After the age of Aquarius

Let's make one thing clear: I am a smidgen too young to be into this whole, "Hey man, did you make it to Woodstock or not?" thing that's going on in the mainstream media right now. My priest, however, is another matter, since he was there and I still think he looks like Jerry Garcia.

However, this Southern Baptist preacher's kid somehow got turned on to the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield and, thus, Crosby, Stills & Nash and I am totally capable of cranking up the volume on "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" and singing every note of David Crosby's harmony part (although I am more of a "Wooden Ships" guy, to tell you the truth).

Now, on the religion side of the equation, you knew that someone was gonna connect the dots -- Joan Baez and "Amazing Grace" right on over to Ravi Shankar -- and make the argument that Woodstock is, in many ways, the tipping point that turned religion into spirituality for the Baby Boomer generation and, thus, for America. We're talking sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll and do-it-yourself visions (often a combination of the previous three ingredients).

So I was not surprised that the Religion News Service put out a story with the headline "40 years later, Woodstock's spiritual vibes still resonate" and I was not surprised that my old Colorado buddy Steve Rabey wrote it and that religion-beat veteran Don Lattin is a major voice in the piece. I wish this feature could have been a lot longer, but here's the heart of the matter:

"The counterculture became the culture," says Mark Oppenheimer, who examined changes among Protestant, Catholic and Jewish believers in "Knocking on Heaven's Door: American Religion in the Age of Counterculture."

Oppenheimer says the era's main religious changes were "aesthetic, not theological." As he explains, "Woodstock, wasn't about a lot of intellectual content, or sophisticated arguments. Instead, there was an extraordinary artistic, musical, social happening. And that's what the era was for religion."

During the 1960s, Southern Baptist seminary students had to fight for their right to wear long hair or sandals. By the '70s, Oppenheimer says religious leaders realized there was "no virtue in being buttoned-down and square." Now, the unbuttoned look is the norm for megachurch pastors like Rick Warren. "No one questions that a burly fellow who stands up front with a beard and a Hawaiian shirt can speak prophetically about the Gospel message," said Oppenheimer. "That's not something that would have happened in the 1950s or 1960s."

Lattin then comes along to stress that there were content changes, as well. Can you imagine "seeker-sensitive" churches without Woodstock and the new forms of spirituality that swirled around it? Heck, you can make a case that Dr. James Dobson owed much of his success to the heart-centered world that followed the '60s.

SIGPODWMWOO-01_48_72~Woodstock-PostersTo cut to the chase:

"There was a pervasive shift from the theological to the therapeutic," said Lattin, author of "Following Our Bliss: How the Spiritual Ideals of the Sixties Shape Our Lives Today." "It was all about feeling good rather than being good. It was about stress reduction, not salvation."

Feelings! You got it. What part of the evangelical and charismatic worldview is tied up in emotional experience and feelings? Just asking.

But I still keep coming back to the music. Can you picture drums, Les Pauls and stacks of electronic keyboards in big, ultraconservative Southern Baptist sanctuaries without Woodstock? Can you picture the birth of Jesus rock, Christian music festivals and the whole Contemporary Christian Music industry (and later, the whole "worship wars" trend) without the earthquake that was Woodstock and the pop culture of that era?

If you have your doubts, then click here make sure you read to the last quote.

Or read to the end of this Washington Times story about a new blast of Pew Forum data about the gaps in modern American culture on matters of morality and culture.

The morality issues are important, but this is what stuck with me.

But on the bright side, the young and the old have come together over music. Rock rules across the generations, and the Beatles were the most widely liked over all age groups, with 49 percent of respondents saying the liked the Fab Four "a lot" and an additional 32 percent liking them "a little."

The Beatles finished ahead of 1970s supergroup the Eagles, who placed second in terms of respondents who liked them a lot (42 percent), and country star Johnny Cash, in third at 39 percent. Placing fourth was the recently deceased Michael Jackson, with Elvis Presley fifth and the Rolling Stones sixth.

All these acts had their first major successes by 1972.

Carry on.

Please respect our Commenting Policy