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The “Me” Decade and the Third Great Awakening


So she lets her moan rise into a keening sound.


And when she begins to keen, the souls near her begin keening, even while the moans are still spreading to the prostrate folks farther from her, on the edges of the room.


So she lets her keening sound rise up into a real scream.


And this rolls out in a wave, too, first through those near her, and then toward the far edges.


And so she turns it all the way up, into a scream such as she has never allowed herself in her entire life.


And her full scream spreads from soul to soul, over top of the keens and fading moans . . .


. . .until at last the entire room is consumed in her scream, as if there are no longer 250 separate souls but one noosphere of souls united in some incorporeal way by her scream. . .


“. . . A scream such as she has never allowed herself in all her life: ‘AiaiaiaiaiaiaiaiaaaaAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH!’. . .”

Which is not simply her scream any longer . . . but the world’s! Each soul is concentrated on its own burning item . . . my husband! my wife! my homosexuality! my inability to communicate, my self-hatred, self-destruction, craven fears, puling weaknesses, primordial horrors, premature ejaculation, impotence, frigidity, rigidity, subservience, laziness, alcoholism, major vices, minor vices, grim habits, twisted psyches, tortured souls—and yet each unique item has been raised to a cosmic level and united with every other until there is but one piercing moment of release and liberation at last—a whole world of anguish set free by . . .

My hemorrhoids.

“Me and My Hemorrhoids Star at the Ambassador” . . . during a three-day Erhard Seminars Training (est) course in the hotel banquet hall. The truly odd part, however, is yet to come. In her experience lies the explanation of certain grand puzzles of the 1970s, a period that will come to be known as the Me Decade.

II. The Holy Roll

In 1972 a farsighted caricaturist did a drawing of Teddy Kennedy captioned “President Kennedy campaigning for re-election in 1980 . . . courting the so-called Awakened vote.”

The picture shows Kennedy ostentatiously wearing not only a crucifix but also (if one looks just above the cross) a pendant of the Bleeding Heart of Jesus. The crucifix is the symbol of Christianity in general, but the Bleeding Heart is the symbol of some of Christianity’s most ecstatic, nonrational, holy-rolling cults. I should point out that the artist’s prediction lacked certain refinements. For one thing, Kennedy may be campaigning to be president in 1980, but he is not terribly likely to be the incumbent. For another, the odd spectacle of politicians using ecstatic, nonrational, holy-rolling religion in presidential campaigning was to appear first not in 1980 but in 1976.

The two most popular new figures in the 1976 campaign, Jimmy Carter and Jerry Brown, are men who rose up from state politics . . . absolutely aglow with mystical religious streaks. Carter turned out to be an evangelical Baptist who had recently been “born again” and “saved,” who had “accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior”—i.e., he was of the Missionary lectern-pounding amen ten-finger C-major-chord Sister-Martha-at-the-Yamaha-keyboard loblolly piny-woods Baptist faith in which the members of the congregation stand up and “give witness” and “share it. Brother” and “share it, Sister” and “Praise God!” during the service.* Jerry Brown turned out to be the Zen Jesuit, a former Jesuit seminarian who went about like a hair-shirt Catholic monk, but one who happened to believe also in the Gautama Buddha, and who got off koans in an offhand but confident manner, even on political issues, as to how it is not the right answer that matters but the right question, and so forth.

Newspaper columnists and newsmagazine writers continually referred to the two men’s “enigmatic appeal.” Which is to say, they couldn’t explain it. Nevertheless, they tried. They theorized that the war in Vietnam, Watergate, the FBI and CIA scandals, had left the electorate shell-shocked and disillusioned and that in their despair the citizens were groping no longer for specific remedies but for sheer faith, something, anything (even holy rolling), to believe in. This was in keeping with the current fashion of interpreting all new political phenomena in terms of recent disasters, frustration, protest, the decline of civilization . . . the Grim Slide. But when the New York Times and CBS employed a polling organization to try to find out just what great gusher of “frustration” and “protest” Carter had hit, the results were baffling. A Harvard political scientist, William Schneider, concluded for the L.A. Times that “the Carter protest” was a new kind of protest, “a protest of good feelings.” That was a new kind, sure enough—a protest that wasn’t a protest.

*Carter is not, however, a member of the most down-home and ecstatic of the Baptist sects, which is a back-country branch known as the Primitive Baptist Church. In the Primitive Baptist churches men and women sit on different sides of the room, no musical instruments are allowed, and there is a good deal of foot-washing and other rituals drawn from passages in the Bible. The Progressive Primitives, another group, differ from the Primitives chiefly in that they allow a piano or organ in the church. The Missionary Baptists, Carter’s branch, are a step up socially (not necessarily divinely) but would not be a safe bet for an ambitious member of an in-town country club. The In-town Baptists, found in communities of 25,000 or more, are too respectable, socially, to be called ecstatic and succeed in being almost as tame as the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Methodists.


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