In "God" We Trusted
D. Eric Schansberg on America's 1950s Religion & Hope for Today
The title of Will Herberg's classic 1955 book, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, is odd, memorable, and descriptive. It lists the three dominant religious groups in 1950s America, because Herberg saw them as "ways of belonging" for Americans in that decade. There was immense religiosity in the country at that time—almost everyone was a believer of some sort—but Herberg is at pains to show that the widespread religious "belonging" was often accompanied by a relatively light sense of religious meaning. In other words, he documents a "yes, but" attitude on the part of most Americans with respect to religious membership, belief, and practice, and he seeks reasons for the paradox.
Metrics & Motivating Factors
Herberg first sets out the basic metrics of religious belonging and identification in the 1950s. Church membership and Sunday school enrollment were at historically high levels, and church construction boomed, particularly in the suburbs. Bibles were disseminated in record numbers, and 80 percent of the populace thought the Bible was the "revealed word of God." Religious leaders were well respected: they ranked third after business and government leaders in 1942, and first in 1947. In books and mass media and among intellectuals, religion was understood to be popular and treated respectfully. In contrast to the times both before and after—the first third of the twentieth century and the latter decades through today—few people identified as atheists or even as agnostics.
THIS ARTICLE ONLY AVAILABLE TO SUBSCRIBERS.
FOR QUICK ACCESS:
D. Eric Schansberg Professor of Economics at Indiana University (Southeast) and the co-author with Kurt Sauder of Enough Horses in the Barn: Thoroughly Equipped Disciple-Makers and the Ministry of Jesus (Further Still Ministries, 2017) and of a 21-month discipleship curriculum, Thoroughly Equipped.
more on america from the online archives
calling all readers
"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand
"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor
• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!
Transactions will be processed on a secure server.
Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.
OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)
Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.
more from the online archives