Religion during the Depression

With millions of people out of work and millions others having lost their life savings, one might have predicted (as many at the time did) that there would have been a strong resurgence of the church during the period of the Great Depression. Indeed, after decades of declining church membership and what many perceived to be a general decline in religious piety throughout the country, many clergyman saw the Depression as partly a heavenly response to these developments. Moreover, many believed that the suffering masses would quickly rush back into the church, swelling membership rolls, and seeking forgiveness for their folly. Yet while most major denominations did see an average membership gain of about 5% during the thirties this gain fell far short of the clergy's collective hopes. Moreover, contemporary evidence indicates that religious piety among these church members may actually have been on the decline even during this period of crisis. At the same time that popular religion was experiencing a decline, the spread of radio allowed such people as Father Charles Coughlin to achieve nationwide fame.

The Lynds' famous study of "Middletown," the everyman of the small American city, indicated that little had changed in the years between 1925 and 1935, despite the intervening onset of Depression. They found that the majority of churchgoers remained middle age women, with few people of either sex under the age of 30. One possible reason for this was the marked decline in piety among the younger generations who felt that religion did not occupy a significant place in their lives. While there was some resurgence of piety among the lower classes (which manifested itself in an increase in the strenght of religious fundamentalism during this decade) most middle and upper class individuals, remained unmoved even though they too may have suffered from the Depression. This cover plainly represents how the uppper classes during the 1930's continued to pay little attention to religion during this decade. The tip of a hat by the dead rich gentleman being rushed up to heaven shows the only tacit attention which such individuals, often caught up in the business world, paid to matters of religion.


November 19,1932


August 10, 1940


November 19, 1938

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