By What Authority? The Rise of Personality Cults in American by Richard Quebedeaux

By Richard Quebedeaux

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Extra resources for By What Authority? The Rise of Personality Cults in American Christianity.

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Popular Religion in America them a feeling of significance and self-worth in an anonymous society characterized by aimlessness. Decision-making is eased. There are many decisions to be made in a technological culture where affl uence and surplus leisure time offer many more opportunities than ever ex­ isted in the past. Believers are assured that if they submit to God, the right decisions will be forthcoming. Should I quit my job? Change my career? Put my kids in private school? Get divorced? Get remarried?

Not only has the religion of mass culture mentalized the Protestant work ethic, it has also "instrumentalized" faith itself and God himself. Popular religion has its own "how to do it" technology of salvation, its own techniques to change individuals and the world. Feel better through thought control in "ten easy steps. " Controlling thoughts, af­ firming positive thoughts, denying negative thoughts, denying the negative by affirming the positive-all of this constitutes an entire "technology" to effect personal and social change.

The post-Civil War period has been described as the reign of the great "princes of the pulpit. " No one prior to 1 86 5 ever matched the popularity of such preachers as Henry Ward Beecher, Phillips Brooks, T. DeWitt Talmadge, and Russell Conwell. In the words of one church historian, "The nation hung on their words and doted on their persons. "11 The sermons of these men and others like them were not infrequently front-page news, and some were regularly syndicated in the national media-in their entirety.

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