Searching for God in the Sixties
This paradigm-breaking book dares to rethink the whole of the ’60s experience, not from a political or sociological but from an historical/theological perspective. Camille Paglia wrote that “the spiritual history of the sixties has yet to be written.” This is that book. For now that the academic theorists have run into an empty ditch, the time has come to reconsider the religion that has long been the principal discourse through which most Americans make sense of reality.
Since the Old Testament was replaced by the New, we have had in Western culture a constant back and forth between the law and the spirit, between the establishment and the awakening, between the rational head and the irrational heart. If the ’50s were all structure, the ’60s were another romantic effort to escape the control of the rational and give full vent to the repressed spirit. Who are we, anyhow, when all the lies are stripped away? As scripture asks: “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” The romantics of the ’60s, like the Transcendentalists, rejecting the very idea of sin, dared to open the cage and let the repressed id come forth, only to find that the light at the end of the long dark tunnel of consciousness was the gleam in Charlie Manson’s eye.
With the election of Barack Obama, the Sixties has finally ended, not because he fulfills the ideals of that decade, but because he, like Jojo, has returned us to where we once belonged. Bush may not be the last hippy, but his approach to life, to governing, purely intuitive and from the gut, a rejection of his father’s rationality, was the last breaking wave of that ocean storm. Paradoxically, Bush was much more like Bill Clinton in being led by his id, his passions, than any true conservative.
The book’s chapters each correspond to a line in Emily Dickinson’s poem “Finding is the first act.” The parallel to Dickinson’s experience in the psychic wilderness demonstrates just how much the experience of the ’60s was part of an ongoing American story and not an aberration. Though it seems contradictory, this book argues for an appreciation of the three ’60s: 1960s, 1860s, 1660s, each a chapter of the religious core of the American story.
The central theme of the decade, a romantic rebellion against neo-orthodox cynicism, may well have been a mistake, but a necessary mistake, a correction that had to be made. Post-modernism’s rejection of the essential romanticism that drove that decade, its emphasis on contingency and absence, is but another signifier for our powerlessness in the hands of an angry God. The enemy turned out to be not them, nor the social structure, but as Pogo said us. Hence the final line of the Dickinson poem: “Jason sham too.”
About the Author
Baby boomer David R. Williams, born in Boston in 1949, experienced the ’60s up close and personal. Taking 1968 off before entering college, he shipped out with the merchant marine, fought against the Vietnam War, worked to elect McCarthy president, rioted in Grant Park, and arrived at Harvard in time for the campus takeover.
He later earned a Masters in Theology from Harvard Divinity School and a PhD in American Civilization from Brown. He wrote Wilderness Lost and Sin Boldly! and won the “Excellence In Teaching” Award at George Mason University. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Czechoslovakia in 1991, has two sons, Nathan and Sam, and lives in a former black community, “Swampoodle,” where he writes and brews his own bitter beer.
University of Delaware Press
On the Web at http://www2.lib.udel.edu/udpress