Monthly Archives: June 2014

Protestant Influence on Television Censorship Regulation

This is one in a series of guest posts authored by students in an undergraduate course I taught during Spring 2014, “Protestantism and the Development of American Culture.” Each student’s task was to write an informative essay explaining some way that Protestants have shaped (or tried to shape) American culture. Students knew that their essays would be posted to this blog, so they would have a real-world online audience.

Students are entirely responsible for the content and quality of their essays; I am merely the vehicle for broadcasting them (though on the whole I’m reasonably pleased with the results).

Protestant Influence on Television Censorship Regulation
By Mary Jane Leveline

“There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.”
~Mark Twain

mjl001No matter how much we try to deny it, the lure of the forbidden fruit, regardless of what it is, causes controversy, if not within ourselves, within some sanction of society. This is especially true in the United States where Protestant values are permeated throughout the fabric of our origins as a nation. Scripture governed morality warns of the fall of man if given over to unbridled desires. Prowling like a lion in search of fresh prey is sin after man. These beliefs have led to a governing society with arms that reach into the entertainment industry through censorship and regulation.

Censorship Defined

mjl002Let’s begin by defining censorship so that we can see the relationship that Protestant values lend. Censorship, as defined by the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU), “is the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.”

Censorship Committees and Support

The Federal Communications Committee (FCC) was established to regulate the airwaves. In the 1950’s television came under scrutiny of the FCC as appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt in the attempt to limit socially harmful conduct caused by people’s exposure to sexually explicit or violent material, and to prevent children’s exposure to a variety of material that may harm them. This came about during a time in our nation’s history where Protestant values were the moral norm. This new medium began pushing the boundaries of moral acceptability. The mainstream Protestant groups used their influence to shape the regulations regarding what was allowable to be viewed over the airwaves and enter the American home.

The Voice Behind Censorship

mjl003As Heather Hendershot puts it well “the difference between censorship and regulation is tightly bound up in the ideological process of constructing nationalism and patriotism”. Nielson ratings became a measuring stick for family television that consisted of white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant families.   As the fabric of the United States changed spurred by the 1960’s, so did Americans’ views on where they stood in light of their religious views and affiliations. Gone were the days of Protestant dominance as new ideas about religion and ideologies began to gain ground.

The Beavis and Butt-head Experience

mjl004Religious organizations have supported the FCC in its efforts to keep the airwaves clean. Focus on the Family’s Dr. James Dobson, a prominent Protestant vocalist, has been a strong advocate for quality censorship. Dobson’s fears are that television violence will shape the behavior of American children. The show that created this alarm was the animated program “Beavis and Butthead”; a show that targeted adolescent youth. If you have not seen it, I am sure you have at least heard of it. The adolescences depicted are sarcastic rebellious teens that show no initiative to participate in anything that isn’t self-gratifying. They are lazy, disrespectful, and engage in self-deprecating and dangerous stunts. From the Protestant perspective, their antics go against everything that defines a morally upstanding, socially conscious American. By continuing to push back against the growing liberal influence in media, groups associated with the Religious Right work to keep America as the ‘city on a hill’.

Pushing the Envelope

mjl005Before Focus on the Family and other conservatives brought Beavis and, his faithful counterpart, Butthead, to the forefront, television has been regulated for offenses that are now considered mainstream acceptance. Examples of this start with Sylvester and Tweety in the Saturday morning cartoons in the 1942 episode “The Tale of Two Kitties”. Tweety is considered to be ‘too naked’ as he was originally drawn without feathers. The creator, Bob Clampett, counters the criticism by writing in to the script sarcastic comments against the Hays office of the censorship bureau.

Religious Consults

The timeline continues on with shows like “I Love Lucy” when the word “pregnant” can’t be used on air in 1952. After talking to religious authorities from the Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths it was agreed upon that the word ‘pregnancy’ could be used in a sit com. The Judeo-Christian leadership consults show the powerful impact that religious moral views still held in American culture.


“A Really Great Show” Gets “All Shook Up”

mjl008“The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1956 quickly focuses in on a close up of Elvis’ face when the infamous pelvic gyrations begin to go into full swing; all in hopes of not over stimulating the American viewers watching. By 1966 the censors are still doing their jobs of caring for the moral high ground of the viewer as belly buttons are covered in daily serials like “Gilligan’s Island”, “I Dream of Jeannie”, “Star Trek”, and others.

Pushing Back Against the Protestant Views of Morality

The Civil Rights Movement and the Sexual Revolution start breaking down the Protestant influence in the United States. Television is not immune. The ideology of individualism and the growing cultural influences take a stronger foothold. Lines become crossed with lessened resistance by the mainline churches who held the political power to push back. The evangelical churches were too weak to have the influence needed during this tumultuous time of change in our country’s history. This is the time when the slopes becomes very slippery for the Protestant foothold in many aspects of the American culture.

Reining It In

In efforts to accommodate a growing medium, regulators worked with networks to create schedules that would take into account the viewing audience. Still recognizing the pressure from Protestant values that are engrained in the society, Family viewing hours were developed to promote viewing that contained values that a family could sit down and watch together in 1975. Prime time was considered 8:00 p.m. hour. Shows that had more adult content were viewed in a later time slot after the children had been put to bed.   Saturday morning viewing became time for young children to watch television safely with cartoons, puppets, and animals adventures scheduled in those viewing slots. These efforts continue to reinforce family values and moral codes on America’s airwaves. Depending on the time of the viewing gave parents the sense of what was considered allowable viewing for their children. This policy was overturned in 1977 and the family hour ended though many networks still honor the prime time slot as family viewing and hold to the practice. The fact that family viewing hours were established shows the Protestant’s lessening influence on the medium as a whole.

What’s All the Fuss?

mjl009In today’s world the ideas of seeing a bared naval, hearing a toilet flush, even viewing the inside of a bathroom, or watching lovers roll in the sheets on television doesn’t seem a reason to pause. Alfred Schneider, a thirty year veteran of TV censorship, chronicles the battles between networks and the censorship bureau as to what can be viewed, how it can be viewed, and when it can be viewed. In days past you never heard a toilet flush, or even saw the inside of a bathroom. The Dick Van Dyke Show is still the iconic show used to depict the non-sexual relationship of spouses by creating separate bedrooms for each. We now view commercials that are more explicit than what would ever be considered from the 1940’s through the 1970’s where Victoria’s Secret would still be kept.


mjl010Some would wonder after researching censorship since television’s migration if there is still a need for regulation and censorship from the FCC? Times continue to change! With the onslaught of cable channels, public television, and other non-regulated venues, the regulations for the broadcasting companies under the FCC rule has loosened considerably. Today it is common to view increasing sex and violence on television. Research continues to study the effects of television violence and promiscuity on society. Results are dependent on the group originating the study as to societal impact. In an effort to regulate and inform concerned viewers of content a Television Ratings Guide.

Repercussions and Relevance

mjl011What happens when the content violates the laws? Fines! Large ones! Remember the 2004 “wardrobe malfunction” during Super Bowl XXXVIII? That blunder cost the network a fortune. The FCC fines were $550,000. It didn’t stop there. The NFL had to reimburse $10 million in sponsor refunds. The network was also out the time it took to deal with over 500,000 viewer complaints. These numbers reflect the relevance that the FCC still holds in protecting American values. This view is not to be an advocate of the FCC or be its opponent. It is to merely show the relevance that the organization holds in the American culture based on the Protestant values during the founding of the United States. This is reflective in the ideology that America considers herself a leader in policing morality.

That’s a Wrap

mjl012Television has gone from censoring animated naked birds (Tweety), pregnant stars of leading serials (Lucille Ball), married couples sleeping arrangements (The Dick Van Dyke Show), belly buttons (I Dream of Jeannie), terminology from ‘water closet’s’ (Jack Par) to the ‘seven dirty words’ (George Carlin), conservative Americans have exercised their Protestant values in trying to protect morality on television. The evolution of television has created great strains on both sides of the fence. The conservatives have had to release some of the tight reigns with the liberal push for freedom of speech and expression, the development of cable and public television stations that are under different regulatory laws, and the loss of dominant political power that they once held. As the conservative Protestant power continues to be challenged by the growing liberal world view the evolution of television has gradually pushed the envelope where censorship is concerned. The law of diminishing returns leads to the conclusion that censorship and regulation will never be able to restrict to the level of the early FCC. As long as there are liberals and conservatives, there will be a need for a regulatory source that will continue to evolve to try to accommodate that balance between demand and democracy.

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Compromise and the Religious Moderate

This is one in a series of guest posts authored by students in an undergraduate course I taught during Spring 2014, “Protestantism and the Development of American Culture.” Each student’s task was to write an informative essay explaining some way that Protestants have shaped (or tried to shape) American culture. Students knew that their essays would be posted to this blog, so they would have a real-world online audience.

Students are entirely responsible for the content and quality of their essays; I am merely the vehicle for broadcasting them (though on the whole I’m reasonably pleased with the results).

American Protestants Respond to Secularization: Compromise and the Religious Moderate
By Kyle Bush

The history of the United States of America is one of its settlers–of religious refugees in search of freedom. The discussion of how that religious freedom would come to play itself out in the formation of a fledgling nation would set many a man’s blood to boil in its time.

After the boil would come the spill, as America’s religion (protestant Christianity) would soon tie in to its revolution, and later, it’s Civil War. Many political leaders of that time were hell-bent on creating a Christian nation, but the argument of how to do so would split the State–and the protestant church in America–in two.

Over time, the split grew to a chasm, with mainline and evangelical Protestants fighting for political power in a Christian dominated culture. There are several times in American history where the conflict reaches a climax, the latest being during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. While similar tensions exist today, they are less tight, as Protestant Christianity is holistically conforming to the post-modern society it has created.

I set out to research this essay with one question guiding my efforts; where do the ties between political and religious (mainly, protestant) affiliations in America stand today? However, a seemingly simple question, at least as it seemed to me in my naivety, led to many more questions needing answers, and a very broad essay topic.

I have looked at the history of the relationship modern and fundamental Christians have had with each other, as well as the political affiliation each interest group has traditionally displayed. I’ve examined the levels of activism each “side” has illustrated throughout the United States’ maturation.

One of the challenges I ran into was finding sources both current and pertinent to my topic. But what I have come to conclude is this–it is difficult to ascribe a political group a religious affiliation, or inversely, a religious group to a definitive political affiliation. The theme of individualism, seen throughout Protestantism, has the final say.


Nine of America’s original thirteen colonies employed a state church, with multiple denominations represented. As the Revolutionary War began, and the colonies began to unionize, there was a decision to be made about the freedom of and from religion. The founders, when drafting the constitution, “realized both the uniquely religious underpinnings of American identity, brought forward by the justifications for most early settlements in America, and their desire to create a nation centered on equality, freedom, and common values of virtues,” according to Lippy’s The Encyclopedia of Religion in America.

Ushered forward by the work of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, religious freedom was secured for America in its newly formed constitution. However, while religious freedom had been instilled as a right to U.S. citizens, the cultural influence of protestant Christianity was equally as strong.

In Religion and Politics in America, Fowler would ascribe this to the Puritan Temper. As emigrants leaving England, this religious group settled in to the New World with the hope of establishing a “pure” nation of their own. Their beliefs and culture pervaded the American culture and continues to do so today:

The Puritans bequeathed to Americans strong civic institutions, a sense of national mission, and a reformist impulse that continues to American society and political culture.

As the United States was being molded, it was subjected to this widespread “reformist impulse.” However, how to carry out the national mission would be much disputed, and Protestants would slowly divide into conservatives and liberals, both religiously and politically.

The Religious Right

The right side of the political spectrum is generally referred to as conservative, but how that word is interpreted varies greatly. To those that share the conservative beliefs, they see themselves as standing for something and point to what they see as flaws in liberalism. The Right is passionate about right-to-life advocacy (or the overturning of Roe v. Wade), promote fiscal conservatism, and fighting to keep same-sex marriage illegal.

Conservative Evangelicals tend to side here politically, fearing that the rise of modernist, liberal Christianity will eventually dissolve Protestant influence in America completely. As Fowler eloquently suggests:

As modernity advances, secularism spreads in its wake, eroding the social and cultural significance of religion. With religion’s gradual decline, theorists conclude, we can expect to see religious involvement in politics decrease in the long run.

Evangelicals see mainline, or liberal, Protestants as too passive; if one claims to be a Christian, how can he/her sit back while their country is riddled with disbelief and modernity?

The Religious Left

The left side of the spectrum (liberals) takes a different approach to the relationship between religion and politics. Policies that limit choice (or freedom) are seen as against God; free will is a gift, and those who have it should not be penalized or marginalized for believing differently. The righteousness of God should not be imposed on the nation’s citizens; rather, citizens should choose to receive it.

In his book, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right, Lerner diagnoses America with a certain stupor brought on by, as he claims, the Religious Right. He continues to speak on the oppression of the political Left by the Right, whom he accuses of acting antithetically of their bible-based beliefs. Lerner writes, “there is a radical split between the caring that gets shown on the personal level and the hostility some of the Religious Right manifest toward those in wider society who do not share their political beliefs.”

Liberals are puzzled by the opposition from conservatives at government funding for the needy, as generosity is a seemingly apparent virtue in Christianity. Other issues they are passionate about include healthcare, affirmative action, and environmental protection.

The Compromise

In his book Moral Politics, author George Lakoff spells out most of the qualms that the Right has with the Left, and vice versa. For example, he points out that liberals don’t understand how conservatives can support capital punishment but advocate against a woman’s right to abort. Inversely, the Right does not understand how liberals claim to support the welfare of children, but vote for the rights of criminals (which include kidnappers, sexual harassers, etc.).

The Religious Moderate has emerged in recent decades as a response to such questions, and is the result of an overarching compromise between the religious right and lefts. For the sake of furthering the protestant influence, conservative and liberal Christians are slowly lowering their weapons in order to find agreement in mission and regain political power as one holistic proponent of Christianity.

This has led to compromise–as a result, we see more “progressive conservatives,” as well as “traditional liberals.” America is witnessing a turn from argument to discussion on these issues, with vehemently held pillars on each side being laid down to find more inclusive alternatives. An example of this thinking would be a voter who considers themselves politically liberal, but socially conservative; one who votes for the legalization of marijuana, but crusades against its recreational uses.

This individualistic thinking, which is a uniquely protestant trope, has decreased the polarity of the conservative/liberal divide for the sake of the national mission described by the Puritan Temper. President Barack Obama summed up this mission, combined with the present political context, in his 2006 speech at Sojourners:

If progressives shed some of their biases, we might recognize some overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country…We might realize that we have the ability to reach out to the evangelical community and engage millions of religious Americans in the larger project of American renewal.

Return to Mission

In short, America was born of religion. Protestant emigrants arrived from Europe in hopes of settling and creating a “chosen” land. With this hope (and the diversity amongst settlement groups) came the ideal that the people must have the freedom to choose their belief system- thus, the first amendment.

Furthermore, the freedom of religion allowed for freedom from religion, and protestant forces were made uneasy. The question arose as to how to fix the spiritual crisis of disbelief in the Christian God. How to answer that question became a major stumbling block in Protestant America’s mission- to advance the kingdom of God.

The protestant Church in America began to split–those who were more modern, and advocated choice, became the liberal, mainline, leftist Christians. Those who desired to impose Christian values into politics became the conservative, evangelical Right.

As the divide grew to a chasm, both sides began to lose power, as America itself became more secular. Modernity is often a symptom of this, and as the nation developed, it began to move away from religious politics.

In response, the Protestant American Church has begun to compromise with itself- as President Abraham Lincoln said, “A nation divided cannot stand.” As a result, we see the individual religious moderate emerging- whose political/religious affiliations are more loosely defined than most of those the past three centuries–quietly crusading for the sake of the Protestant national mission.

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Protestant Influence on the Klan, or Not?

This is one in a series of guest posts authored by students in an undergraduate course I taught during Spring 2014, “Protestantism and the Development of American Culture.” Each student’s task was to write an informative essay explaining some way that Protestants have shaped (or tried to shape) American culture. Students knew that their essays would be posted to this blog, so they would have a real-world online audience.

Students are entirely responsible for the content and quality of their essays; I am merely the vehicle for broadcasting them (though on the whole I’m reasonably pleased with the results).

Protestant Influence on the Klan, or Not?
By Arissa Bryant

tumblr_inline_mhqdulUHCN1qz4rgpAs college students, we are extremely familiar with Greek Life. We tend to associate fraternities with Greek letter adorned chapter houses and huge alcohol abundant parties. However, fraternities haven’t always been about the beautiful sponsored houses and raging party scene. One of the earliest fraternities formed is now known better as the Ku Klux Klan. The founder, Colonel William Joseph Simmons actually envisioned the Klan as the ultimate fraternal lodge

The Ku Klux Klan is a uniquely different kind of fraternity.

The Ku Klux Klan is debatably the most prominent and feared group to make its mark in the history of Civil Rights. They are mostly symbolized by the wearing of white, pointed hoods and the burning of crosses. While many know to associate the Klan with the image of the burning cross, many don’t know the actual extent of Protestant influence on this group of individuals.

Background of the Klan

“Beginning in 1915, the Ku Klux Klan organized to advance the interests of native-born, white, Protestant Americans and to restrict the rights and freedoms of individuals the organization chose to exclude by virtue of their racial, ethnic, or religious identities.”

William Joseph Simmons

William Joseph Simmons

Founded by a white, former Preacher named Colonel William J. Simmons, the Klan struggled for support in the beginning but eventually began to thrive and spread across the nation thanks to the strategic thinking of its most prominent leaders. These leaders would stop at nothing to get the membership and support they desired, using money, advertisements, public-speaking events, etc. to increase their numbers. Less than 6 years after the birth of the Klan, the organization was estimated to have 500,000 members in forty-five states.

One doesn’t usually think to associate a religion like Protestantism, known for its love and open arm teachings, with the Ku Klux Klan, a group historically associated with strong racism, hate and violent crimes. However, with a closer look at this group the Protestant influence is quite apparent.

Protestant Influence

Slavery caused a divide between American Protestant churches that began in 1838 with the Presbyterian Church. The divide continued on into the Methodist episcopal and Baptist denominations in 1844 and 1845. In each sect, the northern faction condemned slavery while the southern branches praised it. The racist gospel was then drilled into generations of white southern children.

In Michael Newton’s book “The Ku Klux Klan”, he noted that both versions of the first Klan’s prescript opened with a statement averring that all Klansmen ‘reverently acknowledge the Majesty and Supremacy of the Divine Being, and recognize the Goodness and Providence of the Same’. For many Klansmen, there was no doubt that they were acting in God’s favor. In fact, Lambert said in his book “Religion in American Politics” that members believed that as a part of the organization, they were helping to “defeat the enemies of ‘true’ Christianity and restore morality”.

Naturalization Ceremony

Naturalization Ceremony

Traces of Protestant influence is not only seen in the earliest prescripts but also in ceremony of becoming a Klansmen, better known as the ritual of naturalization. Kelly Baker describes the ritual process in his book, “Gospel According to the Klan”. The ritual is concluded with the pouring of water on the new inductee’s shoulders, head and the throwing a few drops in the air symbolizing his/her dedication ‘in body, mind and spirit’. The usage of water holds resemblance to the Christian ritual of baptism, which symbolizes the act of giving your life to God. In a Christian baptism, a person is usually submerged in water to represent the act of giving their lives to Christ or being ‘born again’.

Protestant churches were an important potential source of not only members but also resources. Klan members are documented to have done various things to win favor from Protestant congregations, including various visitations and monetary gifts to prominent congregations. This attention did not go unnoticed however. In Rory McVeigh’s book, “The Rise of the Ku Klux Klan”, he noted that “in return for the Klan’s support of Protestant churches, Klan leaders expected (and received) endorsements from Protestant clergy.” These endorsements weren’t always in monetary form. In exchange for their support and or membership, clergymen were offered free membership, complimentary subscriptions to Klan publications, and the promise to actively promote the supremacy of Protestant Christianity

Protestant influence is clear in the movement’s song selections. “Onward Christian Soldiers” was actually one of the Klan’s favorite anthems. With lyrics such as “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe.” A huge initiation or naturalization ceremony in Pueblo, Colorado ended with the singing of “Blest Be the Tie That Binds”. Opening with the lyrics “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love”, both of these songs are Christian hymns that show the Protestant manner many Klan events followed.

Protestants have always been known for their ability to attract new followers. This is an ability that the Ku Klux Klan seemed to have in common. “Simmons made use of his fraternal ties to recruit new members and, drawing upon the skills that he crafted as a circuit-riding preacher, used fiery religious oratory in public-speaking engagements to motivate the audience members to join his new organization” . These huge engagements were similar in appearance to large Protestant revivals, complete with religious language and high emotions. The Klan definitely didn’t shy away from the media to spread the word about their organization. “Colonel Simmons strategically placed advertisements for his new organization in the Atlanta Newspapers, alongside promos for showings of ‘The birth of a Nation’” . Protestants also frequented the media with Christian ads being heard consistently on radio stations.

National recognition was a goal of the Ku Klux Klan’s from the very beginning. Like Protestantism during the Great Awakening, the Klan hoped to spread like wildfire. Also, like Protestantism they aimed to promote the organization as attractive to many, not some. Simmons even solicited members by labeling the organization as a “High Class Order for Men of Intelligence and Character”. What man wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

On The Contrary

While, the Klan claimed to be an order created by God, there were many Christians who begged to differ. In the same speed that their number of supporters grew, so did their number of contenders. A big opponent to the religious claims of the Klan was actually a previous member named Henry Fry. Baker mentions Fry in his book, explaining his many complaints against the Klan. In a letter of resignation to the order, Fry denounced the Klan’s ritualistic work as an insult to all Christian people in America.

Fry believed the Klan’s ritualistic practices to be offensive to his Christianity which was extremely sacred to him. In his opinion, the Naturalization process made a “mockery and parody” of the Christian holy rite of baptism. The fact that a members did a Baptism-like procession to give their life to an organization such as the Ku Klux Klan sickened him.

One thing the Klan became extremely well known for is their secrecy. Nothing quite Protestant like about that. However, even though the Klan had a knack for secrecy, most of its officers are known, but this is because of public statements or illegal actions that propelled them into headlines (not really choice). The Klan was often referred to as the invisible empire. The Protestant religion is more about visibility than secrecy.

Ku Klux Klan Meeting in 1920’s, Washington D.C.

Ku Klux Klan Meeting in 1920’s, Washington D.C.

Some might even argue that the Ku Klux Klan is more Catholic-like than Protestant-like. The wearing of the white hooded robes could be compared to the wearing of robes by Catholic priests. They had large ceremonial meetings in which leaders spoke their beliefs onto the members. This importance of and frequent occurrence of ceremonial like gatherings is a huge part of the Catholic faith.


While many look at anyone in or supporting the Ku Klux Klan as sinners, full of hatred, they see themselves as the total opposite. They believe they are the only true Christians, with every seemingly evil act they commit being in his name. Looking at the number of ministers, preachers and congregations in support of the organization, it’s not hard to believe that the Klan had some sort of religious affiliation. Not to mention, their many Protestant-like practices including the reliance on gospel music and the revival like public events. While the Protestant influence is clear, so is the abundance of contradictions. This includes their claim to not be a racist organization and their declaration of minorities as their enemies. These many contradictions brought controversy, and like many controversial groups they had their fair share of opponents, a number of which happened to be Christian ministers. Nonetheless, recognizing the fact that the founders and countless members of the Ku Klux Klan believed they were doing their duties as Christians opens up a whole new realm of thought on the history of Civil Rights.

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The Christ Figure of Superman and the Protestant Gaze

This is one in a series of guest posts authored by students in an undergraduate course I taught during Spring 2014, “Protestantism and the Development of American Culture.” Each student’s task was to write an informative essay explaining some way that Protestants have shaped (or tried to shape) American culture. Students knew that their essays would be posted to this blog, so they would have a real-world online audience.

Students are entirely responsible for the content and quality of their essays; I am merely the vehicle for broadcasting them (though on the whole I’m reasonably pleased with the results).

The Christ Figure of Superman and the Protestant Gaze
By Keelan Jamison

There seems to be a dominance in Western story telling in trying to display the messianic or Christ figure. The Christ figure can be found in multiple stories and especially in film. If we were to look at the most recent representation of Superman in Man of Steel there is a clear story telling of the Christ Figure which follows the same tropes while there’s also some gaze theory happening as well in what I would like to call the Protestant Gaze.

According to Catherine Albanese, a professor of Religious Studies, America has a sense of sacred stories, or a creed in narrative form. A creed is something which gives people a basic sense of their human condition. To basically say that certain narratives or stories give a meaning for American citizens to share. American Protestantism mostly shares a belief set of individualism (a sense of self-reliance and self-worth), higher law (belief that God’s law trumps human law), and millennialism (mostly pre-millennialism which is a belief that Jesus will return to save us before the end of the millennium).

With the Christ figure is where doom has been brought about to the world when all of a sudden an unknown figure appears to bring about peace or a better world. The figure tends to be a bit mysterious at first and there also seems to be this idea of a sacrifice from the figure that helps bring about peace. Also this figure tends to take a pre-millennialism action which basically means the world was doomed unless this figure comes to save it.

The Man of Steel as the Christ Figure

The most recent adaptation of superman being the Man of Steel there is this obvious sense of a Christ Figure taking place in the film. Clark Kent is “out of this world”, he will “save it”, and it tends to follow a certain Christ like path. He was the first natural born of his species in centuries, he comes from a no name town in Kansas, he has revealed his powers, but doesn’t want to grab attention to himself, he doesn’t reveal himself until he finds it necessary, he’s about 33 years old, and he’s there to save all of humankind even if it means to go against his own people (that being General Zod).

Throughout the film though we don’t just see a powerful Christ Figure, but also a struggling Christ figure as well. He struggles to figure out what’s the right thing to do at what time and when should he then reveal his powers? There seems to be this set of morals that Superman must figure out for himself yet he does get a better idea and guidance when he finds a Kryptonian Scout space ship and finds his father’s consciousness which then tells him his origin and the capabilities or powers he holds.

Where much of the question of sacrifice comes in is when General Zod invades Earth and asks for them (people of Earth) to bring forth to him Kal El (Superman or Clark Kent). Superman has trouble over whether or not he should give himself up for the fate of humanity because although he doesn’t trust General Zod he also has some issues with trusting humanity as well. Superman does though in fact give himself up/reveals himself to the public and is then taken by General Zod. Much of the film is then taken in the form of action pack scenes and then the eventual last conflict between General Zod and Superman. They fight it out until Zod begins to threaten civilians with his laser eyes which then Superman decides to snap General Zod’s neck and in effect kill him which in turn Superman has just killed the last of his people for the sake of humankind.

What makes this protestant is the fact that there seems to be this sense of no matter what actions we may take Superman is still our guiding light to a better world. Only Superman can save us and help bring peace to the world. There’s this pathos of only through Superman (Christ) alone can we be saved. There’s an emphasis of higher law as well since Superman does go against certain rules, like when he saved the bus full of kids which in turn revealed his power, because it was the right thing to do. A sense of a higher morality exists. There’s also this protestant pre-millennialism placed where the world was in shambles until Superman came to save the day.

The Protestant Gaze

Gaze theory is the idea or view of how something is being looked at. So for example with the male gaze there is this view that females are always just objects to be looked at for the male viewing pleasure. The gaze usually can happen in three forms as well with camera, character, and audience. The camera and character gaze can be easily distinguished for we can tell if we were meant to look at something or someone from the eyes of the character or not (not being the camera), but with audience it’s much more subtle. The audience gaze tends to be more of an inner response of the audience (those viewing) towards what they may be seeing.

Now then with an obvious Christ figure narrative taking place in Man of Steel there’s also this cinematography aspect that takes form in what I would like to theorize as the Protestant gaze. The film does tell a story of a Christ Figure, but there is also some Christian imagery that takes place to showcase this as well. One of the most obvious times a Protestant Gaze may be occurring is when a character does the Christ pose. The Christ pose being like Jesus crucified.


There are two Christ poses with the first pose happening in the beginning, he is in the water, and the second time he is in space. The film nearly stopped it’s pacing just to have us gaze at super man with his arms out in the crucified Christ pose which we take in a camera gaze form, but us as the audience feel or sense the Christ figure when looking at these two scenes. The placement for these scenes almost signify as if Superman is saving us from the depths of the Earth while also saving us in the Heavens. As if Superman is everywhere or always present to protect us.


Possibly another obvious scene in where Superman is a Christ Figure and the Protestant Gaze is occurring is when he is in the Church. This is a vital scene as well within the movie since Clark Kent is questioning whether or not he should give himself up to General Zod. He is looking for guidance to this question of whether to sacrifice himself and of course behind him is a glass window pane depicting Jesus praying to God on a rock.


Where the Protestant Gaze occurs here is we can clearly see the glass window of Jesus praying to God and it may be Jesus asking God for guidance. We see Clark Kent looking for guidance of whether to give himself up to Zod and almost as if looking for an answer. It’s this depiction of Clark Kent next to the glass window depicting Jesus do we then equate Clark Kent as Jesus.

Although the previous scenes are very obvious images of Christ, the one scene where I feel as though a protestant gaze is taking place is when Lois Lane follows Superman into the Kryptonian Space Scouter. She comes into contact with a robot like thing which then zaps her which she then proceeds to scream in pain and fear until Superman runs to her to calm her down. Where she then calms down is when she looks at Superman. When she looks at Superman we then see through her gaze the face of superman. There’s then this gentle mood that takes over the screen and we are left with looking into the face of Superman or the Christ figure.

The scene with Lois Lane being saved by Superman is very similar to a scene we would see in renaissance art depicting Jesus. The painting Christ Healing the Paralytic by Palma Il Giovane is a good example of a scene where we would see Jesus healing. By comparing the painting and the saving Lois scene it grants a good comparison of the two figures. Because we can see the similarities with both scenes we can then see the Christ figure and of course when we look through the eyes of Lois we see the Christ Figure. It is here where the Protestant Gaze is most prominent.


So with that Man of Steel is an obvious example of the Christ figure which takes a prominent role in our societal narratives especially with the pre-millennial Christ Figure. Because of the gaze we take upon the character of superman this influences our notion of Superman being a Christ Figure and gives us a certain way of not only telling Superman’s story, but also gives us the ability to gaze upon Superman as if he were Christ.

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The Supreme Court’s Protestant Influence

This is one in a series of guest posts authored by students in an undergraduate course I taught during Spring 2014, “Protestantism and the Development of American Culture.” Each student’s task was to write an informative essay explaining some way that Protestants have shaped (or tried to shape) American culture. Students knew that their essays would be posted to this blog, so they would have a real-world online audience.

Students are entirely responsible for the content and quality of their essays; I am merely the vehicle for broadcasting them (though on the whole I’m reasonably pleased with the results).

The Supreme Court’s Protestant Influence
By Sara Garrett

In America we value our freedom of religion and trust our government to protect that freedom. Whenever our freedom is in question we leave it to the Supreme Court to interpret our constitution and tell us exactly what our freedoms are. However when looking back through some of our court cases that the Supreme Court has ruled on we can see ways that in some ways they have been influenced by Protestant values that are prominent in our society.

During different time periods in our country the way the Supreme Court has made decisions that accommodate Protestant values. Then on the other hand there have been times where the Supreme Court has made decision that reject these values taking a separatists approach when it comes to church-state relations.

Late National Period

In the late national period we see that the supreme courts ruling shows signs of our countries Protestant values. Through the Supreme Court’s decision on a few cases it shows that they have tried to accommodate some typical Protestant values. An obvious example of this is the case of Reynolds v. United States (1878). In Reynolds v. United States the court rules that the laws banning polygamy are constitutional and this ruling still stands today. Even though by popular opinion polygamy may be viewed as a very negative thing, however it clearly states in the bible that polygamy is a sin. So we can see that the Supreme Courts decision is rooted in Protestant values of marriage and that polygamy wrong and as Americans is not something that we want to condone.

Another example of the Supreme Court making a decision that favor protestant values is the cases of Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925). In this case Oregon had passed a law that tried to eliminate parochial schools by making it mandatory for children to attended public school or state recognized private schools. The court decided that the law was unconstitutional and stated that parents have the right of liberty therefore they can choose which school to send their children too.

Pierce v. Society of Sister shows that when the state tried to prevent children from going to Protestant schools but the court did not allow that that. The Society of Sisters was concerned with parents’ rights to send their children to parochial schools and through the Supreme Courts decision that right was protected.

These cases are just two examples of ways we see the Supreme Court accommodating to Protestant values. They are supporting Protest values in education by protecting parents right of making sure their children can have protestant educations. They also do not allow polygamy, which is something that is clearly against Protestant values.


In this time period there is a shift in the court. While the Supreme Court is still accommodating to Protestant values they are also more accommodating to other non-protestant religions. We see this in a few cases like Cantwell v. Connecticut and Everson v. Board of Education.

In the case of Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940) we see the court has become more accommodating to non-protestant religions. This case in particular deals with Jehovah witnesses. Cantwell was going door to door with pamphlets about his religion and was charged with soliciting and breach of peace. When brought before the Supreme Court the court found that Cantwell’s actions were protected by the first and fourteenth amendment. The courts decision reflects them being more accommodating to non-protestant religions

During this time period we also have the landmark case of Everson v. Board of Education (1947). The reason this case is considered to be a landmark case is because it is the first time the Supreme Court made the Establishment Clause binding to states.

In Everson v. Board of Education New Jersey students attending non-public (mostly catholic schools) are given reimbursement for students taking public transportation to school. The case was brought to the court by a New Jersey taxpayer; the courts decision was that the reimbursement was constitutional. The opinion of the court stated, “Since we hold that the legislature may appropriate general state funds or authorize the use of local funds for the transportation of pupils to any school, we conclude that such authorization of the use of local funds is likewise authorized”

In both of these cases we can see that the Supreme Court is trying to be accommodating to all religions. They are trying not to place limits on Protestant values in society as well as some values of other non-protestant religions.

1955 and beyond

In this last time period there is a dramatic shift in how the Supreme Court now handles cases dealing with the free exercise and establishment of religion. Up until now they had been very accommodating to Protestant values but starting in the late 1950s we see that their decisions have changed. The Supreme Court starts to take a very separatists approach. They do not want to mix religion and government and this means not as much support of Protestant values in their decisions. We can see that through their decisions on some of their most well known cases.

The first case that reflects the Supreme Court separating Protestant values in their rulings is Engel v. Vitale (1962). Engel v. Vitale is another landmark case because it bans prayer in public schools. In this case we see the court taking a separatist approach to their decision. In the past they had tried to be more accommodating to religions, there for still being able to have protestant values be apart of that accommodation. However, with Engel v. Vitale even though the prayers in school were voluntary prayer and government written the court ruled that it was unconstitutional to have these prayers in public school.

This is a very significant case because we see that through this decision school are no longer allowed to have prayer in them. While many Protestants wanted to have prayer in schools the court ruled against it showing that there is not an as significant Protestant role in the court.

Lemon v Kurtzman (1971) is another very significant case. The reason this case is so important is because in the decision the court made a test, The Lemon Test, which explains the requirements for legislation regarding religion. This is a three-fold test, which are:

  1. “The government’s decisions must not result in an “excessive government engagement” with religious affairs’. (Also known as the Entanglement Prong)
  2. The government’s legislative action must minimally enforce or inhibit religious practice (also known as the Effect Prong)
  3. The government’s implicit action is required to maintain a secular legislative agenda (also known as the Purpose Prong)”

Now when any case regarding religion is brought before the court they use this test to see if the governments action is constitutional or not. If one of the 3 folds is violated then the act is rule unconstitutional.

This is only another way the Court has less of a Protestant influence. The court has a set way to handle cases regarding religion so that there will be no disparities between religions and the governments support of it. There is no way now the court can show favoritism over certain religions once they start making test like these.

Roe v. Wade (1973) is one of the most famous cases to go before the Supreme Court. This case deals with the issue of abortion. This case does not deal with religion however it does deal with values that play a significant role in Protestant religion. In the courts decision they claimed that abortion is a fundamental right, meaning this is a right that belongs to all human beings. This is something that not only upset Protestants but other religious groups as well. The Court really does not take Protestant values into consideration at all. This is a clear example of how separate they have made religion and politics because the Protestant values to do influence this case at all.

It is clear that the Supreme Court has changed the way they rule on establishment and free exercise of religion cases. They are not being as accommodating and have very much shown that they want strongly enforces the separation of church and state.


America is a country that was founded for freedom and one of those freedoms is the freedom of religion. America is also a country founded by Protestants. Through out history we have seen the Supreme Court try to balance the influence of Protestant Values and the freedom of religion. They have been accommodating for a long time and now we see that there have been great efforts and decisions made to make sure that religion and government are separated and that there is religious freedom for all religions in America and not just Protestant religions.

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Protestants, Sports, and Manhood

This is one in a series of guest posts authored by students in an undergraduate course I taught during Spring 2014, “Protestantism and the Development of American Culture.” Each student’s task was to write an informative essay explaining some way that Protestants have shaped (or tried to shape) American culture. Students knew that their essays would be posted to this blog, so they would have a real-world online audience.

Students are entirely responsible for the content and quality of their essays; I am merely the vehicle for broadcasting them (though on the whole I’m reasonably pleased with the results).

Protestants, Sports, and Manhood
By Andrew Roussos

Every year as summer rolls in children get out of school and have months to play and enjoy their adolescence. Some ride their bikes, others go swimming but many young boys take to the baseball diamond for a season of competition. Parents cheer on the bleachers after every hit ball and stolen base as they pass the time chatting with neighbors. It is a truly communal activity which has deep roots in almost every town in America. But little do these children know they are engaging in activities used to promote and idea of “Christian manliness”. Around the turn of the century Protestants promoted a competitive sporting and physical education culture to create this idea of Christian manliness. Through this Protestants helped shape many aspects of sports which are today considered norms.

Muscular Christianity

The idea of a manly Christian is as old as the religion itself although not always at the center of it. We can look at the bible and find references to this idea of strength and health. In first Corinthians chapter 6 verses 19-20 we see a clear example of this “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies”. This is a direct calling to Christians to maintain their body in honor of their God.

With the birth of Protestantism by Marin Luther in 1517, Christians’ views on labor and physical work was brought more into focus. This was mainly due to Calvinists. This group of Protestants emphasized the importance of hard work. Czech theologian Johann Amos Comenius suggested dividing the day into three periods “eight hours for sleep, eight hours for work, and the remaining eight hours for eating, cleaning, and recreating the body” (Goldbach 291).Though Calvinist did not approve of sports, more liberal protestants saw physical activity as a way that men can build up their bodies so that they may work harder during the next day. Even Martin Luther was a propionate of exercise “for the reason of public health and national defense” (Putney 51).

This prayer from the 1906 story The Apostate by Jack London is a great example of how Protestants viewed work. “Now I wake me up to work. I pray the lord I may not shirk. If I should die before the night, I pray the Lord my works’ all right.”

Although roots of Christian manliness trace back thousands of years the now popular term Muscular Christianity is relatively new. It first came about in a “1857 English review Charles Kingsley’s novel Two years ago” (11). From then it was used in many different writings. The term was also used to describe a genre of writing “adventure novels replete with high principles and manly Christian heroes. Muscular Christianity did not have just one definition. Many theologians and authors had slightly different takes on what this term should represent. Kingsley for example viewed it as “a cleaver expression spoken in jest” (15) whereas English author and writer Thomas Hughes view a muscular Christian as “someone who used their bodies for the advancement of all righteous causes” (15).

Rise of Sports in the Church

It wasn’t until a few decades before of the century that Americans paid any attention to organized sports. The first collegiate sports team was formed around this time. Yale, which at the time was a strict protestant college started a rowing team. Soon followed by other (protestant) Ivy League schools Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth & Penn. This gave rise to the “first intercollegiate competition between Yale and Harvard on Lake Winnipesaukee” (46) in 1852. This was a new ear for American culture. Organized sports were starting to gain attention. Many historians understand the “post-bellum years a golden age for athletic competition” (44).

The saying “body as temple”, taken from the Bible verse from first Corinthians began to take hold in “prep school addresses, college sermons and YMCA periodicals” (56). The Protestant church liked this idea but wanted also include “moral leadership in athletics” (57). Thus the church began to associate with organized sports to promote these values.

Churches began to build their own facilities such as gymnasiums, baths & swimming pools. Decades earlier this would have not even come into question. It shows the modernization of the more liberal end of the Protestant church. They used these facilities to not only help increase their membership but also to keep youths out of trouble by giving them an alternate solution to their recreational time.

The Young Men’s Christian Association

You might now this organization as the YMCA. A classic American Christian group with athletic facilities in almost every city in America. The YMCA we know of today is vastly different than its original makeup. It was founded in England in 1844 and came to America seven years later. The YMCA was trying to provide a “home away from home” (65) for young boys. Usually including a library, rooms for scripture reading and discussion, and furniture for relaxation.

It wasn’t until a major expansion by the YMCA did the youth organization begin to resemble the athletic clubs we know today. Starting in 1878 wealth businessmen donated millions of dollars in an effort to “Christianize the laboring man” (66). With this expansion came a shift in ideals, putting more emphasis on the building of character rather in young men rather than keeping them from sin. This was done by having a strenuous and “hard” environment.

Outdoor camping was one way they strove to achieve this, trying to create a manly man who can live in the outdoors. Another was exercise. This is a practice used in every high school football team in America. Training young men & pushing them to their limits in the hop of building tough men with character. By the turn of the century four hundred and fifty-five YMCAs had fully operational gyms in use.

Basketball, a sport that is outrageously popular throughout all ages of men in America was conceived and spread thanks to the YMCA. Reverend James Naismith developed the game of basketball in 1891 at the request of Luther Gulick the superintendent of the physical education department of the International YMCA Training School. Soon after the game spread quickly thought the YMCAs across the nation. Giving birth to a sport which has been played by young men for over 100 years.

Having the YMCA shift its focus to physical activity and education, changed how thousands of young men viewed sports and competition. This Christian organization directly affected the popularity of organized sports though the values they instilled in youths. Luther Gulick stressed the relationship between religion and athletics. He stated in a bible study in 1915 that “the risen Jesus is a member of every gymnasium class, of every athletic team in which there are Christians, whether we are conscious of it or not” (71).

 From Boys to Men

Although the YMCA has strived to toughen young boys into men with character, during the progressive era many middle aged Protestants feared that their male children would not be able to compete in a world where females were gaining professional ground and with the large influx of immigration. They were worried their boys would become “social parasites” rather than “social assets” (100). Citizens blamed schools and churches, accusing them of failing in their responsibilities to properly educated young men.

The most influential organization in improving the character of these boys were mainline Protestant churches. They help create “boys’ boarding schools, out-door camping, and the Boys’ Brigade” (116). It was also the churches close ties with the Boy Scouts of America which helped keep young boys involved in church. Many churches sponsored Boy Scout troops, which turned out to be a great alternative to Sunday school which had a “ultra-feminine atmosphere” according to Fred Smith leader of the Men and Religion Forward movement.

The ability for the church to help raise these boys also proved its worth to the community. They are saving the children from poor morals and ideals. Rather than the previous method of amusing boys in order to gain attendance the church switched to service. Investing in young men so that they might become strong Christian heroes in the future. The essences of muscular Christianity.

The Legacy of the Church

Sports and athletic culture are deeply imbedded into American life. From boyhood to manhood, males are constantly playing and competing in organized sports. So much of these emphasis is the legacy of the Protestant church. From the development of the mainly Christian and the roots it has in scripture to the development and spreading of new sports. Basketball a multibillion dollar industry has stood the test of time thanks to the Protestant YMCA. As first Corinthians says “Body as temple” American society reflects this today more than ever.

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