SELLING GOD: Religion in the Marketplace of American Culture by R. Laurence Moore

SELLING GOD: Religion in the Marketplace of American Culture

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The commercialization of religion, discussed in a detailed historical survey that is also a critique of American religiosity. When Bruce Barton stated in the 1920's that Christ picked up 12 men from the bottom rungs of business and forged them into an organization that conquered the world, he was expressing a particularly American attitude toward religion. Here, Moore (History/Cornell; Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans, 1986, etc.) attempts to trace its evolution from Independence to the present day. He believes that its origin lies in the First Amendment's rejection of an established church and the consequent need for religions to seek popular appeal in order to survive. Beginning with the challenge of the theater and the cheap novel in the country's early years, Moore shows how preachers agonized between condemnation of the growing popular culture and the idea that it could be used for religious purposes: the latter approach inevitably won, and religious leaders adapted all too successfully to the demands of the marketplace. The author takes us through such movements as Spiritualism, Mormonism, Chautauqua, the Jubilee singers, and New Age. We learn that Central Park was designed to induce ""orderly and contemplative habits"" among New York's poor and that the graham cracker was part of a health program for spiritual uplift. Moore observes that the preachers had a big problem with the imagination and stipulated that recreation needed to have a serious moral purpose. The religion that emerged was soft on dogma and emphasized feeling good, with revival meetings taking the place of European carnivals or modern rock concerts. Moore writes with sardonic wit as he describes the image of Christ as a Rotarian, and argues that commercialization is simply the American form of involvement with the ""secular"" -- and that if it strips religion of its prophetic power, at least it spares us the strife of such places as Ireland, Bosnia, and India. Likely to appeal to social historians and cynics everywhere.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1994
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press