TWENTIETH-CENTURY
CULTURE
CHAPTER 32

After 1900, California’s mild climate and relatively cheap housing attracted a wide variety of transient eccentrics. Some of these advocated bizarre social experiments. Organized religions flourished alongside fuzzy-minded Gurus, Yogi mystics, Swami palm readers, rainmakers, Hindu fakirs, and occultists. Theosophy, a sect that followed Buddhist and Brahman spiritual beliefs, also gained ready adherents.

Too seldom featured by western historians has been the pervasive role of religious innovation and evangelism. After the turn of the century, Katherine Tingley, known as “The Purple Mother,” established a theosophical community at Point Loma, outside San Diego. It lasted until 1929. Another theosophist, Annie Besant, settled in the peaceful Ojai Valley, inland from Santa Barbara. There she brought “The New Messiah,” one Krishnamurti, from India, to preside over her flock of converts.

Among fundamentalist preachers were two shouting evangelists. Both Robert Shuler and Charles Fuller possessed a magnetic revivalist appeal. Fuller became a national radio presence whose popularity rivaled that of Hollywood celebrities. Before his death he founded today’s Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.

The best-known faith healer was Aimee Semple McPherson, a dynamic pentecostal evangelist who founded the Four Square Gospel Church in Los Angeles. In the interwar years, “Sister Aimee” remained full of verve and loud of voice. On one occasion she scattered religious tracts from an airplane; at other times she held prayer meetings in a boxing arena. A talented show woman, she sometimes wore the white uniform and gold braid of an admiral. From the platform of her Angelus Temple, Sister Aimee combatted the devil on behalf of the downheartened and lonely, for many of whom she had a potent appeal.

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