TRANSCRIPT OF LECTURE, DAY 33
DR. G. HOWARD MILLER
"JESUS IN AMERICAN CULTURE"
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
COLLEGE OF LIBERAL ARTS
DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY
NOVEMBER 20, 2006
DR. MILLER: We want to finish today then talking about Jesus in the Depression and in the First and Second World Wars. And we've gotten to the last segment of this lecture, which is called Jesus and Consumer Culture.
Then we'll go on to the '50s here in a minute. The '20s and the '30s and the '40s are the decades in which Christianity in all of its forms begin to connect to the marketplace of consumer culture. This is a process, as you know, that's been going on since the late 19th century.
We are now in the process of beginning to sell God, to sell Jesus, just as everything is getting commodified in American culture. The Man Nobody Knows was written by an ad executive, and it is a huge commercial for Jesus, in case you didn't notice.
The revivalist tradition had pioneered ways in which the techniques of the consumer marketplace could be enlisted in the saving of souls beginning back with Dwight L. Moody. And in the '20s and especially the '30s even in the midst of the Depression there was a great increase in the number of religious publishing houses, catalogues and devices for displaying religious artifacts of all sorts.
And as we have already begun to see this culminates in the '20s in the embrace of that new thing in the market, the moving picture. What is new now in the '20s and the '30s is the emergence of a mass market for all of this, as middle and even lower class Americans began to be religious consumers, consumers of religious artifacts, publications, pictures ‑‑ you name it, we're going to see it.
And there is an emblem for this development. And it is a portrait, a portrait of Jesus, probably in America anyhow the most famous and ubiquitous portrait of Jesus ever made. It was drawn in 1940 ‑‑ actually a draft drawn back in the '20s.
But it was painted in the 1940s by a man named Warner Sallman. And it's called simply the Head of the Christ. Sallman was a Midwesterner. He was of Swedish, evangelical origin. And he mostly focused in Chicago. There are very few people in the United States who can say that they have never seen this picture before.
This is what Jesus is supposed to look like ‑‑ right? ‑‑ at least for an entire generation or more. Do you think that this is a masculine Jesus? Is it a feminine Jesus? Is this a woman with a beard? What do you think? Does he have a strong chin?
DR. MILLER: The man's got beefy cheek bones. Nice skin. Folks, who do we say has nice skin? Do we say, Hey, guy, nice skin. Not if you want to get out of Texas alive. Right? I don't know. You know what? You have to decide, don't you?
This is an incredible icon in part because it allows you to interact with it directly. Whom is Jesus looking at? Have you ever thought about that? Who is this guy looking at? Is he looking at you? That's easy. Is he looking at you? No.
Is he looking at God? Maybe. What's he doing? He's kind of looking up. What's he doing? What is this man doing? Well, yes. Folks, I think he's just posing for a portrait. He's posing. He's posing just like you and I would pose.
And this becomes sort of an iconic way of having your picture made actually. This is one of the few pictures ever made with Jesus looking quite like that. Now, when Dr. Morgan came we talked about the connection between picture and what? Text.
Now, when you look at this do you try to read this picture? Is that what occurred to you? Did you say, I wonder what that light up there means? Or does that look like ‑‑ what does this look like? Is there a text to this?
Folks, did that occur to anyone in this room, to start looking for that? No. But I will tell you something. In the '40s and '50s a cottage industry emerged of people reading this text, this picture as a text.
And look what you can find. Who knew? Right in the middle of Jesus is a wafer. And what's by the side of it? (A) is a chalice. Folks, talk to me, please. What's (D)? What's that look like? A cross. Who knew? Can you see it? It's a stretch.
What else? Look at the throat. What is that? What is this?
DR. MILLER: A longhorn. Exactly, hook 'em Jesus. It said that it was a dove. And who are all of these people? He's apparently just full of praying women. Folks, we're still Protestant, aren't we? We're still very Protestant, aren't we?
Folks, this picture was everywhere. And Sallman painted him everywhere. Dr. Morgan has talked to you about the way that he took iconic pictures from the masters. It was recruited in the war effort. He wasn't the only one recruited in the war effort.
Don't you love this? Give us help? Jesus holding up that beak for whatever it is. And afterwards the iconic picture was recruited to get people to keep going to church. But it was everywhere. Here it's in a plate. Here is graduation with the Head of the Christ.
Here is a YMCA induction ceremony with the Head of the Christ. And here is the inspiral [phonetic] clock and inspiral lamp. Once I had a student write a family history for me, and she was from Post, Texas. And she told me about her grandma.
She said that her grandmother had this portrait hanging in her bathroom above the toilet, so that when the men of the family came in to do their business standing up they had to look at Jesus while they were doing it. A weird grandma.
There were also publishing companies to publish catalogues to sell religious artifacts. Here's one. This is large-sized sunbeam plaques ‑‑ don't you love it ‑‑ and all kinds of old masters. This is from the Gospel Trumpet.
And here is people working at the company that published this. It was called Gideon's Trumpet. And their magazine was called the Gospel Trumpet. And down here it says, "Even Christ prayed by himself." You know, I'm not really quite sure what the hell that means.
But here are these ladies doing the work. New religious wall mottos, busy work for little fingers. Actually this kind of stuff is expensive. Fifteen cents was a lot of money. Spread-the-light reading lamps, scripture text postcards ‑‑ this is rather Catholic, isn't it ‑‑ outline pictures for coloring.
And religious art or prints began to emerge not only in middle class but in lower class homes. Jesus Christ. Don't you love her? Love that bonnet. And she's got her icon, her Jesus stuff up here. Here's this old miner.
He doesn't have much, but he has religious prints on the wall. And here is a man; he's a faith-healer who has a room in which he sort of exhibits as trophies I guess the crutches of people whom he's cured. But it's also full of religious plaques and art: a little girl under the picture of Jesus.
Outdoors you have Jesus. And there emerged new ways of going to Sunday school and learning about Jesus. People learned a new art form. You get a big chalkboard, colored chalks. And as you tell a bible story you draw the picture.
Have you ever seen anyone do that? I can actually remember doing that in Sunday school. That is how old Dr. Miller is. And all of a sudden everyone had a family Bible. And the were very, very expensive. Here is a Jesus fan.
On the back of it you know where you're from: Capital County Mutual, Fort Worth, Texas. Jesus with children, this is from the funeral home. And a new form of transportation was enlisted: Jesus cars, Jesus saves, repent, Jesus buses, the gospel bus.
Remember Aimee Semple McPherson had a Jesus car. Here is a gospel bus in front of the Capitol. U.S. is mammon. Hoover is a dictator. President Roosevelt's a dictator. Everybody says Jesus was apparently. And here you use your barn as a sign for Jesus. Lord Jesus is coming soon. Advertising consumer culture.
DR. MILLER: The question is, is this just a holdover from Eastern Europe? We don't know. We simply don't know that yet, in part because we don't know very much about inarticulate, lower class people. Right? Let us then turn to the 1950s.
What is the first historical thing, event that you actually remember in your life?
DR. MILLER: The fall of the Berlin wall, which was in 1989. What else? Anybody else?
DR. MILLER: Iran hostage crisis. You don't remember the Iran hostage crisis, do you? He's old. Mr. Curry's old. What else?
DR. MILLER: The Persian Gulf War, the first Iraq war. What else?
DR. MILLER: The fall of the Soviet Union.
DR. MILLER: At least Frank's honest. The first Star Wars movie. Now, what's the first event you remember? What's the first event you can say, I know what I was doing then?
DR. MILLER: No, a national event. I'm glad to hear about the circus.
DR. MILLER: You remember the '92 election, where you were at.
DR. MILLER: Okay. Sadat and Begin. How many remember when Reagan got shot? Anybody? You all don't have real firm ones, do you. I'll tell you something. You need to find what that event is, because everything that happened before that for the rest of your life is going to be history and boring.
Everything since then is going to be your life and cool. And you're going to know everything about it, because you lived through it. Dr. Miller was born in 1941.
My first memory ‑‑ and I must not have been very smart, because this isn't until 1952 ‑‑ my first memory is of the election in 1952 and then again in 1953 the coronation of her Maj in Westminster Abbey, because we got our television that year. That's how old I am.
So all of that to tell you now I'm not talking about history any more. I'm talking about my life. I lived through all this. And unavoidably I approach it a little bit differently. You might not be able to tell it, but I do.
So let's begin to talk about Jesus in the age of conformity, the 1950s, the decade that for good and ill shaped me. The unity and confidence of the Second World War disappeared instantly. It disappeared under a cloud. What cloud? The mushroom cloud, the Bomb, and the almost simultaneous emergence of a new war.
Which war? The cold war. Folks, in some sense World War II never ended, because immediately one of our allies becomes our enemy. And the Soviet Union, the communist Soviet Union wasn't an enemy just in a normal war.
It was an enemy in a crusade, in a holy war, a war between capitalism and communism, a crusade against godless, atheistic communism. Notice that they always got redundant when they said that. Godless, atheistic is redundant.
Mr. Sallman had something to say about this. This is an incredible Jesus. Jesus, thine is the power. What does he have in his hands? What's in this hand? What is it? It's not lightning bolts; it's power. And it's more power than down here.
And what does he have in his other hand? A lamb. Power. Lamb. And what is this? The four horsemen of the apocalypse: war, pestilence, famine, disease, whatever, death. Folks, this is ‑‑ I just noticed the cross. I never noticed that before.
Folks, the icons of the 1950s, Jesus as all powerful and engaged in war. How many of you have had Dr. Oshinsky's class yet about ‑‑ take it, take it. He's got the Pulitzer Prize. Take his class. It's wonderful.
The 1950s and the cold war, as I hope you know, saw America consumed as never before by a fear of subversives, the fear of things you couldn't see but that could destroy you: communists and a new disease, which would be polio.
Dr. Oshinsky's Pulitzer Prize-winning book is a study of a 1950s polio epidemic. We now know a lot more about polio than we ever did before. You're too young to remember the polio epidemic. In fact your moms and dads may be too young.
How old was your mother in 1952? Some of your parents could have died in the polio epidemic. You couldn't be here. And polio was particularly insidious, because no one knew what caused it. No one knew. It was insidious. It was stealthful, just like the communists, and it was as fatal.
So we began to emphasize loyalty and patriotism. Everyone had to sign loyalty oaths. When I went to North Texas in 1960 I had to pledge that I was not a communist. That was okay with me though, because in the 1950s once a quarter after Sunday school in church on Sunday I and some of my friends would go have dinner at Johnny Johnson's house.
We chose Johnny Johnson's house, because his house was on the top of the largest hill in southern Young County. The highest hill in northern Young County was the one that had that church on it that I went into. But we chose his house because we had been deputized as part of the civilian air patrol.
These are little kids. Little Baptist boys in Loving, Texas, wrote away for kits. We had these little cheap binoculars, and we had descriptions of Soviet planes. And after we had lunch we had a nap, and then we would then go outside, and we would scan the horizons for Soviet bombers. How dumb does that sound?
I was ready to sign a loyalty oath when I went to North Texas in 1960. I knew about this world. In the cold war we add to the Pledge of Allegiance a new phrase. You know what it is. "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
We put in "God We Trust" on our coins. That had already been on some of the money since the Civil War. But we put it on the coins now. The president of the United States at the time, whose name was Dwight David Eisenhower, had a very famous quote.
Our government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith. And I don't care what it is. Now, is that idiotic or not? Well, no, it isn't actually, because the emphasis here is on believing.
In fact what do you have to believe in? Well, really in the final analysis you have to believe in belief. You have to believe in something. It's about the importance of believing in belief. And there was a song written at the time.
This is a song about believing in belief. Folks, this is so simple. You don't really need the words. I'm getting compulsive about this. "I believe for every drop of rain that falls a flower grows. I believe that somewhere in the darkness light a candle glows. I believe for everyone who goes astray someone will come to show the way. I believe."
Is that profound theology? "I believe above the storm the smallest prayer will still be heard. I believe that someone in the great somewhere hears every word." That's as close as it comes to God, by the way. "Every time I hear a newborn baby cry or touch a leaf or see the sky, then I know why I believe." And here is Frankie Lane singing.
(Music was played.)
DR. MILLER: The age of conformity was based upon a set of beliefs in something called the American Way of Life or Americanism. Let me suggest to you, young people, that that whole trope is distinctly American. I cannot imagine someone saying the French Way of Life in that way, capitalized, or Frenchism.
Now, there may be something parallel to it. It's not quite the same thing.
DR. MILLER: Copycats. Who had a dream first? We had a dream first. Get your own trope. The American Way of Life, Americanism. Folks, what are the components? Play with me. Wake up and play with me.
DR. MILLER: Okay. But apple pie is a signal, is a sign. What's it really about? Home, domesticity. And who's in the home?
DR. MILLER: Women, thank you very much. Sit down. Get in the kitchen. What else?
DR. MILLER: Men being men. Self-made. What else?
DR. MILLER: Land, all of it. It's all ours, right? Manifest destiny? What else?
DR. MILLER: Aha. Self-made man. Folks, we're forgetting the most important ones. The basis of this way of life is democracy. Come on, get real. Aren't you all Americans? What else? Come on.
DR. MILLER: Yes. Capitalism. What else?
DR. MILLER: Well, you wouldn't say that yet. We'll get there. What else? We've already talked about gender. Can we also say heterosexuality? Folks, it's actually very important in this period. First time it actually becomes an issue.
We'll talk about it in just a second, heterosexuality. The American way of life. And you must be made to conform to that. Folks, they get pretty strict about making you to conform. For instance movie directors who don't conform, what do they do?
DR. MILLER: They get blacklisted. This gets very serious. Now, what have we said about our man in these beliefs? Nothing. Notice that none of these has to do with Jesus. The age of conformity is also called the age of anxieties.
The Great Book called it the aspirin age. There were fears everywhere, of communists. I've already told you about I and Johnny Johnson and our friends looking for Soviet aircraft. In the late '50s we came up with a defense against those bombs.
It was in your backyard. What was it called? A bomb shelter. In 1959 just when I went up to college the first bomb shelter in ground was built. It was built just down the street by Mr. Crouch. Mr. Crouch was a rich guy, owned the grocery store.
And every Wednesday and every Sunday he sat right next to me in the choir. I could hardly stand it, but he sat next to me in the choir and tried to sing. So when I found out that Mr. Crouch was going to have a bomb shelter, I went to him and said, Mr. Crouch, can I and my momma come to your bomb shelter if the Soviets come?
Notice I didn't say, and my five stinky sisters, just me and my momma; and daddy can fend for himself, too. Do you know what he said? No. And if you try, I will shoot you. And he was as serious as a stroke. Welcome to the cold war.
We were afraid of people who weren't like us, and not just communists: Catholics, Jews, homosexuals. And this actually becomes an issue for the first time. People began to be afraid also of losing identity in an increasingly mass society and in a corporate world.
And you began to hear books with names like A Face in the Crowd, The Lonely Crowd; sociological studies called The Organization Man, what happens to men, individuals, that have to conform in the world of business.
There was a novel called The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit about what happens to individuals in corporate America. Underneath all of this anxiety and angst there was a single demographic fact. And it has to do with your momma and daddy.
Your mommas and daddies are of what generation? They are boomers. You are echo boomers. Do you know how long I've known that? A week. I'd never heard that phrase until a seminar last time. Echo boomers. That's cool. Echoettes. Right?
The boomers. All of a sudden I've got a four-year head start. I'm going to get all of mine. By the time your momma and daddy get there, nothing left. Tough. I was born in '41. Millions of them, tens of millions of them, folks.
Your mommas and daddies are in fact the single salient fact of American history in their life. They have simply transformed history as they go. They're just going to do it. And in the next decade, guess what they're going to do?
Bankrupt the nation and lead into the biggest economic crisis of all times. I'll be dead. You'll be glad. Some of you will actually. You know who you are, too. Folks, I want to play you a song now for two reasons.
One is that it kind of is about anxiety and kind of hard times. It was actually written in the '50s. This is actually an apocalyptic song. "Troublesome times are here, filling men's hearts with fear. Freedom we all hold dear now is at stake.
"Humbling your heart to God saves from the chastening rod. Seek the way pilgrims trod. Christians awake. Troubles will soon be o'er. Happy forever more when we meet on that shore free from all care, rising up in the skies, telling the world goodbye, homeward we then shall fly, glory to share.
"Jesus is coming soon, morning or night or noon. Many will meet their doom. Trumpets will sound. All of the dead shall rise, righteous meet in the skies, going where no one dies, heavenward bound."
Now, folks, this is an apocalyptic song from an apocalyptic decade. But I swear to God it's one of the happiest songs you've ever heard, and I'm playing it in part just because we need something right now. You all are just about to die on me. We need something now. And this is my best shot. The Oak Ridge Boys. This is the most wonderful song I know.
(Music was played.)
DR. MILLER: Let's do Billy Graham, Billy Graham and the urban crusade. Folks, we already talked about an urban crusade, right? Dwight L. Moody. Billy Graham is the heir of the great urban revivals of the '70s and '80s, the 1870s and '80s of Dwight L. Moody.
Billy Graham however was a Southerner. He was from North Carolina, a southern Presbyterian who became a Baptist and who finally began his own religion. Billy Graham is now above religion. He is Billy Graham.
In 1949 Billy Graham found himself ‑‑ he was already an evangelist ‑‑ found himself in California, southern California, where the Azusa Revival had rocked the landscape 40, 50 years earlier. And when his little tent revival started the Hearst Press did for it exactly what the Hearst Press had done for the Azusa Street Revival.
William Randolph Hearst sent out a telegram. It said, Puff Graham. Build up Graham. And the Hearst papers did. And he became an overnight sensation. And in the next 30 years Billy Graham perfected the techniques of modern evangelism that had been pioneered in the late 19th century by Dwight L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey.
The Graham revivals, like the Moody revivals, were exclusively an urban phenomenon. Here's Billy Graham in 1957. His revivals were not called revivals. They were called crusades, just like the crusade against communism.
He used all the advances of modern technology: radio and then televison and recordings and finally movies even. He enlisted entertainers like minor movie figures to appear in his revival. And he converted some of them to Jesus.
And in the 1960s, as some of you may know, he began to ally himself with powerful politicians, both Republicans and Democrats. He created a huge support structure, until by the 1960s the Graham crusade was a huge moving circus actually.
He started in tents, but finally filled huge auditoriums, and then finally had to take his crusades to the only facilities in the United States that could contain them. And they were the football stadiums of another religion.
The crusades like Moody's often lasted a long time ‑‑ two or three weeks. And in the cities they quickly became the most important thing going on when Graham was in town. It reaches climax in 1957 when Billy Graham finally invaded New York City and won it for Jesus.
He filled Yankee Stadium several nights in a row and became a celebrity. Now, the important thing for us about Billy Graham is his simple theology and the role that Jesus played in it. The focus was on Jesus exclusively almost and on accepting Jesus as one's personal savior.
Salvation in the preaching of Billy Graham was universally available to everyone everywhere. You could accept Jesus as your personal savior at home, in a church, in a huge stadium, or ‑‑ and this happened every once in a while, and it got huge publicity when it did ‑‑ you could accept Jesus by watching a TV crusade broadcast in your local bar.
And that happened enough to get some publicity. Getting saved was the easiest thing in the world. In his wonderful southern accent Billy Graham convinced a generation of Americans ‑‑ at least Christians ‑‑ that Jesus really loved each and every one of them.
He focused not at all on hell. But he preached on heaven constantly. In the early years of his crusades he in fact described heaven's exact dimensions ‑‑ it was this many feet long and this many feet wide ‑‑ from various parts of the Bible.
Billy Graham had almost nothing to say about the historical Jesus and his ministry until he got to Jesus's death, his passion and his death and his resurrection. He had a lot to say about it. Do I need to say, young people, that there were no social implications of Billy Graham's revival?
There was no social gospel here. His religion was between individuals and God. He laid out God's plan of salvation, and nothing could be easier to follow. Christ died for your sins. You still had to be convicted of those sins.
And then you simply had to ask God to forgive you of your sins. You asked God, God the Father, to forgive you of your sins. And then Jesus through the Holy Spirit comes into your heart and saves you and is now your personal savior. And folks, personal savior is a new phrase.
DR. MILLER: Implications? If you make a decision for Jesus in a Graham revival what are you supposed to do? You go join a church. You come down ‑‑ huge numbers, people filing down in these huge stadiums ‑‑ you fill out a card.
Folks, this started with Moody. And they had reps there from all of the sponsoring churches. And they sent you to the church nearest you. In fact they didn't ask about denominations. They just sent you to the nearest church.
And sometimes they actually followed up on you. The hymns of imitation were very emotional. The Billy Graham crusade made a kind of a fetish of an 18th century hymn. "Just as I am without one plea, but that your blood was shed for me, and that you bid me come to thee, oh Lamb of God I come."
An old English hymn that became sort of a theme song of the Billy Graham crusades. And especially in the early years ‑‑ and Jordan, this has implications for your question, too ‑‑ he preached that Jesus was coming back right now.
He preached, he focused on the imminent Second Coming, so you really better get ready. But the focus was really on Jesus as comforter. Jesus who through the ministrations of the Holy Spirit can soothe all of these anxieties.
Jesus then was the solution to all individual problems. And he would have said, if everyone accepted Jesus and got your own individual problems solved, guess what would happen to the world? Its problems would be solved, too.
That's how you redeem the world, individually one by one. No, said the critics of Billy Graham. Check out this glamor shot of Billy Graham. Check the tie. Do you see the tie, the other one? This is the great one. You can't see what color suit that is, but God only knows what color suit that is.
He liked lime green at the beginning. He made Time magazine cover in 1954. This is not a glamor shot. This is exactly what Reinhold Niebuhr looked like, for good or for ill. Liberal Christianities had a field day ridiculing Billy Graham and what they saw as his simplistic theology.
Again the press helped him, just as they had in the Moody revivals. The press began to get a hold of those conversion cards and to buttonhole people and ask if they made a decision. And guess what they found? Exactly what they found in the Moody revival.
Guess who most of those people who made decisions were? Church members. They were already Christians who were rededicating their lives to Jesus. Billy Graham said, Fine. They can go win over other people to Jesus now.
Liberals attacked the lack of any theological content in the gospel of Billy Graham, and what they called the cheap appeal to emotion, sentimentality and crowd dynamics, peer pressure. Little kids go make a decision because their little boyfriend or their little girlfriend made a decision.
They made fun of the showmanship and the pulpit techniques, of the young Billy Graham particularly. And they really had a field day with his garish ties and his green and purple suits, until he got a color coordinator or something.
But there was something new in the critique of liberals in the 1950s of Billy Graham. And it was his emphasis on Jesus. Liberals pointed out that by emphasizing the centrality of Jesus in American public and private life, Graham excluded all who did not believe in the Jesus of evangelical Christianity.
He especially excluded what group of people? Jews. And for the first time that begins to be an issue here in the post-holocaust period. We see the emergence of not a Christian nation, but a Judeo-Christian nation. And liberals said that focusing, that putting Jesus into that equation makes that problematical.
Can I get a witness? I mean, surely it does. And this is where we will start next time.
DR. MILLER: Not the liberals. There's a debate about what you think about Catholics and Jews. Folks, societies demonize and care about people at the same time.
(End of recording.)