Constructing “Godless Communism”:
Religion, Politics, and Popular Culture, 1954-1960

Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-present), Spring 2005, Volume 4, Issue 1

Thomas Aiello
University of Arkansas

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 51).

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” 69-72).

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 improvement.

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 140).

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 attitudes.

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” (Eastman 58).

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 (McEnaney 448-49).

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 Bible” 123).

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 89).

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” (668).

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 coexist remained.

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.)

Click here to return to your place in the article.

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.

Click here to return to your place in the article.

3. As of 1957, 85 percent of the American population could positively identify Billy Graham and his religious affiliation (Gallup 1490-91).

Click here to return to your place in the article.

Works Cited

Aldo, Reginald. “The American Universities and Senator McCarthy.” American Mercury December 1954: 137-142.

Belfrage, Cedric. The American Inquisition, 1945-1960. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1973.

Benedict, John. “What Religion Does Reinhold Niebuhr Peddle?” American Mercury October 1959: 18-27.

Berlet, Chip, and Matthew N. Lyons. Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: The Guilford Press, 2000.

“Billy Graham – Survey #583-K, Question #25a, 2 June 1957.” In The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion, 1935-1971, Vol. 2, 1949-1958. Ed. George H. Gallup. New York: Random House, 1972. 1490-1491.

Buckley, William F., Jr. “A New Look at a Controversial Committee.” National Review 16 January 1962: 15-21.

“The Climate of Opinion and the State of Academic Freedom.” American Sociological Review 21 (1956): 353-357.

Cushing, Richard J. “The Godlessness of Communism.” American Mercury March 1958: 32-34.

Dewey, John. A Common Faith. New Haven: Yale UP, 1934.

Eastman, Max. “Am I Conservative?” National Review 28 January 1964: 57-58.

Einstein, Albert. “A Letter from Albert Einstein.” Thirty Years of Treason: Excerpts from Hearings before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, 1938-1968. Ed. Eric Bentley. New York: The Viking Press, 1971. 667-668.

Fifield, James W. “Freedom Under God.” American Mercury June 1954: 45-51.

Fried, Richard M. Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective. New York: Oxford UP, 1990.

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. Tenth Anniversary Edition. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1974.

Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1986.

Graham, Billy. “A Christian America.” American Mercury March 1955: 68-72.

________. “Our Bible.” American Mercury December 1955: 123-126.

________. “Our World in Chaos: The Cause and Cure.” American Mercury July 1956: 21-27.

________. “Satan’s Religion.” American Mercury August 1954: 41-46.
Hargis, Billy James. “Communist America…Must It Be?” Mid-Eighties Update. Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Press, 1986.

Hoge, Dean R. “College Students’ Value Patterns in the 1950s and 1960s.” Sociology of Education 44 (1971): 170-197.

Hoover, J. Edgar. “The American Ideal.” American Mercury October 1957: 99-103.
________. “God and Country or Communism?” American Mercury December 1957: 7-13.

________. “Should I Force My Child?” American Mercury February 1958: 18-19.

Ingram, T. Robert. “The World Under God’s Law.” American Mercury October 1963: 59-79.

________. “The World Under God’s Law.” American Mercury January 1964: 51-67.

“Legion Urges U.S. to Cut UNESCO Tie; Calls for Inquiry.” New York Times 13 October 1955: 1, 18.

Lipset, Seymour Martin and Earl Raab. The Politics of Unreason: Right Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.

Lovell, J.A. “Jesus and the Money Changers.” American Mercury December 1960: 121-123.

Matthews, J.B. “An Anti-Communist’s Guide to Action.” American Mercury May 1954: 21-28.

________. “Christ and Communism.” American Mercury May 1959: 116-123.

McEnaney, Laura. “Atomic Age Motherhood: Maternalism and Militarism in the 1950s.” Women’s America: Refocusing the Past. Ed. Linda K. Kerber and Jane Sherron De Hart. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. 448-454.

Moore, Harvin, Jr. “UNESCO: 3¢ Worth of Poison.” American Mercury August 1955: 151-154.

The New American Bible

Nixon, Richard. “Plea for an Anti-Communist Faith.” Thirty Years of Treason: Excerpts from Hearings before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, 1938-1968. Ed. Eric Bentley. New York: The Viking Press, 1971. 569-571.

Nutt, Rick. “For Truth and Liberty: Presbyterians and McCarthyism.” Journal of Presbyterian History Spring 2000: 51-66.

Oxnam, G. Bromley. “Testimony of a Bishop.” Thirty Years of Treason: Excerpts from Hearings before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, 1938-1968. Ed. Eric Bentley. New York: The Viking Press, 1971. 669-680.

Redekop, John Harold. The American Far Right: A Case Study of Billy James Hargis and Christian Crusade. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968.

Ritchie, Donald A. Introduction. Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations. Vol. 1. 83rd Cong., 1st sess., 1953. Made public January 2003. senate12cp107.html.

Schwarz, Fred C. “Communism – Murder Made Moral.” American Mercury April 1957: 92-97.

Smith, Peter. “Anglo-American Religion and Hegemonic Change in the World System, c. 1870-1980.” The British Journal of Sociology 37 (March 1986): 86-105.

Stanley, Herbert W. “Who Wants to Abolish HUAC?” American Mercury June 1960: 89-92.

“Text of Truman Talk Decrying ‘Hysteria’ in Fighting Communists.” New York Times 11 November 1953: 20.

“To Be or Not to Be.” Time 16 March 1959: 46-52.

U.S. Congress. House. “America’s Challenge Today.” Extension of Remarks of Hon. George S. Long of Louisiana. 83rd Cong., 1st sess. Congressional Record 100, pt. 11 (10 August 1954): 13977-13979.

U.S. Congress. House. “Communism: A Threat to Freedom.” Extension of Remarks of Hon. Louis C. Rabaut. 86th Cong., 2nd sess. Congressional Record 106, pt. 14 (1 September 1960): 19391-19392.

U.S. Congress. Senate. “The Christian and the Challenge of Communism.” Henry Dworshak. 87th Cong, 1st sess. Congressional Record 107, pt. 10 (29 July 1961): 14007-14008.

U.S. Congress. Senate. “Eastertime and the American Will for Peace.” Hubert Humphrey. 86th Cong., 1st sess. Congressional Record 105, pt. 4 (20 March 1959): 5345-5347.

U.S. Congress. Senate. “Spires of the Spirit-The Truce of the Bear.” Matthew Neely. 83rd Cong., 1st sess. Congressional Record 100, pt. 2 (1 March 1954): 2390-2391.

Yates v. United States. 354 US 298 (1957).

Back to Top
Journal Home

© 2005 Americana: The Institute for the Study of American Popular Culture