Vintage Reads #22: Old School Religion Books

Without getting into too deep a discussion about the state of organized religion during the late sixties, early seventies, suffice it to say things had gotten very "lovey dovey" and "touchy feely" in most churches.  The reasons for the change from the prevailing traditional liturgies and customs to more "free and open" practices are lengthy and complex.  The primary factors, however, were undoubtedly related to the counter culture that bloomed during this period.  Millions of Boomers had come of age, and you could be assured that their churches would look nothing like places of worship.of their forefathers.

How did the counter-culture infiltrate the once rigid and impervious walls of organized religion.  Certainly there is strength in numbers, and the Baby Boomers had an overwhelming majority. It also helped that the biggest of all organized churches, the Roman Catholic Church, opened the floodgates with Vatican II.  Catholic parishioners had been used to a centuries old Latin Masss; then one day, they were greeted to something completely different.  The incense and Latin hymns were gone.  In their place were puppet shows, cheesy felt banners, and lots of guitar strumming.  The church I attended actually went to playing music by Cat Stevens.  Ride on the peace train, baby.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not passing judgement.  There's a lot to be said for injecting a breath of fresh air into   a religion that has grown stale.  And nowhere is that fresh air more evident today than in old religious and spiritual books of the period.  Decades have passed, the Boomers have grown older and more conservative, and the churches have gradually drifted towards the middle.  All that remains as evidence of this period are the books.

Browse through the religious/spiritual works published during the seventies and what's instantly striking are the day-glo psychedelic covers.  Sort of a mix of Peter Max, Haight-Ashbury rock poster art, and "Op Art" as it is called.   Goodbye magisterial leather bound religious work, hello dust jacket that could serve as an album cover for The Strawberry Alarm Clock.

Some day someone with an appreciation for these small works of art is going to start a blog or make a coffee table book about them.  There's literally thousands of them.  Admittedly, most are awful, but many are quite good, and serve as wonderful glimpses into the spiritual life of the 1970's.


  1. I definitely saw lots of these working in a used bookstore long ago. Of course, no one bought them again. A couple years after *this* religious book boom, you'd start getting the Hal Lindsey-type "end of the world" titles. Ugh.

  2. I've posted a few of this style religious books at my blog.

    The music in church is still very much affected by the 1960s. We have a real band, with electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, drums and electronic keyboards. Very different from the piano and organ of my childhood.

  3. That's an interesting post. Religion was so uncool for us teens in the '70s that we were leaving in droves. Our priests suddenly sporting longer hair, the guitar masses, the hand-holding & kumbayaing ... drove us away even faster.

  4. The only book I recognized was "I'm OK -- You're OK". I actually read it. I don't particularly remember it being a religious book. More like new age psychology.

  5. I am digging the sh*t out of this blog! Keep up the great work, thanks!