
opinion tended to substitute for truth – such was the nature
of democracy. An outspoken and proactive electorate ensured that
prevailing public opinion essentially became the American Way.
That public’s opinions were subjective perceptions spread
through the media outlets of cultural discourse. National images
and patriotic feelings necessarily tainted any decision maker’s
self-perception, as well as his or her received image of a presumed
national foe. The American perception of the Soviet Union in the
1950s found a base in atheism, totalitarianism, and communism.
It fostered a public belief that no nation could positively engage
with a counterpart perceived by so many as evil. Popular Christianity
became the zenith of popular culture. 1.
That counterpart survived throughout the 1950s and 60s, ensuring
that the domestic discourse would turn primarily on U.S.-Soviet
relations. Internal security would be paramount. The House Un-American
Activities Committee (HUAC) began its search for potentially subversive
individuals and organizations in 1938, and by 1954, the Congressional
interrogators reached the zenith of their power. In the Senate,
the Government Operations Committee, chaired by Wisconsin Republican
Senator Joseph McCarthy, expanded its investigative scope from
simple concern with government waste. The Permanent Subcommittee
on Investigations hunted Communist infiltration in the executive
branch, stretching the limits of its authority and eventually
culminating in McCarthy’s 1954 Congressional censure (Ritchie
xiii). That censure and the continued inquiries of the House Un-American
Activities Committee only heightened a popular paranoia steadily
accumulating throughout the first post-war decade. There was a
clear enemy, and Communists became scapegoats for American trepidation.
American Christianity throughout the Cold War decade pitted itself
as both the primary target of Communist annihilation and the most
effective weapon against the atheistic scourge.
American claims that Communist philosophy was
fundamentally atheistic had obvious merit. Communist thinkers
from Marx to Lenin to Trotsky to Stalin advocated an abandonment
of a religion they felt to be superstitious and unproductive.
Thus mid-century Americans referred to “godless communism.”
2. Throughout the post-war years of the
Second Red Scare, “godless communism,” along with
similar variations, rooted itself as a functional epithet and
cautionary tale to a reluctant America in a changing global environment.
As the Communist threat to the American way of life grew, so its
godless materialism continued to threaten a Christianity increasingly
tied to America’s self-image. The choice between Americanism
and Communism was vital, without room for compromise.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower began attending church regularly
in the 1950s. Former President Herbert Hoover called Communism
“human slavery.” Walter R. Courtenay, minister of
the First Presbyterian Church of Nashville, Tennessee, insisted
in 1957 he “would personally rather see [his] nation die
cleanly under the H-bomb than rot away under Socialism”
(Fried 5). When Brooklyn clergyman William Howard Melish suggested
in 1954 that Christianity and Communism could coexist, he was
immediately labeled a Communist. For the majority of Americans,
the idea that a Christian could be a Communist became almost universally
inconceivable. The paranoia associated with Soviet policy and
global change subtly shifted to fear and hatred of atheistic philosophy
– the godlessness of “godless communism.” Excoriating
Russia’s lack of faith and emphasizing a more semantically
potent “godless communism” label, United States political
and religious leaders gave the populace a simple yet profound
point of divergence from the confusing glob of collectivist policy
they were supposed to despise. It was a metaphor of good versus
evil, and a reinforcement of the notion of American divine right.
That metaphor, however, became definition, thus defining American
disbelievers out of their citizenship (Belfrage 224).
American church membership, approximately 49 percent of the population
in 1940 irrespective of denomination, increased to 65 percent
by 1970, pushed in part by the absolutist rhetoric of Cold War
American politicians and evangelicals. Due to an economic climate
that caused many to move and an overall growth in church construction,
large numbers of Americans throughout the 1950s began changing
church membership, either shifting denominations within Protestant
Christianity or simply transferring membership to a new house
of worship (Smith 99). The growth of American religious participation
was a response to Communism’s unqualified rejection of God,
according to commentators such as Billy Graham, igniting a virtual
revival and an increasing resort to the Bible for battle with
the Communist foe (“Satan’s Religion” 42).
Evangelists such as Graham fueled the revival
spirit in America. The minister was a popular voice for fundamentalist,
nationalistic conservatism, arguing that Christian salvation was
the only vaccine against Communism. 3.
"The greatest and most effective weapon against
Communism today,” wrote Graham in 1954, “is to be
born again Christian” (42). He encouraged a new religious
turn in America, as he portrayed Communism as Satanic, an anti-Christian
religion competing with Christianity for American souls (“Our
World in Chaos” 21). Individual atonement with God by each
loyal citizen was necessary. The only way for America to combat
Communism was through faith, prayer, and religious revival. America
without the Bible could not survive (“A Christian America”
Billy James Hargis, another conservative fundamentalist evangelist,
also saw a vital need for American biblicism, warning from the
pages of II Timothy that “the time will come when people
will not tolerate sound doctrine.” “For there have
been some intruders,” Hargis recalled from the book of Jude
in 1957, “who long ago were designated for this condemnation,
godless persons, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness
and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Hargis
189). In this formulaic evangelical conception, any Biblical reference
to evil was a de facto reference to Communism.
“Ye shall know them by their fruits,” offered the
most common preparatory encouragement for the American religious
community. “Prove all things,” wrote the apostle Paul,
“hold fast that which is good” (Matt. 7:16; Thes.
5:21). Verses such as these argued that Biblical knowledge was
the best defense against Communism. Paul’s letter to the
Romans taught that renewing one’s heart and mind with God
protected against evil (Rom. 12:2). His first letter to the Corinthians
reminded Americans that understanding the duality of man offered
a weapon against Communist tactics (1 Cor. 15:45-47). While progressive
ministers such as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and Episcopal Bishop
G. Bromley Oxnam quoted Acts 4:32-37 as an example that early
Christians were themselves communistic, if not simply communal,
religious patriots responded with Jesus’ parables of the
“talents” and “pounds.” Christ, they said,
believed in private property. In an article published in the January
1964 edition of the American Mercury, conservative theologian
T. Robert Ingram utilized the Bible’s ninth commandment,
which warns against bearing false witness, to argue for the necessity
of full disclosure of Communist suspicions by the general religious
public. When Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians warned
of false prophets, it warned of Communist infiltration of liberal,
socially conscious clergy (Ingram 51-55).
The most commonly referenced scriptural reference for the supposed
capricious nature of liberal ministers was the story of Jesus
and the moneychangers. In this tale, Jesus entered the temple
of Jerusalem, and upon seeing merchants selling goods on holy
ground, drove them away, chiding them for turning a religious
place into “a den of thieves.” Conservative ministers,
calling on the story, argued that socially active clergy were
using their temples for something other than prayer – turning
themselves into makeshift moneychangers in the house of the Lord
(Lovell 122-23). With a growing clerical correlation between social
activism and Communist affiliation, more conservative houses of
worship became closed sanctums rather than tools of community
Despite the differences in activist and fundamentalist dogma,
U.S. religious leaders used the Bible to convince Americans that
their freedom, liberty, and citizenship were inextricably tied
to Christian faith. Often, ministers ignored Jesus’ command
to “stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning
and you will not be condemned,” as a simple matter of political
expediency (Luke 6:37). The growing threat of a “godless
communist” menace pushed many Christian teachers toward
a different passage from the Sermon on the Mount as a bedrock
of moral instruction, carefully reminding America that “no
man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24).
The American reliance on religion for ideological legitimacy blended
the Christian and patriotic ideals, making Christianity a prerequisite
for patriotic citizenship. Louisiana Representative George Long
portrayed the battle between capitalism and communism as a battle
between fear of men and faith in men, referring to Christianity
as “our religion” and claiming it as the primary reason
for public education and other public services (Long 13977-13979).
“We are richly endowed with a spiritual treasure,”
said Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey in 1959, “that can,
and does, give us overwhelming strength in any contest between
totalitarianism and freedom” (Humphrey 5346). Louis Rabaut
of Michigan claimed from the House floor that Communism was antithetical
to the American way of life on the basis of its lack of religion,
citing that Christianity was the fundamental element of Americanism.
Rabaut noted that America was “a Christian nation which
believes in God; a nation founded upon and imbued with a fundamental
faith in our Creator,” while “communism, with all
that it stands for, is an odious and abhorrent monster”
(Rabaut 19391-2). Judging Russian action by American moral standards
led to stereotyping and overemphasized a sense of U.S. superiority.
“You can no more talk Communists out of Government,”
cried the pages of the American Mercury, demonstrating
the stark U.S. caricature of its foreign foe, “than you
could talk an onrushing lion out of molesting you” (Aldo
Pundits contradictorily used freedom as the principal argument
against a communist ethos, then told their audiences how to exercise
that freedom. Television fueled a growing consumer culture in
the 1950s and 1960s, and, when combined with “majority rule,”
encouraged conformity and made dissenting choices reactionary
responses to the American will. The dissenting choice to disbelieve
was tied to Communism in the American mind, for “Communism
is the deadly foe of belief in God and of all organized religion,”
according to former President Truman in 1953 (“Text of Truman
Talk”). Freedom of religion was de facto freedom
not to ascribe to religion, but governmental verdicts such as
the Supreme Court’s incremental removal of public school
prayer became interpreted publicly as a tacit approval of anti-religious
American practice and tradition made it a Christian nation, so
went the prevailing belief, despite judicial First Amendment interpretations.
In making the argument that the fight against Communism was the
fight to preserve Christian civilization, many forgot that totalitarianism
disrupted the entire world – a world in which the majority
of the citizens were not Christian. Commentator Max Eastman, though
in the minority among conservative thinkers, argued that Christianity’s
focus on heavenly rewards and forgiveness made it less able to
maintain the ruthlessness required to fight Soviet Communism.
Eastman portrayed the battle against totalitarian Communism as
a worldwide necessity, and wrote in 1964 that "to regard it as
a Christian struggle seems to me parochial and self-defeating”
Of course, Communist paranoia did not exist in a vacuum, and the
nuclear threat and the fear it provoked were both palpable and
legitimate. That fear spawned a turn against reform, as liberality
became both the model cause and symptom of postwar change in the
conservative mind. It fueled racial unrest, a burgeoning women’s
movement that challenged traditional female roles, and a growing
nuclear threat from a godless Communist menace. The national racial
unease – and its particularly violent form in the American
South – was similar to a subtler conservative reaction to
feminism. Emerging from a violent, world-changing conflict in
which women answered a national call to leave the home for the
sake of the country’s economic and military viability, a
society wary of change countered attempts to sustain that progress
with a maternal, subservient image of womanhood. “Over and
over women heard in voices of tradition and of Freudian sophistication
that they could desire no greater destiny than to glory in their
own femininity,” wrote Betty Friedan in 1963. “A thousand
expert voices applauded their femininity, their adjustment, their
new maturity” (11). The nation that had required so much
wartime domestic change of its citizens attempted to redirect
its energies on regaining an idealistic prewar society exemplified
by the potency of a uniform, homogenized, white, Christian male.
This backlash stifled groups representative of change –
be they atheistic, black, or female – creating a situation
in which legitimate fears fed irrational hostility to activism
The intellectual group under some of the most intense scrutiny
by anti-communist Americans were liberal theologians, principal
among them Reinhold Niebuhr. Prior to, during, and after the Second
World War, Niebuhr took the lead among American theologians in
attempting to construct a new, progressive religious counter to
Marxist conceptions of religion, history, and social change for
the working poor. His theology allowed liberal social theory to
coexist with more traditional forms of belief. It was anti-communist
in that he argued against the presence of a utopia and the human
need to achieve it. Along with his brother, H. Richard Niebuhr
and fellow theologian Paul Tillich, who argued for a change in
traditional Protestantism to confront the challenge of collectivization,
Reinhold Niebuhr became a relative celebrity. The popular media
portrayed the thinkers as divine authorities as America searched
for anti-communist justification through religious leaders. Paul
Tillich appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1959,
the accompanying article lauding the philosopher as an intellectual
giant and declaring his theology as an “edifice. . .densely
packed and neatly shaped against the erosion of intellectual wind
and wave” (“To Be or Not to Be” 46).
But all was not praise. Conservative pundits labeled Niebuhr a
Communist in the pages of the American Mercury for his
liberal theology, his “malodorous materialistic philosophy.
. . poisoning the mainstream of dogmatic theological teachings
in our country for four decades” (Benedict 18). Union Theological
Seminary, Niebuhr’s principal institution, endured a variety
of communist-tinged epithets for its social activism. “Niebuhr,”
chided the American Mercury, “is one of a coterie
of intellectual mediocrities centering at Union whose pernicious
influence has spread like a pestilential stream along the conduits
of denomination control” (Matthews, “Christ and Communism”
121-22). In 1958, the Seminary opposed the continuation of rigid
hostility to Communism, both politically and religiously, instigating
a flood of fundamentalist response.
Fundamentalist discontent over Niebuhr and Union highlighted the
struggle between traditionalism and progressivism in U. S. Christendom,
the former represented by evangelicals emphasizing God’s
salvation of the righteous, the latter represented by activist
ministers emphasizing God’s benevolence in social causes.
Conservative theologians such as Graham and Hargis stressed the
moral evils of Communism. Every conflict was a battle between
good and evil, between the Godly and the damned. “Either
Communism must die, or Christianity must die,” wrote Reverend
Graham in 1954, “because it is actually a battle between
Christ and anti-Christ” (“Satan’s Religion”
45). Conversely, the religious progressives of Union by no means
approved of Communism, but stressed that building a socially conscious
infrastructure was America’s best defense against the Red
Menace. Activism was the extension of religious belief. This seemed
logical enough. But groups bearing names such as Christian Crusade,
the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, and the National Association
for Evangelicals used patriotism as an arguing tactic replacing
logic. The groups combined political and ecumenical rhetoric to
the point of creating an overgrown right-wing perversion of Christianity.
The National Association for Evangelicals, which carried over
ten million members in the 1950s, consistently tied its message
of salvation to strong denunciations of the Red Menace, emphasizing
the Christian duty to “safeguard free enterprise from perversion”
(Berlet and Lyons 201). The Christian Anti-Communist Crusade,
led by Fred Schwartz, did the same. By 1961, Schwartz’s
Crusade earned over a million dollars annually, promoting the
belief that no bilateral negotiation could exist with Communism.
The anti-morality of the Reds, for Schwartz, suggested that “the
battle against Communism is the battle for God” (Schwartz
92). Billy James Hargis’ Christian Crusade reached millions
each month through print and radio, and earned over a million
dollars annually. Hargis consistently referred to the free enterprise
system as a fundamentally Christian entity. It was Hargis’s
hope that “the atheistic regimes in Communist lands might
fall and Christian governments might rise in their place”
– “Christian” blatantly replacing more common
modifiers such as “democratic,” “popular,”
or “elected” (qtd. in Redekop 61-62).
These groups secularized the Christian battle. They did not attack
Communists as the mortal enemy of Christian faith, they attacked
them as representations of that mortal enemy – Satan. They
attacked the secular manifestation, whether wittingly or unwittingly,
instead of the religious one. When Fred Schwartz declared that
“Stalin is the fulfillment of Communism,” or Billy
Graham described Communism as “Satan’s religion,”
each created a broad caricature – a metaphor that everyone
could understand. Leaders such as Schwartz, Graham, and Hargis
took relative American pietism and made it absolute. They offered
totalitarianism to guard against totalitarianism.
Virulent anti-atheist, anti-communist rhetoric, however, was not
just a feature of the fundamentalist fringe. Frederick Brown Harris,
chaplain of the Senate in 1954, referred to “atheistic world
communism” as the “most monstrous mass of organized
evil that history has known,” claiming that the philosophy
was “lower in its practice than primitive, cannibalistic
tribes. Even they,” wrote Harris, “will not turn on
their own.” The text of his message so inspired West Virginia
Senator Matthew Neely, that the legislator read it into the Congressional
Record (Neely 2390). Senator Richard Nixon, former member of the
House Un-American Activities Committee, equated Communism with
pure evil, arguing in 1952 that the only way to combat “the
netherworld of deceit, subversion, and espionage which is the
Communist conspiracy” was Christian religious faith –
“a faith based not on materialism but on a recognition of
God.” Nixon asserted that Western-style freedom was impossible
without Biblical Christianity (570).
Archbishop Richard Cushing enunciated a common Christian belief
(and a common propaganda tactic) when he wrote in 1958 that the
primary goal of Communism was the worldwide dismantling of all
religious institutions, establishing “an enforced atheism
for all men through what the Communists call ‘dialectical
and historical materialism.”’ “What does ‘dialectical
materialism’ mean?” asked Cushing. “It is the
enunciation of atheism as Communism’s world outlook –
that there is no God or soul or world of the spirit” (33-34).
The American Mercury made the argument that faith in
God was the principal point of separation between humans and animals
and that anyone who did not believe in God was fundamentally animalistic
and untrustworthy. “We can love and trust our fellow man
only because we know him to possess certain qualities transcendent
to his animal nature,” explained the October 1963 American
Mercury. “Take away this divine spark and you are up
against a dangerous beast” (Ingram 62).
Demonizing opponents was a recurring practice throughout the Cold
War period. Regardless of logical merit, attacks on the godlessness
of Communism habitually referred to Satan and the Antichrist.
The only tactic more frequent was the call to patriotism. Pundits
assured Americans that the founding fathers, despite their political
differences, all shared a similar belief in God. Billy Graham
equated the Constitution’s relation to the United States
with the Bible’s relation to Christianity – both documents
acting as time-tested arbiters of time-tested entities (“Our
Communism, commented Idaho Senator Henry Dworshak, only found
sustenance through revolution. Capitalism found sustenance through
belief in God, so destroying capitalism through revolution would
subsequently destroy God. Citizens of the United States had to
remain eternally vigilant against godlessness (Dworshak 14007).
J. Edgar Hoover wrote that the American ideal, from its inception,
based itself on a fundamental belief in God. “It is time
for all of us,” declared the FBI Director, “to reacquaint
ourselves with our historical treasures and the moral values which
inspired our forefathers to lead our country to the pinnacle of
world leadership” (“The American Ideal” 100).
As the arguments mounted, the full citizenship of the disbelieving
minority became more and more tenuous.
“Communism, like homicide, must be met with direct action,”
wrote conservative commentator and former HUAC investigator J.
B. Matthews (“An Anti-Communist’s Guide to Action”
21). In August 1954, passage of the Communist Control Bill deprived
the Communist Party of any legal rights and forced any party member
to register with the government. The House Un-American Activities
Committee received only one negative response to its 1954 appropriation,
and the full house overwhelmingly endorsed the Communist Control
Bill. Conservative politicians and commentators alike justified
HUAC’s appropriation as necessary for national and philosophical
survival in the face of a clear and present danger. “The
Soviet threat is real, a non-controversial assumption shared by
the entire spectrum of non-Communist opinion in this country,”
wrote William F. Buckley, arguing for the Committee’s validity
eight years later in 1962 (17). Liberal attacks on the committee
appeared periodically through the 1950s and 60s, making the general
case that abusing individual rights for the sake of an intangible
national ideal was itself an un-American activity. They were,
of course, unsuccessful. “This annual assault has come to
be expected by the Committee,” taunted the pages of the
American Mercury. “The Left Wing clique tries to
cut the Committee appropriation to the bone. . .[but] the position
of this courageous committee seems reasonably secure” (Stanley
HUAC scrutinized propaganda exporters such as Voice of America
and the National Book Committee, but it also investigated activist
churches as suspected importers. Methodist Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam’s
prominent role in the World Council of Churches exacerbated suspicions
about his loyalty. His HUAC testimony, however, reaffirmed his
belief in moral absolutes. American rights were a gift from God,
not the state, a result of the country’s divine parentage.
The state simply facilitated God’s plan. “I reject
Communism,” Oxnam told the committee, “first, because
of its atheism” (671-72). Another activist minister, Martin
Luther King, Jr., admired Communism’s attempt to redress
the underprivileged, but could not support the atheism inherent
in Marxist doctrine. He insisted on the addition of the word “Christian”
to the title of the Southern Leadership Conference, formerly the
Southern Negro Leaders Conference, so as to deflect charges of
Communism (Garrow 90, 97).
Intellectuals beyond the ecumenical fraternity were also suspect.
A 1956 study in the American Sociological Review showed
an academic community troubled by a reduction in its freedom through
the decade (“The Climate” 354, 357). Espousing atheism,
wrote J. Edgar Hoover, did not necessarily create a Communist
intellectual, but it paved the way for Communism and influenced
younger Americans to become Communists. “Their pernicious
doctrine of materialism,” he wrote of the atheist community,
“fed to young Americans as something new and modern, readies
the minds of our youth to accept the immoral, atheistic system
of thought we know as communism” (“God and Country”
13). Following Hoover’s logic, noncommunist atheists and
intellectuals needed to be stopped, as well. “Reactionary
politicians have managed to instill suspicion of all intellectual
efforts into the public,” Albert Einstein declared in 1953,
“by dangling before their eyes a danger from without”
The culture of suspicion, however, received a blow on 17 June
1957, known to anti-communists as “Red Monday.” A
series of three Supreme Court decisions in Watkins v. United States,
Sweezy v. New Hampshire, and Yates v. United States set new federal
and state standards for just cause in investigations and inquiries.
The Court’s ruling in Yates established that Communist Party
membership was not advocacy of governmental overthrow. “The
distinction between advocacy of abstract doctrine and advocacy
directed at promoting unlawful action,” wrote Justice John
Harlan, author of the majority opinion in Yates, “is one
that has been consistently recognized in the opinions of this
Court” (Yates v. U.S.).
The Court’s Yates, Watkins, and Sweezy decisions, while
discouraging to anti-communist America, did not receive the amount
of violent criticism that Brown v. Board of Education and the
Court’s other education decisions received. It was the teaching
system that could make good children into atheists. The United
States remained suspicious of its children’s education,
whether in the form of Dewey’s pragmatism or UNESCO’s
globalism. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural
Organization frightened many parents by offering a secular education
program to American children. Secularism was atheism by any other
name. “UNESCO,” wrote a contributing editor of the
American Mercury, “is the nearest thing to a ‘managed’
world culture that has emerged in this confused postwar world”
(Moore 154). Veterans’ organizations such as the American
Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars took a primary role in advocating
religious belief as patriotic duty and denouncing UNESCO as an
atheistic organization (“Legion Urges”).
In 1956, New Jersey attempted unsuccessfully to remove religious
references from school Christmas celebrations to comply with the
state’s anti-discrimination laws. The barrage of parental
denunciations that followed prompted an investigation into the
motives of the school superintendent who initiated the change.
Fear that secular education would become atheistic indoctrination,
however, was not confined to New Jersey. J. Edgar Hoover assailed
its inherent atheism. Belief in God, according to Hoover, was
the foundation of free inquiry, Christian faith the only avenue
to American happiness and success. The foremost duty of any patriotic
parent was to bring children to church. “The parents of
America can strike a telling blow against the forces which contribute
to our juvenile delinquency,” wrote Hoover, “if our
mothers and fathers will take their children to Sunday School
and church regularly” (“Should I” 19). Religious
practice would ensure that children would grow up properly American.
A study of college students at Dartmouth College and the University
of Michigan in the early 50s and late 60s demonstrated a sharp
decline in students’ willingness to curtail the civil rights
of suspected Communists. In the study, religiosity directly related
to a student’s fear of Communism and willingness to suspend
individual freedoms. Religious orthodoxy heightened the possibility
of support for social constraints and concern about Communist
infiltration (Hoge 182-84, 189). Similar studies acquired similar
results, pitting American godliness against the blanket assumption
of “godless communism.” As the 1950s turned into the
1960s, the belief that collectivism and Christianity could not
Churches throughout the decade had varying reactions to Soviet
political ideology. A 1954 Roper study showed that the Methodist
church, a member of the National Council of Churches, was the
least likely among Protestant groups to support Joseph McCarthy
and his subcommittee (Lipset and Raab 230). The Baptist World
Alliance came under anti-communist scrutiny for the appearance
of globalism, while Pentecostals adhered to a more personal theology,
effectively removing them from the political discourse. The Presbyterian
Church publicly rejected McCarthyism as a violation of civil liberties.
“The shrine of conscience and private judgment,” declared
the General Council of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. in 1953,
“which God alone has a right to enter, is being violated”
(Nutt 64-5). Any religious debate on the finer points of political
philosophy, however, could congeal at a mutual disapproval of
the menace of atheism.
The nation’s virulent anticommunism during the 1950s and
1960s could have been a product of political manipulation, or
American politicians could have simply responded to a national
consensus left over from the First Red Scare after World War I.
Either way, the virtual anti-communist consensus existed, and
the commonly held American view of Communism included a lack of
Christian faith. By the time the cultural climate allowed dissent
on Soviet policy, atheism had established itself as the one touchstone
of agreement to an otherwise divided nation. Belief in America
meant a belief in the God who created it, thus defining out an
atheistic minority from full citizenship. Americans were loyal
believers. And despite John Dewey’s essential contributions
to the philosophy of education, no loyal American parents would
have let him near their child’s classroom.
1. This study concerns the creation of a domestic
mindset – a cultural creation. Certainly, foreign policymakers
had more on their minds than religion, as a policy of containment
was understandably based far more on strategic maneuvering to
protect U.S. interests. (The prospect of a godless world couldn’t
have gone unnoticed in the State Department, but such is far from
the purview of this work.)
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2. The U.S.S.R., however, conducted public opinion
research through the Public Opinion Institute, as did Soviet Bloc
countries such as Poland. One such Polish poll indicated a vast
majority of religious citizens, although the government was ostensibly
atheistic. This demonstrated, if nothing else, the ability of
Polish citizens to speak relatively freely about their beliefs.
According to the Communist model, religion was simply a collection
of superstitions that took time and energy from true progress.
The Soviet Union was not necessarily anti-Christian, it was post-Christian,
meaning that communism – created by Marx, who left the Christianity
of his youth for Hegelian atheism – drew influence from
a Christianity that was there first. The state did not remove
God, it replaced him.
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3. As of 1957, 85 percent of the American population
could positively identify Billy Graham and his religious affiliation
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Aldo, Reginald. “The American Universities and Senator McCarthy.”
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