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Changing Mores

Social change and diffusions impacting religion have been around for millennia. And from the third century, many Christians have been flexible in adopting ideas. Through the 1950s and sixties some attitudes toward morality by those who call themselves Christians have changed. In the fifties with the popularity of psychology came a greater acceptance of sex as a normal biological urge.  In the 1950s, to the dismay of their elders, youths responded to the reduced inhibitions of rock and roll. In dance, white folks were loosening up their bodies, and so too were adults who wanted to be like the young. It was 1956 when Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan show and it was decided to keep the camera above his waistline because of the censors.

Presley was a Christian young man with a lot of respect for his parents, especially his mother – as Christians were supposed to be. He would become known as the KIng of Rock and Roll, but he also sang and "loved" gospel music. Presley had acquired his appreciation for gospel music growing up in Mississippi and attending a born-again Christian denomination, the Assembly of God Church. Presley became the rage to kids from nominally Christian families. After attending one of Presley's shows, a writer for the Miami Daily News, Herb Rau, in the August 4, 1956, issue of the paper, expressed an attitude about disciplining children. He wrote:

We're no prude, but we might suggest a gift for these fourteen thousand Miami girls who, as if it were a fetish, are vocally and mentally genuflecting to Elvis Presley: a solid slap across the mouth.

Also in the United States in the 1950s attitudes toward literature had been changing. Respect for censorship had fallen from what it had been before World War II – censorship having been discredited by fascism. In the United States censorship ended for books such as Fanny Hill, Voltaire's Candide and D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. The government did not suppress  J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, first published in 1951. And Henry Miller's Tropic and Tropic of Capricorn were legally published.

In the United States by 1950 women hiding their ankles with long skirts was almost totally gone. In 1960, admonitions about premarital sex and pregnancies were challenged by the introduction of the birth control pill. Within two years, 1.2 million women were using "the pill." By 1965, five million women were using it. The idea of sexual intercourse for the sake of pleasure was spreading, and by then the miniskirt had been launched and was in demand. In 1930, Pope Pius XII had issued the encyclical, Casti Connubii, acknowledging that couples could seek pleasure in their sexuality so long as it was linked to procreation. In 1966, Pope Paul VI's birth control commission presented His Holiness with a preliminary report that it had voted to recommend lifting the prohibition on contraceptives. Many Catholics began using the pill.

The magazine Playboy took up advocacy for use of the pill. It's founder, Hugh Hefner, took issue with the Church. He urged university health services to make the pill available to its female student body, and he criticized a Cleveland court for finding a woman guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor for having given her under age daughter information on birth control.

Connected to the pill issue was abortion. Before the birth control pill had become widely available, many women were trying to control their lives by resorting to abortions, which were illegal. Many of them were dying as a result, and others pushed to legalize abortion so that the operations could be performed by competent doctors in the safer environment of a hospital. In 1973, in a case titled Roe v. Wade, it was argued before the Supreme Court that laws against abortion in Texas and Georgia were infringing on the right to privacy. The Supreme Court responded by declaring that women had the right to an abortion during the first three months of pregnancy. The ruling shocked many Americans. Traditionalists like the Reverend Jerry Falwell took up the cause against the ruling. Many abortion opponents were people who were steadfast in traditional Christianity and steadfast in their respect for the life of a fetus. Their instincts against murder were aroused, and they saw abortion as a violation of one of the commandments that God have given to Moses.

Following the Roe v. Wade ruling, the number of abortions in the US rose, mostly among women between the ages of 20 and 24. The births of deformed babies declined, and malpractice suits increased with the expectation of perfectly formed babies.

Copyright © 2002-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.