Both World Wars Were A Catalyst For Religious Growth; What Future Tragedy Will It Take For Another Revival?

Sadly it often takes tragedies for religious faith to grow. It seems an unfortunate part of our fallen nature. We have been hit by a spate of tragedies as of late; in its wake we often see churches full of worshippers seeking answers where once there were but a few. Following both world wars, there existed a religious resurgence that unlike the recent tragedies did not ebb and flow. It remained constant due in large part to the horrific loses of human life.

Modernism was alive and well and condemned by the likes of Pope Pius X even before the Guns of August began in 1914. The Catholic and Protestant churches were increasingly seeing relativistic elements entering their seminaries. However unlike recent times, they were quickly addressed. Though we are gaining the upper hand, it has been 40 years since Pope Paul VI lamented that “The Smoke of Satan” had entered the Church. In my just released book; The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn, I speak about the positive events occurring within the Church, as well as those movements who aim to do us harm. In addition, the book delves into how we got into this mess in the first place.

Following World War I there was a great return to religious devotions, especially those having to do with the Blessed Mother. The events of Fatima which had occurred during the war and were being followed closely around the Catholic globe. As I mentioned in my article on the Schoenstatt Movement, the likes of Father Josef Kentenich chastised theological authorities who were giving short shrift to these devotions as well as those who dismissed popular devotions to those who recently passed away like the future Saint Therese of Lisieux (The Little Flower.) Father Kentenich reminded these scoffers that Jesus did indeed say that we must become like little children if we are to enter the Kingdom.

The well heeled of Europe and many American ex pats found their way to Paris to rebel against the religious side of the equation. On the whole, they were a gloomy lot who seemed to drown their sorrows in all matter of drink and sexual exploits which only made them more unbearable. Some even found their way to more exotic locales like Casablanca, as did the fictional Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) in the epic film Casablanca.

However there were some faithful thinkers and artists amidst the bunch; Antoni Gaudi being one of the more prominent. His masterpiece is the still unfinished Sagrada Familia Church in Barcelona, which is expected to be completed in 2026 and has already been consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. Work on the epic church was begun in the 1800s and consumed much of Gaudi’s life. He remained a devout Catholic his entire life, though many of his artist friends were dumbfounded by his traditionalist beliefs. During the Spanish Civil War, anarchists and leftists forces tried to attack his work and even schematics drawings of future works (that he never completed before his death in 1926.)

The Depression of the 1930s only added to the back to basics approach to faith that had begun in World War I’s aftermath. However, it was World War II that really added to the worlds and especially America’s embrace of the traditional. As a matter of fact, some theologians and sociologists surmise that the period between 1946 and 1964 may have been America’s most religious, due in large part because of the religious structures that existed, especially in Catholicism and the mainline Protestant faiths. Remember American for a good part of her days was mission territory and until the First World War there wasn’t enough trained clergy to supply the religious needs of the faithful. Why was this so; allow me to use an excerpt from my just released book, The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn. The late Father Thomas Shonebarger was a priest in the Diocese of Columbus, who in his very early years was a secretary to Thomas Merton.

One day I asked Father Shonebarger why the faith was so strong in this period. He looked at me squarely in the eye and said, “You were born in the 1960s and you had no idea what it was like going through the 1950s in the aftermath of World War II. In the 1940s and 1950s too many children did not have a living father, too many wives no longer had their husbands, and too many brothers and sisters no longer had a brother. How could this happen and what did it mean? They took their concerns to the only place they could get an answer, their house of worship. I could remember going to Mass early on Sunday just so we didn’t stand…We had to make sense of the horror we experienced,” said Father Shonebarger.

Another bit of anecdotal evidence of how strong the faith was in this period occurred some 50 years ago, in of all places Hollywood. I have accrued a few DVD’s courtesy of Family Theater in Hollywood due to several talks I have given there in the last few years. In one of those DVD’s is a dinner-fundraiser for Father Peyton at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in 1962. It seemed all of Hollywood’s crème de la crème were there thanking the famed Rosary priest who gave us the famous term. “The family that prays together stays together.” Can anyone imagine this sort of gathering for a Catholic priest today? Unless they were going to pelt him with eggs, it would be hard to fathom.

Yet we know things are getting better in the Church due to a new crop of younger more orthodox priests and nuns, not to mention bishops. However, it has been 40 years since Pope Paul VI’s famous lament about the Smoke of Satan that it is finally being wafted out of the Church. Unfortunately some Christian churches are in an utter freefall because they succumbed to the whims of the world. CS Lewis spoke of the Golden Era of Anglicanism in the 1950, but how the mighty have fallen (and it didn’t take very long did it?) For more on this please read my article; The Coming Open Rebellion Against God as well as my just released book; The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn.

This begs the question; what is it going to take to wake the Christian body at large, another world war, some sort of health pandemic, or perhaps a miraculous biblical find (something akin to the Dead Sea Scrolls?) One thing is for sure, tragedies do bring about the resurgence of faith, and Jesus did promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. However, what price will it take for our hubris and narcissism to defer to God’s love, truth and reason?

7 Responses to Both World Wars Were A Catalyst For Religious Growth; What Future Tragedy Will It Take For Another Revival?

  • Penguins Fan says:

    In Spain, the Franco regime and its views led to pent-up hostility towards the Catholic church after Franco died.

    France began slipping away from the Faith at the time of the Revolution and not even the numerous apparitions of Mary have been able to return the French to her former status as Eldest Daughter of the Church.

    The unification of Italy in the 19th century unleashed hostility towards the Catholic clergy, seeing them as privileged (gross oversimplification).

    Germany, Holland, Austria….others know the reason for the decline better than I do.

    In the USA, I blame the turn in popular culture as well as the Kennedys. In the 1950s, during the beginnings of the Cold War, Hollywood made many movies based on Old Testament stories. Fr. Peyton and Loretta Young made Catholic themed programs and Bishop Sheen was popular.

    The 1960s…there was the heartwarming Dragnet episode where the little Latino boy returns the Baby Jesus to church before Christmas Eve Mass.

    The 1970s were indifferent to religion.

    Today, there is open hostility to religion from Hollywood and academia, and far too many young people eat it all up.

  • philip says:

    Dave.
    Fr. John Hardon, (d.2000) gave striking warnings of a future American landscape if Catholics didn’t return to the sacraments.
    Catholics because they are the privileged members of the Body of Christ.
    Fr. Hardon; “If American Catholics do not return to the true faith, return to frequent the sacraments, then they will experience the sufferings of First century Christians.”

    The battleground is Christian America.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    Penguins Fan wrote

    “France began slipping away from the Faith at the time of the Revolution…”

    The “slipping away” began almost a century and a half earlier, in the aftermath of the Wars of Religion in France (1562-1598) and the Thirty Years War in Germany (1618-1648) These ended in a stalemate; the Reformation gained no new territory, but it proved impossible to restore the unity of Christendom. The all but inevitable result was the growth of scepticism: both sides could not be right, but they could both be wrong. Theology, as a science (a means of knowledge) was generally viewed as discredited. It was to such people that the Pensées of Pascal were addressed.

    On the eve of the Revolution, few of the middle classes went to Mass in the great towns, hardly any of the artisans. The faithful were a sincere though ill-instructed and dwindling minority. Nothing better illustrates the condition of the Church than that priests like the Abbé Sieyès and bishops like Talleyrand were not untypical. Acton notes that “Those among them who had been chosen by the Church itself for its supreme reward, the Cardinal’s hat—Rohan, Loménie de Brienne, Bernis, Montmorency and Talleyrand—were men notoriously of evil repute.” Maury, afterwards Cardinal and Archbishop of Paris, was a man whose character was below his talents.

  • PM says:

    ‘However, what price will it take for our hubris and narcissism to defer to God’s love, truth and reason?’

    Vital question. Something like pulling the plug or a ‘forty’ day or year span of character building or voices to balance the scale in culture.

    ‘In the USA, I blame the turn in popular culture as well as the Kennedys. In the 1950s, during the beginnings of the Cold War, Hollywood made many movies based on Old Testament stories. Fr. Peyton and Loretta Young made Catholic themed programs and Bishop Sheen was popular.’

    The 1960s…there was the heartwarming Dragnet episode where the little Latino boy returns the Baby Jesus to church before Christmas Eve Mass.

    The 1970s were indifferent to religion.

    Today, there is open hostility to religion from Hollywood and academia, and far too many young people eat it all up.’ –

    … to the point of Churches being locked due to the victimization.

    The violent insane seem to attack the defenseless, such as in schools, theaters, and gatherings. What provokes violent behavior are celebrated elements of the culture which have lost civility and balanced character traits of decent restraint.

    I think of some not funny comedians, the loss of board games to computer ones played alone, the gang phenomenon, the irony of the women’s liberation movement and the outrageous displays of today’s women, artisans becoming ‘artists’ of the useless, and more, and vaguely, electronic replacement of human activity/work. Mental inability and illness, loss of human care to gov. regulations and courts strangling progress.

    ‘On the eve of the Revolution, few of the middle classes went to Mass in the great towns, hardly any of the artisans. The faithful were a sincere though ill-instructed and dwindling minority.

    … a man whose character was below his talents.’ ***

    Education becoming unrelated to the character building of good judgement or virtue. Lifetimes given to learning from the inspirations and beauty of our Creator have value. So what will bring more than a temporary turn to religion in reaction to sorrowful tragedy is what M P-S wrote. Character. The culture of death is deterring religious growth and its strength of character; so maybe, simply accepting God’s gifts of Faith, Hope, and Love (in even horrible circumstances brought on by evil afoot) would serve to rebuild His recommended culture of life.

    People finding the great comfort of a more religious life, however found, will grow to see the discomfort in a solely material world and loss therein. Hunger and thirst for more works both ways.

  • Pinky says:

    I think this is a complete misreading of the past century.

    WWI saw the collapse of faith in state, royalty, race, and progress, which were the reigning beliefs in Europe. The facade of faith was slipping away, and France drifted into despair. Nihilism, drugs, and eventually existentialism did little to fill the void. Russia fell. The US won the war and retained its optimism or something like it, until the decadence of the 1920′s collapsed into the Great Depression. Germany went a different route, re-embracing race and progress in an awful way. By the end of WWII, the spirit of despair ruled most everywhere. European countries gave up their empires and gave in emotionally to the Soviets. America held together because of its devil rather than because of its god.

    There are little ripples throughout history which can make it seem like one decade is holier than another. And we are affected by (not controlled by) our culture, so I shouldn’t say that all of us within a given country move in lockstep. But the trendline for the past 100 years has been ugly. The wars led to loss of faith among millions.

  • There are some great posts here. Yes, Penguins Fan when faith begins to slip it can fall in a hurry, much like someone climbing a mountain, a momentary slip can take the climber a great deal of time to return from where he momentarily slipped.

    Philip, Father Hardon was prophetic, he was fond of saying the modern rebellion began in the 1930s. I can’t remember exactly the date he was referring to but it had to do with a group of priests in pre- WWII (Belgium?) taking liturgical matters in their own hands. He saw the slipping away of reverance and the degree to which the sacraments were being dismissed as a harbinger of something awful to come.

    Michael Paterson Semour, yes few realize the true impact of the Reformation when it was put into the hands of men like Jean Calvin who saw to it that mystery was dismissed. In addition, Calvin saw to it that churches were closed during the week to prevent “superstitious rituals” like Marian Devotion and Eucharistic Adoration from continuing. Putting doubts in people’s minds certainly set the stage for the unholy terror that was the French Revolution. George Washington and Alexander Hamilton saw it for what it was but even thinkers like Thomas Jefferson were fooled into thinking that it was an Englightened event.

    PM, yes as I indicated in my article it is hard to believe that Hollywood helped the faith with many fantastic films, and it even had powerful messages in TV dramas as late as the 1970s. However, Father Peyton saw the troubling signs years before and tried to prevent the catastrophe which is now controlling our media culture. In the 1940s, Father Peyton believed Hollywood could evangelize the world through films, but he also knew it would also become a target of the dark side.

    Pinky, true we are responsible for our actions but wealth and prosperity have always been the tool to which the dark side lures societies going back to Sodom and Gomorrah, Nineveh, Rome etc to walk away from God. However, tragedies have sobered people up long enough to see the error of their ways. For a decade starting in the mid 1990s, Poland was ordaining half of Europe’s priests. Look at the saints France gave us after the nightmare of 1789.

    It is important to note that we will be the last man standing so to speak. The faithful will come our way because Jesus predicted that it would happen (The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.) Let’s hope and pray that in the final showdown large segments of the populace see through the demonic disguise of the evil one.

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