Holding Fast/Pressing On: Religion in America in the 1980s

Holding Fast/Pressing On: Religion in America in the 1980s

Holding Fast/Pressing On: Religion in America in the 1980s

Holding Fast/Pressing On: Religion in America in the 1980s


"Jorstad has written the first comprehensive history of American religion in the past decade. Drawing on many contemporary sources, he divides religion in the eighties into three sections, each characterized by its own struggle. Mainline churches are largely involved in identity crises and social issues. Evangelicals are confronting scandals, politics, and the pressures of the mass media. Private seekers, which the author sees as the wave of the future, swing between quietistic New Age philosophies and the desire for world transformation. Everywhere the tension is between the conservatives holding fast and the liberals pressing on. . . . An excellent work of social and historical analysis with insights for the future. Recommended for academic and public libraries." Library Journal


In the next several pages we review briefly the major forces in American religious life that gave the events of the 1980s their unique configurations. As highly selective and interpretive as our discussion of these episodes is, it nonetheless stands as the essential foundation for Chapter 1.

The first major evidence of the hold-fast/press-on struggle of the 1980s came into clear public view as early as 1960. Prior to then, most Americans seemed publicly satisfied to conduct the politics of consensus, concentrating on unified public policy at home and militant anticommunism overseas. Best known as the era of the cold war (1945-1960), these years were times of rapid economic growth and celebration of all things American in light of the threat of world Communist expansionism.

Underneath the signs of unity, however, specific interest groups were in the first stages of what would become one of the most transforming of all epochs in the nation's history. Not the implementation of any utopian theorist, this upheaval rather emerged from grass roots rebellion and demands by disempowered minorities for redesign of the social, economic, and moral landscape itself. It embraced racial minorities long held in second-class citizenship; it attracted women and men demanding gender equality in every phase of public life. It aroused a large cross section of the populace determined to preserve the delicate ecological balance of humankind and the natural world. Finally, it awoke across the country the largest citizen-based antiwar crusade in the nation's history.

Beginning with a black college student sit-in to protest segregation in North Carolina, and given heretofore unprecedented coverage through the new medium of television, the civil rights movement convinced citizens of the need to demand greater decision-making participation for themselves ("power to the people"). They concluded that for too long such power had been the domain of white, upper middle- class males, given to overpriced, high-tech armaments programs and overseas military intervention in the name of anitcommunism. in the eyes of the newly empowered activists, these same elites (the buzzword was "the establishment") . . .

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