History of Religion in the United States

By Clifton E. Olmstead | Go to book overview

29
Religion in an Era of Crisis

LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT, STEALTHILY AND VIRTUALLY WITHOUT WARNING, came the Great Depression, leaving behind it a nation in the throes of panic and poverty. Few persons then living could remember a time of such paramount crisis. From the vantage point of the early 1930's, World War I seemed most regrettable; but only a minority could recall the full intensity of its fury. The Depression was different. It worked its wrath on all classes and conditions of men-rich and poor, young and old, male and female-and drew them irresistibly into the fellowship of suffering and despair. The sad effects of this American tragedy were not immediately discernible; only gradually did it become evident that a profound ideological change was working itself out in national life. And yet where once there was almost complete trust in the perfectibility of man and belief in a utopian society just around the corner, there were anxious doubt and spiritual gloom. There was no indication that the malaise was prompting a return to sixteenth century ideas of the sovereignty of God and the depravity of man; the American reaction to crisis might be mercurial but it was not volcanic. The most that could be said was that the nation was suffering from tribulation so patently meaningless that a careful reappraisal of life seemed justified, even necessary. The result was an idealism stringently modified by realism, in which man's goodness was seen against a backdrop of evil and his accomplishments challenged by

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