Concretized Christianity

Practical Application of the Word of God

The Jazz Age Roots of Modern Religious Organizations – Part 2

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In part 1 of this series, we looked at the factors that came together during the Jazz Age to fuse business and religion together and set the stage for the development of religious organizations as a purely business enterprise.

Although these business enterprises had – and have – the stated purpose of providing spiritual care for the ekklesia and humanity, what the actual purpose has turned out to be is numbers and dollars to fund the top-heavy overhead of business costs (employees and benefits) first and foremost. 

In this second part of this series, we’ll look at the specifics of how religion became a business, as well as how technological changes enabled the admen and salesmen to grow huge profitable, but idolatrous, organizations (churches that became altars of worship led by people who claimed to be in place of God and who demanded the worship that only God deserves) that promised things that mere mortals could never deliver – at a spiritual and financial cost that God and Christ specifically warn against in scripture – and how that continues unabated and more pervasively today.

One factor that led to the marriage of business and religious organizations was the October 1929 global financial meltdown that began the Great Depression (1929 – 1939). 

In many ways, the Great Depression was the overt beginning of the ominous gathering of clouds in a perfect storm that would culminate in World War II.

The real roots of both the Great Depression and World War II, however, lay in the Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended World War I by essentially decimating Germany on every front, leaving their economy, their government, and their people in absolute ruin.

The general consensus among most historians is that World War I and World War II were the same war with a 20-year ceasefire from 1918 to 1938 (when Adolf Hitler, who promised revenge on the Allies for what they had done to Germany and who popularly replaced the Weimar Republic that Hitler said had sold Germany out by agreeing to the terms in the Treaty of Versailles, invaded Poland) precisely because of the Treaty of Versailles.

When the stock market in the United States crashed in October 1929, it affected every citizen of the country drastically (home foreclosures were even higher then than in the Great Recession, for instance), but no citizens more dramatically than business people. 

Many businesses just simply disappeared because there was no money. Unemployment skyrocketed in industrialized cities. Wall Street brokers and bankers committed suicide at an unparalleled rate.

Banks closed to prevent “runs” and depletion of all cash (very little was actually on hand and one of the reasons for the series of bank holidays was to hide from the public the fact that most of their liquid assets were on paper only and not physically in the banks).

Much of nation’s focus, in light of these catastrophic events, turned more toward religion, seeking answers as to why all of this was happening. Failed businessmen – salesmen and ad men – who had not taken their lives saw a golden opportunity to capitalize on the growing religious fervor and the quest for knowledge.

Just as they had stoked the fires of consumerism and materialism in the 1920’s, these salesmen and ad men now simply took the same methods and stoked the fires of religiosity by claiming to have special knowledge of the Bible – especially prophecy – and promising that they alone could provide the answers the nation was seeking from God.

Radio was a major technological tool in the process of making religion a businessAided by advertising gimmicks and language and the sudden explosion of radios, which gave them a bigger and wider audience, these salesmen and ad men took to the airwaves to give the American people what they wanted.

And they gained huge audiences, whom they cajoled and threatened during their broadcasts and whom they implored for financial support at the end of their broadcasts.

Perhaps motivated by fear – that was the emotion most of these former salesmen and ad men played on – or simply manipulated by the same tactics that these businessmen had used to feed the consumerism and materialism of the 1920’s – the promise of the best and the most in this life and the next – their audiences responded.

The sad part of this was that most of these self-appointed preachers’ audiences didn’t have two nickles to rub together and were barely able to keep body and soul together for themselves and their families.

Yet they were constantly hammered with perversions of scripture (Matthew 6:19-21, for example) and with threats of not having access to the vital insights and special knowledge these preachers had if the listeners didn’t send money to support the preachers’ “work.”

Most of these businessmen-turned-preachers couldn’t survive on the donations from their radio audiences and as the 1930’s progressed, they realized that their audiences were fickle because they didn’t have a brand to identify with and an organization to be a part of, even if it was just as a customer, two pillars of every successful business.

And so many of these businessmen-turned-preachers incorporated into religious organizations, which were exempt from paying taxes and gave a wide latitude based on a very loose method of accounting that enabled contributions to basically be used in any way the religious organization saw fit as long as they labeled the use as doing the work of religion.

And with the passage of the War Revenue Act of 1917, contributions to religious organizations could be deducted from contributors’ incomes to reduce the amount of their incomes that was taxable.

This presented a win-win situation for both the religious organizations and the contributors, and the businessmen-turned-preachers made sure that their contributors were constantly reminded of the advantage to them from contributing to their religious organizations. It was marketing 101.

The late 1930’s brought a much-needed boon to these foundling religious organizations.

Technological advances were the first boon. Radio carrier power was boosted and amplified with the construction of taller towers, more towers across the nation, and well-placed directional antennas. The biggest radio stations had the most towers and directional antennas and could reach audiences up to 1500 miles away at night.

Religious programming on these megastations at night was an attractive business opportunity for the newly-formed religious organizations who depended on radio to bring them numbers and money.

But there had to be a spin – usually in the form of “dire financial circumstances” – that put the responsibility on the listeners for keeping their favorite religious program on the air: if the religious organization had to stop broadcasting, it was the audience’s fault.

The other boon in the late 1930’s to these new religious organizations was the ominous clouds of drastic and far-reaching change sweeping Europe and pointing with all certainty to another cataclysmic and global war.

Adolf HitlerAs Adolf Hitler (Germany), Benito Mussolini (Italy), and Francisco Franco (Spain) usurped the traditional governments in their countries, backed by most of their nations, and installed totalitarian governments that promised restoration to greatness by Benito Mussoliniexterminating everything and everyone that stood in the way of that greatness, the businessmen-turned-preachers had a plethora of material to promote fear, promote a return-to-God-or-else (but only possible by way of each one’s particular religious organization), and to unlock biblical prophecies by divine revelation that Francisco FrancoGod has only given to them.

Of course, none of them agreed on the prophetic/divine revelation part, but their angles were so sensationalist and the fear so high among American citizens that the marketing hook took and these religious organizations began to grow.

In the next post, we will look at how these religious organizations used World War II to build collateral and devotees with viral marketing, salvation threats, and claims of being the sole link the rest of humanity had with God and Christ.

We will also see how the businessmen-turned-preachers used even newer technologies and global and national affairs to become the gods of their organizations. In their role as gods – which usurped God and Jesus Christ – we will see how their intimidation, demands, and empire-building mindsets led to idolatry among their adherents and to abuse of power, accumulation of vast wealth which they spent lavishly on themselves, and a highly-developed sense of entitlement, all of which fuel even more pervasively the religion-as-business model today.

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2 comments on “The Jazz Age Roots of Modern Religious Organizations – Part 2

  1. Pingback: The Jazz Age Roots of Modern Religious Organizations – Part 3 | Concretized Christianity

  2. Pingback: What Is God’s Work? | Concretized Christianity

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