Saturday, March 15, 2008

You wouldn't read about it

Whilst recently sorting through the Kingsley College Library archives, I came across an issue of the well-known American Christian magazine Christianity Today from August 18, 1967. Much to my surprise and initial amusement it contained an article by J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972), who served as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from 1924 to 1972.

Hoover was the last person I expected to see writing for a Christian magazine. He was a controversial figure, and his private life even more so, though in all fairness, none of this was public knowledge at the time. I don't know if he had any religious beliefs, but a man of his position would no doubt have had a fairly good grasp of American culture and society at the time. hence his article, An Analysis of the New Left: A Gospel of Nihilism. With the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, race riots in American cities, political assassinations, and the rise of the counterculture, the 1960s was one of the most tumultuous periods in recent American history.

To Hoover, this counterculture was made of up predominately middle class American youth. He saw this movement, which he termed as the New Left, as a threat to the structure of American society and Judaeo-Christian values. He was not opposed to the expression of dissent as such, but could not accept what he saw as their wholesale rejection of American values, as evidenced by their civil disobedience, drug taking, and sexual promiscuity. Much of what Hoover argued may have been valid, but believing in social justice, as many civil rights activists justifiably did, and opposing what to many was an unjust war does not necessarily make one a dangerous radical. These were broadly based movements, and radical elements often attached themselves to popular causes to further their own agenda of radical social change.

With the benefit of hindsight, despite its excesses, perhaps Hoover overstated the threat this movement posed to American society. Where he was correct in his analysis was in his exhortation to the church to engage with the counterculture and offer them satisfactory answers to the great questions of human existence and the purpose of life. I'm guessing that's why this article was published. This was before my time, but no doubt many forward thinking clergy and laypeople were thinking, "How do we as Christians engage with these young people on their terms and meet their needs?" To an extent, the church was able to successfully engage with this counterculture, which led to the rise of the Jesus movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but that's another story.


Glen O'Brien said...

Also he liked to wear frilly lady's things under his suit.

Ross McPhee said...

Yes, apparently that's true. Mr Hoover had some skeletons in his closet. I was deliberately vague about this to avoid taking my blog downmarket, hence the description of Hoover's private life as "controversial."

Sing Chee said...

heya ross - just a little off topic, what's happening to kingsley's library collection? Is it being merged with tabors? Is there going to be a cache of unwanted books up for grabs :D:D?

Ross McPhee said...

Hi Sing,

Contrary to any rumours you may have heard, there has been and will be some changes to the way the library operates, but it will remain as a physically separate library. The good news is that the catalogue will shortly be web enabled, so you'll be able to browse it remotely.

Sing Chee said...

Darn! was hoping to expand my already bursting book collection:P . Any idea where the current collection will be held?