That Seventies Religion

You know what really interests me? Religious pop culture.  I don't know what else to call it. The study of religious movements, maybe? But then, that sounds more like it has to do with sanctified bowels than popular religious trends. Religious trends! Yes, that's a much better description but religious pop still sounds more awesome, right? 

The seventies were memorable for several religious pop culture waves that didn't by any means START in the seventies but somehow took on new shapes, prominence, or importance. Here's a few that I remember happening and having an effect on me in my first full decade of religious life.

PROPHECY-(Sorry kid, you ain't never gonna grow up!) Prophecy has always been a big deal to believers and non-believers alike. Everyone wants to know when the world is going to come to an end. I have never been able to fully fathom the reasons of just why.  (Hey, guess what?  In three weeks everything I ever was, everything I ever had, everyone I ever loved is just going to...end! Wow, can't wait to stand around and wait for all of that! It's gonna be spectacular!) Does three weeks of knowing something make up for the lifetime you spent not knowing?  No, I can't see it my friend. Anyways, there's always a few know-it-alls in every crowd that desperately want to know something you don't. Like when the world is gonna end. Some people make prophecy-or, if you want to impress your friends with larger words-eschatology, their entire life's work.  Imagine that! Depressing, if you ask me.
Anyways, if you were a devout christian kid in the seventies one thing you knew for sure for sure is that you were living in the very last days before the return of Jesus Christ. Chances were more than good that you'd never live on this good earth past-at the most-your mid teens. Nope.  You weren't going to grow up, get married, have children of your own or any of that stuff.  One day soon the trumpet of the Lord would sound, you'd be zapped into heaven, the remainder of the poor shlobs on this planet would almost literally go to hell in a hand-basket, Jesus would erase the cosmic chalkboard and that was it, buddy.  The next 80 billion years to infinity would be spent singing ROCK OF AGES and listening to non-stop preaching. My child brain couldn't hardly grasp all of that.  It sounded kind of harsh...I mean, I would get terribly restless during a three hour sermon.  I couldn't imagine church services going on....FOREVER! I was terrified by the thought of my family or my relatives or my friends missing that trumpet call.  What if-just what if one of us got left behind by accident? It was a thought that broke my heart and scared me stupid.  I know it was selfish (so I thought as a little boy) but I wanted to LIVE! Here on earth! A long time!  I wanted to grow up, have (GULP!!) SEX and kiss girls and drive cars and all of that cool stuff everyone else did when they hit adulthood.
There have always been Doomsday sayers but non greater in the 70s than one Mr. Hal Lindsey. His book THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH was almost like a Pentecostals apocalypse field guide! Or so it was in our house.  In this book Lindsey basically examines books of the Old Testament like Daniel and Ezekiel and the New Testament book of Revelations and correlates the prophetic scriptures there with the then current events of the 1970s.

My dad was going into the ministry in the early 70's and he had a big fascination for Prophecy and "end-times" stuff so if Hal Lindsey had been Gamma radiation my sis and I would be sibling hulks now because we got mega-mega-MEGA doses of Hal Lindsey!

 "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:" 1 Peter 5:8

Another fact every self respecting Pentecostal kid knew was that the DEVIL was everywhere, man.  He was hiding behind every bush, under every rock, tiptoeing through your dreams, hiding in your rock n roll eight track collection, behind the scenes of your favorite tv show and shining forth from the evil eyes of secret Satan worshipers who claimed to be your friends and neighbors! One misstep, one wrong move and you were likely to be a human sacrifice to some demon or another.

The 1970s were big, big into the occult. Witches, warlocks, evil covens, satanic rituals were everywhere-supposedly.  One of the people who really rode the 1970s Occult tidal wave  was Mike Warnke.  In his best selling book  (1973) THE SATAN SELLER he told the story of his descent into the occult, of becoming a satanic high priest and of his eventual conversion to Christianity.  I owned this book and read it many times as a kid.  Mike Warnke was a hero of mine. It wasn't until many, many years later that Warnke was proven to be a fraud-but that's a story for another time. Right now we're in the 1970s and Warnke is one of the first Superstars of Christian Pop culture.

Mike Warnke
Up until the 1970s spiritual occupations ran along pretty familiar lines.  You had your superstar evangelists like Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Kathryrn Khulman, Jimmy Swaggart and the like.  You had preachers, teachers, deacons, singers, and writers. Then, Warnke comes along and is an author, preacher....COMEDIAN and occult expert. Wow, talk about your total entertainment experience! Suddenly the entertainment and evangelism field collide and a whole new avenue is opened up for Christian entertainers. Some of the old hardliners were rolling in their graves-in advance.

Warnke brought the Jesus Freak movement into the seventies and gave many a kid a breath of fresh air from the stodgy same ol same ol that had been around for ages and ages. 

In Part II of That Seventies Religion I'll be posting about some groovy 70's christian comics, movies, records, and other ephemera.

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