Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 15
Manufacturing Revival (Dirty Little Secret #1)
This is Part 15 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary
that can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on
information, concepts, and commentary introduced in earlier entries in the series,
and thus it is most effective to read the material sequentially from the beginning.
Click here to go to the first entry in the series, Part 1
The previous entry in this blog series introduced the fact that there are several “dirty little secrets” behind what is now viewed with nostalgia by many Evangelical Christians as an amazingly “Christian” era of the US in the 1950s that they yearn to return to—even if they weren’t even born yet when that era ended. Many have put their hopes in Donald Trump’s administration to make it possible to put programs and policies in place that will allow the nation to once again become God’s Country like they assume it was in those Good Old Days. This blog entry explores the first of those dirty little secrets.
January 28, 1986
Response to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster that morning
Many readers of this blog likely remember the cartoons of Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Doug Marlette, especially the poignant one above. In addition to his editorial cartoon career, Marlette was famous for his long running cartoon strip, Kudzu, featured in many papers from 1981 until his untimely death in a car accident in 2007 at the age of 58.
One of the most popular characters in the strip, which was set in a small town in North Carolina, was Southern Baptist preacher the Reverend Will B. Dunn.
A 1988 book collection of Will B Dunn strips. The cover spoofed
Pat Robertson’s campaign that year for president, during which the televangelist
famously stated, “I am not a televangelist.” (Because of the scandals
surrounding televangelists at the time, he preferred to dub himself a
For any Doug Marlette fans out there, you might be interested to know that his nephew, Andy Marlette, who has a very similar artistic style, is now an up-and-coming editorial cartoonist himself. And he has brought Will B Dunn out of retirement and put him back to work.
During the long Kudzu run, Rev. Dunn had many humorous escapades, but one of the most entertaining “running gags” was his desire to start a “ministry to the fabulously well-to-do.” Although he did count local tycoon Big Bubba Tadsworth as a parishioner, that was as far as his plans got. He just couldn’t fire up his congregation with enthusiasm to “bring a wealthy friend to church” every week.
I bring Rev. Dunn up because I want to share information about a real-life counterpart who succeeded where Will B failed. The Rev. James Fifield Jr. was so successful at ministering to the well-to-do that he was publicly dubbed in the press as the “Apostle to Millionaires.”
The previous entry in this blog series briefly introduced Fifield as the speaker who electrified an audience of wealthy men in 1940. To recap that occasion:
IN DECEMBER 1940, MORE THAN five thousand industrialists from across America took part in their yearly pilgrimage to Park Avenue. For three days every winter, the posh Waldorf-Astoria Hotel welcomed them for the annual meeting of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
That year, the program promised a particularly impressive slate of speakers. Corporate leaders were well represented, of course, with addresses set from titans at General Motors, General Electric, Standard Oil, Mutual Life, and Sears, Roebuck, to name only a few. Some of the other featured attractions hailed from beyond the boardroom: popular lecturers such as noted etiquette expert Emily Post, renowned philosopher-historian Will Durant, and even Federal Bureau of Investigation director J. Edgar Hoover.
Tucked away near the end of the program was a name that few knew upon arrival but everyone would be talking about by the week’s end: Reverend James W. Fifield Jr.
And what was Fifield’s electrifying message?
Decrying [Franklin Roosevelt’s] New Deal’s “encroachment upon our American freedoms,” the minister listed a litany of sins committed by the Roosevelt administration, ranging from its devaluation of currency to its disrespect for the Supreme Court. He denounced the “rising costs of government and the multitude of federal agencies attached to the executive branch” and warned ominously of “the menace of autocracy approaching through bureaucracy.”
His audience of executives was stunned. Over the preceding decade, these titans of industry had been told, time and time again, that they were to blame for the nation’s downfall. Fifield, in contrast, insisted that they were the source of its salvation.
“When he had finished,” a journalist noted, “rumors report that the N.A.M. applause could be heard in Hoboken.” With his speech at the Waldorf-Astoria, Fifield convinced the industrialists that clergymen could be the means of regaining the upper hand in their war with Roosevelt in the coming years. As men of God, they could give voice to the same conservative complaints as business leaders, but without any suspicion that they were motivated solely by self-interest.
This blog entry will go a bit deeper into just why and how Fifield planned to pull this off, and what a vital role this agenda played in the supposed “great religious revival” of the 1950s that so many modern Evangelicals point to as part of the “Great America” of that Holy Happy Days era that they expect the administration of Donald Trump to restore.
Fifield, born in Chicago in 1899, became an ordained minister in 1924. By 1934, he headed out to the Promised Land of California, where he found the perfect niche for his ministerial aptitudes: He was installed as the head of the venerable First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, the oldest Protestant congregation in the city, founded in 1867. In 1932 the congregation had undertaken to build a new church building, and found itself in hot water about the time Fifield arrived.
The First Congregational Church was at the time heavily indebted due to the costs of a cathedral-style building which had a 176 foot high tower, more than 100 rooms, auditoriums, and a gymnasium. The church had 1,500 members at Fifield’s arrival, but after Fifield initiated a major increase in activities membership rose to over 4,500 in the beginning of the 1940s and the debt was paid off in 1942. [And the congregation ended up by 1943 as the largest Congregational Church congregation in the world.] The members of the First Congregational Church were mostly among the wealthy, giving Fifield the nickname “The Apostle to Millionaires”. [Source]
He had a couple of other nicknames too… “The 13th Apostle of Big Business,” “Saint Paul of the Prosperous.” And in addition to outright millionaires, he and First Congregational also appealed to big-name celebrities, such as Charlton Heston…
…who joined the church in 1956 shortly after finishing filming The Ten Commandments, and regaled his new pew-mates with an oration from the pulpit of many of his Moses lines from the movie. In addition, his son, who played baby Moses in the movie, was baptized by Fifield.
Princeton history professor and author Kevin Kruse, in his highly-acclaimed 2015 book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, explains what about Fifield endeared him so much to his parishioners—what made him succeed in attaining Will B Dunn’s dream job:
The minister was well matched to the millionaires in his pews. Politically conservative but doctrinally liberal [he was recorded as preaching that reading the Bible was “like eating fish—we take the bones out to enjoy the meat. All parts are not of equal value”], he crafted an interpretation of the Bible that catered to his congregation. Notably, Fifield dismissed the many passages in the New Testament about wealth and poverty, and instead assured the elite that their worldly success was a sign of God’s blessings.
Soon after his arrival in Los Angeles, Fifield founded Spiritual Mobilization, an organization whose mission was “to arouse the ministers of all denominations in America to check the trends toward pagan stateism, which would destroy our basic freedom and spiritual ideals.”
“Pagan Stateism” was a conservative code-word phrase for Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The theory of Fifield and his fellow-travelers, in the move to meld religion and capitalism that arose in the 1930s/40s, involved an interpretation of the Bible that insisted that an individual “rises to heaven or falls to hell” based on his own character. And …
They say the free market is just like that. You succeed, you fail, on your own. In their eyes, the state meddles with that purity. That’s the natural process. That’s the godly process. So anything that is working against the system that God himself must have set up, the system of individual merit, must itself be ungodly. [SOURCE]
So any programs or policies or regulations established by a government to help the poor, or the elderly, or workers, or the unemployed and so on…is “pagan,” not godly. It is something humanly-devised by “the state” rather than springing straight from “the God-given individual freedom” of every (white male…) citizen to succeed solely on his own merits of drive, perseverance, cleverness…whatever. It would seem from the writings and preachings of many of these zealous promoters of “Spiritual Mobilization” that giving anyone other than the totally starving even a crust of bread was to take from him the opportunity to pull himself up by his own bootstraps so that he might deserve God’s blessings.
Even beyond this, ANY concern for the poor and needy should only expressed through individual, personalized, one-to-one “acts of charity.” Or through a local outreach of “group charity” set up by churches. Efforts by any government to get involved in any kind of “social welfare” program was viewed as an attempt by that government to just centralize its power and destroy true democracy. And any attempt by “liberal” religious organizations to support coordinated efforts by governments to relieve the suffering of the afflicted (suffering which was widespread and unrelenting during the depths of the Depression) was scorned as attempts at promoting the despised “Social Gospel.”
And thus Fifield began his “Spiritual Mobilization” outreach in the mid-1930s.
The organization’s credo reflected the common politics of the millionaires in his congregation: Men were creatures of God imbued with “inalienable rights and responsibilities,” specifically enumerated as “the liberty and dignity of the individual, in which freedom of choice, of enterprise and of property is inherent.” Churches, it asserted, had a solemn duty to defend those rights against the encroachments of the state. [Kruse book]
I had never heard of James Fifield before reading the Kruse book. Most of my readers likely haven’t heard of him either. So it might be tempting to assume he just had a narrow, local effect in his efforts way back when. That would be to assume wrong. (His name is still reverently invoked in Conservative circles to this day.)
Fifield quickly brought the organization into national politics, gaining attention from leading conservatives across America who were eager to enlist ministers in their fight against the New Deal. Former President Herbert Hoover, deposed by Roosevelt and disparaged by his acolytes, advised and encouraged Fifield in personal meetings and regular correspondence. “If it would be possible for the Church to make a non-biased investigation into the morals of this government,” Hoover wrote the minister in 1938, “they would find everywhere the old negation of Christianity that ‘the end justifies the means.’”
In October 1938, Fifield sent an alarmist tract to more than 70,000 clergymen across the nation, seeking to recruit them in the revolt against Roosevelt. “We ministers have special opportunities and special responsibilities in these critical days,” it began. “America’s movement toward dictatorship has already eliminated checks and balances in its concentration of powers in our chief executive.” Finding the leaflet to his liking, Hoover sent Fifield a warm note of appreciation and urged him to press on.
And Hoover wasn’t just a fluke.
Within a few years, the minister had the support of not just Hoover but an impressive array of conservative figures in politics, business and religion—“a who’s who of the conservative establishment,” in the words of one observer. As Spiritual Mobilization’s national ambitions grew, Fifield searched for more sponsors to finance the fight. In the mid-1940s, he won a number of powerful new patrons, but none was more important than J. Howard Pew Jr., president of Sun Oil.
I’d never heard of Pew, either…but he was also to play a very pivotal role in the rise of the melding of American Evangelical Christianity and American Conservative Politics.
Tall and stiff, with bushy eyebrows, Pew had a stern appearance that matched his attitude. He had previously been involved in anti-New Deal organizations like the Liberty League and now believed the postwar era would witness a renewed struggle for the soul of the nation. Looking over some material from Spiritual Mobilization, Pew decided the organization shared his understanding of what was wrong with America and what needed to be done. But to his dismay, the material offered no agenda for action whatsoever, merely noting that Spiritual Mobilization would send clergymen bulletins and place advertisements but ultimately “leave details” of what to do “to individual ministers.”
Pew thought this was no way to run a national operation. “I am frank to confess,” he wrote a confidant, “that if Dr. Fifield has developed a concrete program and knows exactly where he is going and what he expects to accomplish, that conception has never become clearly defined in my mind.”
If Spiritual Motivation was to help save the nation from Socialism or worse, it would need Pew’s help. But what kind of help?
If Pew felt Fifield’s touch had been too light, he knew a more forceful approach would fail as well. In February 1945, famed industrial consultant Alfred Haake explained to Pew why NAM’s [National Association of Manufacturers] own outreach to ministers had failed. “Of the approximately thirty preachers to whom I have thus far talked, I have yet to find one who is unqualifiedly impressed,” Haake reported. “One of the men put it almost typically for the rest when he said: ‘The careful preparation and framework for the meetings to which we are brought is too apparent. We cannot help but see that it is expertly designed propaganda and that there must be big money behind it. We easily become suspicious.’”
Well, that’s exactly what it was…propaganda backed by Big Money! But Pew and his cohorts were sure that this was a GOOD thing, not an EVIL thing. They just needed a better way to “sell it” to the masses of ministers as something quite different from self-serving propaganda.
If they wanted to convince clergymen to side with them, industrialists would need a subtler approach. Rather than treating ministers as a passive audience to be persuaded, Haake argued, they should involve them actively in the cause as participants. The first step would be making ministers realize that they, too, had something to fear from the growth of government. “The religious leaders must be helped to discover that their callings are threatened,” Haake argued, by realizing that the “collectivism” of the New Deal, “with the glorification of the state, is really a denial of God.” Once they were thus alarmed, they would readily join Spiritual Mobilization as its representatives and could then be organized more effectively into a force for change both locally and nationally. [ibid]
And this ploy worked amazingly well.
Reverend Fifield worked to make Spiritual Mobilization out of the ranks of the clergy. The growing numbers of its “minister-representatives” were found in every state, with large concentrations in industrial regions like New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois. They were overwhelmingly Protestant, though a scattering of priests and rabbis allowed the organization to present itself as part of the new spirit of “Judeo-Christianity.” In the previous decade, this innovative “interfaith” approach had taken shape as a way for liberal clergymen to unite in common social causes. Now, in the postwar era, conservative organizations such as Spiritual Mobilization shrewdly followed suit.
The organization grew rapidly. In February 1947, Fifield reported that in three years he had expanded the mass of their minister-representatives from an initial 400 members to more than 10,000 [!!!] in all. He set them to work spreading arguments against the “pagan stateism” of the New Deal. “It is time to exalt the dignity of individual man as a child of God,” he urged. “Let’s redouble our efforts.”
And the redoubling succeeded.
Clergymen responded enthusiastically. Many wrote the Los Angeles office to request advertised copies of Friedrich Hayek’s libertarian treatise The Road to Serfdom and anti–New Deal tracts by Herbert Hoover and libertarian author Garet Garrett.
Armed with such materials, the minister-representatives transformed secular arguments into spiritual ones and spread them widely.
“Occasionally I preach a sermon directly on your theme,” a Midwestern minister wrote, “but equally important, it is in the background of my thought as I prepare all my sermons, meet various groups and individuals.”
Everyday activities were echoed by special events. In October 1947, for instance, Spiritual Mobilization held a national sermon competition on the theme “The Perils to Freedom,” with $5,000 offered in prize money. The organization had more than 12,000 minister representatives at that point, but it received twice as many submissions for the competition—representing roughly 15 percent of the entire country’s clergymen. [Source]
And as the enthusiasm among the ministry built, that “behind the scenes” funding by Big Money came rolling in.
Pew once again set the pace, soliciting donations from officials at 158 corporations. “A large percentage of ministers in this country are completely ignorant of economic matters and have used their pulpits for the purpose of disseminating socialistic and totalitarian doctrines,” he wrote in his appeal. “Much has already been accomplished in the education of these ministers, but a great deal more is left to be done.”
Many of the corporations he contacted— including General Motors, Chrysler, Republic Steel, National Steel, International Harvester, Firestone Tire and Rubber, Sun Oil, Gulf Oil, Standard Oil of New Jersey, and Colgate-Palmolive-Peet— were already contributing the maximum allowable annual donation. Other leading businesses, from US Steel to the National Cash Register Company, had donated in the past, but Pew hoped they would commit to the limit…
Of course, with this much “action” going on, it drew attention from the opposite side of the aisle.
The success of Spiritual Mobilization brought increased funding, but also the scrutiny and scorn of progressives. In February 1948, journalist Carey McWilliams wrote an acidic cover story on it for The Nation.
“With the ‘Save Christianity’ and the ‘Save Western Capitalism’ chants becoming almost indistinguishable, a major battle for the minds of the clergy, particularly those of the Protestant persuasion, is now being waged in America,” he began. “For the most part the battle lines are honestly drawn and represent a sharp clash in ideologies, but now and then the reactionary side tries to fudge a bit by backing movements which mask their true character and real sponsors.”
“Such a movement is Spiritual Mobilization.” McWilliams explained to his readers the scope of its operations, noting that it now had nine organizers working in high-rent offices in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles and had distributed hundreds of thousands of pamphlets by pro-business authors for free. But no one knew who was funding the operation, McWilliams warned.
There had only been vague statements from Fifield that “non-ministers who have a common stake in the American and Christian traditions cannot contribute service” and that it was “only natural that they give substance instead.” In McWilliams’s withering account, Fifield came off as a charlatan who prostrated himself before the “apostles of rugged individualism” to secure his own fame and fortune and, in return, prostituted himself for their needs. [Kruse book]
In 1949 Fifield moved from the printing press to the airwaves. First came a 15-minute radio program titled The Freedom Story. A short dramatic presentation was followed by commentary by Fifield. Spiritual Mobilization was able to place this program on stations free of charge, allegedly as a way for stations to fulfill mandated “public service requirements.” But in order to do this, a few changes had to be made. Fifield had intended to directly attack the Democrats in the scripts for the show, but was advised by his lawyer to dial it back a bit and imply, more than state, his concerns. He was encouraged to use examples in the news from socialist and communist countries when possible. It would be easy enough to subtly imply in the commentary that the US might be headed toward similar situations here.
Just as with the explosive growth of firing up ministers across the land for The Cause, the radio program also took off like gangbusters.
… Fifield noted in March 1949. “We are expecting to be on one hundred fifty radio stations by June.” A year later, The Freedom Story was broadcast on a weekly network of over five hundred stations; by late 1951, it aired on more than eight hundred.
(By 1956, about the time Fifield ended broadcasting the Freedom Story radio program, he started a weekly 30 minute television show to spread the same message, titled “The Lighted Window.” I’m sure that he didn’t attract as large a nationwide audience as Billy Graham or Bishop Sheen, but his show was no doubt popular in certain circles. )
A new monthly magazine titled Faith and Freedom soon joined the radio program.
It pitched itself as being “created by ministers for ministers,” but actually the content was mostly written by professional conservative authors…including at one point, Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Laura Engels Wilder. Once she had helped her mother as co-author of the Little House on the Prairie series, she turned her writing skills to attacking the New Deal and its “creeping socialism.” But the articles by Rose and others were guided by a principle laid out by Haake:
“The articulation should be worked out before-hand, of course, and we should be ready to help the thinking of the ministers on it,” Haake noted in one of his early musings on Spiritual Mobilization, “but it should be so done as to enable them to discover it for themselves, as something which they really had believed but not realized fully until our questions brought it out so clearly. I am sure we may not TELL them: not as laymen, or even as fellow clergymen. We must help them to discover it themselves.” [ibid]
By 1951, Fifield and his compatriots were moving full steam ahead with their plans.
IN THE SPRING OF 1951, Spiritual Mobilization’s leaders struck upon an idea they believed would advance their cause considerably. To mark the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, they proposed for the week surrounding the Fourth of July a massive series of events devoted to the theme of “Freedom Under God.” According to Fifield’s longtime ally William C. Mullendore, president of the Southern California Edison Company, the idea originated from the belief that the “root cause of the disintegration of freedom here, and of big government, is the disintegration of the nation’s spiritual foundations, as found in the Declaration of Independence. We want to revive that basic American credo, which is the spiritual basis of our Constitution.”
To that end, in June 1951, the leaders of Spiritual Mobilization announced the formation of a new Committee to Proclaim Liberty to coordinate their Fourth of July “Freedom Under God” celebrations.
6/7/1951: Rev. Fifield and his buddies issue a formal announcement
of the forming of the Committee to Proclaim Liberty
The committee’s name, they explained to a crowd of reporters, came from the tenth verse of the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Leviticus, in which God instructed Moses that the Israelites should celebrate the anniversary of their arrival in the Promised Land and “proclaim liberty throughout all the land and to the inhabitants thereof.” This piece of Scripture, organizers noted, was also inscribed on the crown of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
The irony of this, to anyone who knows their Old Testament, is that the “liberty” proclaimed in the Bible celebration was one of forgiving debts, of freeing of bondservants, and of families able to reclaim property that they had lost through debt in the past! It had absolutely NOTHING to do with “freedom” and “liberty”…to build industrial and banking empires.
In fact, the same passage in Leviticus that talks about this celebration of freedom even goes farther:
“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you. You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit.”
It is painfully obvious that the folks with Spiritual Mobilization had no REAL interest in “biblical economics.” They just wanted to cherry-pick a passage that met their needs for pageantry and propaganda.
Given the “biblical theme” of the planned event, one might expect that it had been organized by religious organizations. Not so.
Although the committee claimed to seek a spiritual emphasis for the upcoming holiday, very few religious leaders actually served in its ranks. Indeed, aside from Fifield and his longtime friend Norman Vincent Peale, the founding ministerial members of the committee included only a liberal Methodist bishop, G. Bromley Oxnam; the Catholic bishop of the Oklahoma City– Tulsa diocese; and a rabbi from Kansas City. The true goal of the Committee to Proclaim Liberty was advancing conservatism.
No, the festivities were not organized or led by ordained ministers exhorting Americans to “turn to God,” accept Jesus as Lord, or anything of the kind. It was organized and led by conservative celebrities.
Its two most prominent members had been brought low by Democratic administrations: former president Herbert Hoover, driven from the White House two decades earlier by Franklin Roosevelt, and General Douglas MacArthur, removed from his command in Korea two months earlier by Harry Truman. These conservative martyrs were joined by military leaders, heads of patriotic groups, conservative legal and political stars, right-wing media figures, and outspoken conservatives from the realm of entertainment, such as Bing Crosby, Cecil B. DeMille, Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan.
But the majority came from corporate America. J. Howard Pew was joined by other business titans, such as Conrad Hilton of Hilton Hotels, B. E. Hutchinson of Chrysler, James L. Kraft of Kraft Foods, Hughston McBain of Marshall Field, Admiral Ben Moreell of Jones & Laughlin Steel, Eddie Rickenbacker of Eastern Airlines, and Charles E. Wilson of General Motors.
[Eventually sponsors also included] Harvey Firestone, E. F. Hutton, Fred Maytag, Henry Luce, and J. C. Penney, as well as the less well-known heads of US Steel, Republic Steel, Gulf Oil, Hughes Aircraft, and United Airlines.
Other conservative leaders of organizations were also deeply involved.
The presidents of both the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers served, as did the heads of free enterprise advocacy organizations such as the Foundation for Economic Education and the Freedoms Foundation. As a token counterweight to this overwhelming corporate presence, the Committee to Proclaim Liberty included a single labor leader: Matthew Woll, a vice president with the American Federation of Labor, but more important, a lifelong Republican well known for his outspoken opposition to industrial unions and New Deal labor legislation.
So what part would the plain old average citizens of the US play in this splendiferous plan?
As the Fourth of July drew near, the Committee to Proclaim Liberty focused its attention on encouraging Americans to mark the holiday with public readings of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. The decision to focus solely on the preamble was in some ways a natural one, as its passages were certainly the most famous and lyrical in the document. But doing so also allowed organizers to reframe the Declaration as a purely libertarian manifesto, dedicated to the removal of an oppressive government.
If you have actually read the Declaration, you would know that it was most decidedly NOT a “libertarian manifesto.” But other than maybe for a civics class in high school, long ago forgotten after graduation, few Americans had any memory of just what the whole thing said.
Those who read the entire document would have discovered, to the consternation of the committee, that the founding fathers followed the high-flown prose of the preamble with a long list of grievances about the absence of government and rule of law in the colonies. [!]
Among other things, they lambasted King George III for refusing “his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good,” for forbidding his governors from passing “Laws of immediate and pressing importance,” for dissolving the legislative bodies in the colonies, and for generally enabling a state of anarchy that exposed colonists to “all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.”
In the end, the Declaration was not a rejection of government power in general but rather a condemnation of the British crown for depriving the colonists of the government they needed.
In order to reframe the Declaration as something rather different, the Committee to Proclaim Liberty had to edit out much of the document…
But given the tendency of many citizens to read little in their daily lives other than best-selling novels, newspaper headlines and short articles, Reader’s Digest (a pointedly conservative magazine which had been around since 1922 and was the best-selling consumer mag on the market) and the funny papers, they were safe in betting few people had any idea what the Declaration actually said, and would not notice the difference in the carefully edited “reader’s digest version” being promoted by Spiritual Mobilization.
The committee’s corporate sponsors took out full-page newspaper ads to promote this pinched interpretation of the Declaration. The San Diego Gas & Electric Company, for instance, encouraged its customers to reread the preamble, which it presented with its editorial commentary running alongside.
The ad urged readers to make their own declaration of independence in 1951. “Declare that government is responsible TO you— rather than FOR you,” it continued. “Declare that freedom is more important to you than ‘security’ or ‘survival.’ Declare that the rights God gave you may not be taken away by any government on any pretense.”
Actually, that ad sounds strangely like parts of the Inaugural Address of Donald Trump in 2017!
For some reason, utility companies seemed to really get on board this conservative agenda.
Other utilities offered similar ads. The Detroit Edison Company, for instance, quoted at length from a Clarence Manion piece first published by the original Heritage Foundation. “Despotism never advertises itself as such,” Manion warned. “By its own sly self-definition it may label itself ‘democratic,’ ‘progressive,’ ‘liberal,’ ‘humanitarian,’ or ‘fraternal.’ Those who oppose it will be called reactionaries, fascists, and other ‘bad names.’” The Utah Power & Light Company, meanwhile, cut right to the chase in a full-page ad with the alarmist headline “How many ‘Independence Days’ have we left?”
The utility company implored readers to “pray for help in maintaining man’s closeness to God, in preserving man’s God-given rights and responsibilities against those who would make you dependent upon a socialistic, all-powerful government.”
The Committee to Proclaim Liberty particularly aimed at getting the cooperation of ministers in promoting this event. Press releases were sent that local ministers could provide to their local papers, just filling in their own name in the blank: “The purpose of the Committee,’ the Reverend _________ declared, ‘is to revive a custom long forgotten in America— spiritual emphasis on the 4th of July’”).
And once again they sponsored a sermon contest.
The seventeen thousand minister-representatives of the organization were encouraged to compete for cash…
First place in the sermon competition went to Reverend Kenneth W. Sollitt, minister of the First Baptist Church of Mendota, Illinois. Published in the September issue of Faith and Freedom, his sermon bore the title “Freedom Under God: We Can Go on Making a God of Government, or We Can Return Again to the Government of God.” As the title suggested, it was an extended jeremiad about the sins of the welfare state. Reverend Sollitt decried the national debt, growing federal payrolls, corporate taxation, government bureaucracy in general, and Social Security in particular, while still finding the time and imagination to use the parable of the Good Samaritan as grounds for a diatribe about the evils of “socialized medicine.”
When the Fourth of July came, no one involved was disappointed…
… The program itself lived up to the organizers’ expectations. Cecil B. DeMille worked with his old friend Fifield to plan the production, giving it a professional tone and attracting an impressive array of Hollywood stars. Jimmy Stewart served as master of ceremonies, while Bing Crosby and Gloria Swanson offered short messages of their own.
The preamble to the Declaration was read by Lionel Barrymore, who had posed for promotional photos holding a giant quill and looking at a large piece of parchment inscribed with the words “Freedom Under God Will Save Our Country.”
So…what is Dirty Little Secret #1 regarding the “spiritual revival” of the 1950s? The fact that it was not at all a true grass-roots revival of “interest in the Bible,” or the spread of a sense of repentance of personal sins and desiring salvation through Jesus Christ of masses of people.
The Dirty Secret is that it was a superficial stirring of emotions of the masses, very deliberately coordinated and staged by those with a political/economic agenda and bank-rolled by the Deepest Pockets in America.
The Dirty Secret is that these forces carefully constructed a false connection between the teachings of the Bible and the economic theories and interests of unfettered capitalism, ultimately equating Christianity with Capitalism. And then used that false connection to equate unqualified endorsement of unfettered Capitalism with “True Patriotism.”
These same Deep Pocket People had manufactured everything from Quaker Oats to steel girders, cigarettes to soap, washing machines to automobiles. And they and their “Madison Avenue” assistants had created sophisticated psychological methods to sell all these things. They now turned to manufacturing a revival… to sell a self-serving version of religion.
Yes, the 1951 national Freedom Under God Fourth of July celebration was a smashing success, but only a foretaste of the blitzkrieg that the Christian libertarians planned for the decade. More about that continuing onslaught in the next blog entry: