Liberalizing on the Lord’s Day

Recently I read a book by Alan Petigny called The Permissive Society: America, 1941-1965. In this book Petigny challenges the stereotypical ideas that this was a conservative period of Wally Cleavers and dives deep into the true radical changes taking place in American life at the time. He discusses a variety of topics from sex to rock ‘n’ roll, from psychology to religion, and gives the reader a true empathic picture of an emerging way of thinking he calls The Permissive Turn.

1940s Church Service


Petigny describes the Permissive Turn as an acceleration of the liberalization of values following the Second World War. He cites specific examples in detail and describes four main areas of change: psychology, religion, addiction, and childrearing. I would like to discuss the 2nd Chapter of the book specifically on addiction. However, I believe that all of these are intertwined and connected to the changes in the way of life during that time period for most Americans. In the chapter on religion, Petigny hits on several major changes values for conservative Christians of the time.

He begins by talking about the young people of conservative America and the Christian prohibitions against things like dancing, card playing, going to the movies, and many other things they deemed “worldly pleasures”. People were gradually rebelling against these ideas and even most denominations were growing more accepting of them. Bingo, what many perceived to be a form of gambling, became wildly popular, a new more contemporarily worded version of the Holy Bible was published, people were socializing with and even marrying outside of their denominations. Evangelism was slowed down, there was a growing sectarian cooperation, mainstream religious figures were filling up stadiums to speak to millions across the country, and with the national growing interest in psychology the clerics began to study how humans behave and why. This in itself is an example of the churches’ changing mindset on things like science as having a worldly solution.

A bingo card from the 1950s

Petigny spoke very specifically about the conservative portion of America’s population. Although he touched briefly on national views, he tried to tell the story of religious liberalization strictly through the most radical people of faith. It did a poor job of giving the reader a solid view of the average American at the time, but none the less, painted a picture of secularization and resistance to change from different members of the faith.

Some of the root causes he lists are veterans returning home and gaining an education, The Cold War bringing religion together as people of faith unified against the anti-religious communists (though he could’ve emphasized it more), and the “controversial discussion of religion in which each participant confesses and bears witness to his convictions, is felt to be undesirable to the American Way of Life.” (67).

I don’t think Petigny did a great job of identifying all of the causes of this accelerated permissiveness. American’s had embraced a classically liberal view of themselves (Perhaps this was in reaction to the views of the East). The great depression was over and an affluent prosperous new America was on top. People saw themselves as individuals, they had needs and desires. The war and looming nuclear war made mortality all too visible. During the war, men had served with people from all over the country, ideas had mixed and bred, commercial airlines were more popular, the interstate highway system was underway, and Americans (and their ideas) were more connected than ever before. In 1938 the Fair Labor Standards Act created the five-day work week. Americans had more leisure time and more time to read and interact socially. With more money in their pockets, there was more to do during this time as well. Sunday as a holy day wasn’t practical for the new leisured American. As one shop opened on Sundays to reach a new market, others had to follow to keep up with competition (more women in the workforce probably had to shop on weekends). As Americans left the house more often, they would become more tolerant of new ideas. A new, easier to read Bible had been printed, and with more time to read, this gave American Christians the opportunity to better understand and more importantly interpret the scripture’s message for themselves.

Most importantly, the churches began to teach psychology. This education probably taught them about how to better influence and reach people without them thinking defensively to scolding or having a fear of judgement. Overall, Christians were rethinking the way they knew religion. This is best described in a quote by Billy Graham, “The one badge of Christian discipleship is not orthodoxy, but love…We evangelicals sometimes set ourselves up as judges of another man’s relationship to God. We often think that a person is not a Christian unless he pronounces our shibboleths and clinches exactly the way we do.”

The entire book was a good read that debunks the myth of a conservative American cliché and paints a picture of true liberalization and self-focused thinking. Each chapter forces the reader to consider how one aspect of life affected the other and reading this would be important for any student of history to fully understand the Segway in thinking from early 20th America to our present day world.

Liberalizing on the Lord’s Day

Psychology in the 1950s- Chapter 1 of The Permissive Society


In the decades since the 1950s, representations of the era have become idealized. Many have grown accustom to the notion that the fifties were America’s zenith of moral and conservative values. However, this is not true. In Alan Petigny’s book, The Permissive Society: America, 1941-1965, he combats the imagination that the “fifties were a solidly conservative era,” by presenting the emergence of a “Permissive Turn,” in American society. Petigny asserts that one characteristic of the fifties that helped establish the Permissive Turn was the advances of modern psychology as well as child-rearing.

Petigny finds the influence of psychology significant in establishing the Permissive Turn because of the rise of humanism throughout the field. Humanism highlights one’s own “intrinsic worth,” as well as expressing their personal abilities and originality. Humanistic Psychologists also acknowledged the idea that people experience, “a loss in happiness through the heightening of the sense of guilt” (16). Essentially discrediting the idea of original sin, as it was thought of in the previously accepted religious philosophies. Humanistic psychology saw mankind as “good,” by nature. Understanding one’s own intrinsic worth and inherent goodness, lead the way for a liberalization of Americans social attitudes and “moral universe.” Modern psychology gained recognition when people began to see the success it was having with treating servicemen. Petigny states that, “60 percent of psychiatric casualties were able to return to the battlefield…” (18). Effective treatment of American soldiers lead to, “waves of psychiatrists… offering therapy to average Americans.” As modern psychology grew, so did the gap between cultural conservatives and a new standard of liberal American values.

A strategy of prompt psychiatric treatment during WWII generated significant results in the treatment of servicemen from disorders like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Shell-shock .

Child rearing also helped to promote the liberalization of American values. According to Petigny, the fifties, “embraced a number of nontraditional child-rearing practices” (37). This would end up having a significant impact on how parents related to their children. No longer did professionals advocate for customary views of punishment, but advised parents to be understanding and sympathetic when it came to childcare.

From child rearing to advances in modern psychology, Alan Petigny asserts that, “the morals of the country were being contested in all corners…” (52). Liberalization in these two areas of thought represents a challenge to the traditional and conservative morals of the past. It also shows a shift in attitude, instigated in the fifties. These challenges undermine the idealized depiction of the fifties being the greatest era of conservative morals in American history.

-Whitfield Logan

Psychology in the 1950s- Chapter 1 of The Permissive Society

The Sexually Permissive Society

In The Permissive Society, Chapter 3 on sex, Alan Petigny reasons how the general view or premarital sex and sexual aspects of cultural became more accepted and enabled in the 1950s. An excellent example of the change in culture is the celebrity relationships of Ingrid Bergman and Elizabeth Taylor. In 1949, Bergman left her husband to be with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, “whose child she was then carrying”. Overnight she became a pariah, for example the Federal Council of Churches blasted her relationship as “sex exhibitionism which is a symptom of the moral decay of the West.” For seven years she remained effectively banished from the United States until the film Anastasia. Petigny writes, “It was not that Americans had forgotten Bergman’s behavior, but many seemed willing to put the incident behind them.”

In stark contrast, the Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher affair was just as scandalous, but the public outcry was far less severe. While Fisher was married when he carried on his affair with Taylor after her husband died, the public outcry was more severe on Taylor. “Homewrecker” and “husband-stealer” were examples of the insults laid upon her. Only a year later it seemed society had forgiven her, unlike the negative feelings for Bergman. So what brought this change of mentality?

(FILE) Pop Singer Eddie Fisher Dies At 82
LAS VEGAS – APRIL 03 : In this handout image provided by the Las Vegas News Bureau, Eddie Fisher poses with his soon-to-be-divorced wife Debbie Reynolds, as well as, his soon-to-be-next wife Elizabeth Taylor at the Tropicana Hotel on April 3, 1957 in Las Vegas, Nevada. kicking off the scandal of the decade. (Photo by Las Vegas News Bureau Archives via Getty Images)

Petigny writes in one of the ending sections of the chapter how World War II was a catalyst for this change. This attitude is undoubtedly correct as this single war effected a number of societal changes such as civil rights and more women in the workplace. “Doing the war years, numerous newspaper and magazine articles reported on the sexual favors that young women…freely bestowed upon American servicemen.” Of course, this resulted in a crackdown on such women as they spread sexually transmitted diseases. But what actually caused this mentality of many women to be more sexually active?

The answer possibly lies in the millions of women who joined the workforce, thus inputting a more independent mentality in many women. Also Petigny states that for demographic reasons, the vastly outnumbered men led to a greater desire for women to have relations with said men. Whether or not this is accurate I think requires greater study.

We can also see that within the 1950s a definite change was caused by more than just society’s mind altering. It was also the technological advances as well. Condoms and contraceptives began to fall under more scrutiny from the FDA, thus making them more readily available. Thus, the more liberal attitudes on sex from the war were able to cascade onward and becoming more prevalent in the 1950s. As such, the 1950s closed out with the birth control pill, a stronger condom, and leading to cutting down STD rates. As a result, the US saw an uptick in single mothers.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 5.30.23 PM
Source: The Atlantic

I think someone that both conservatives and liberals are both wrong is the reason for single mothers. While it is possible for welfare programs and unhealthy economic factors to play a role, I believe the mentality of independence also plays a role. However, it is my opinion that whatever the reason, single motherhood is a negative consequence. It inflicts poverty, especially if the mother is young and low income, and can easily cause long lasting negative effects on future generations.

Written by: Michael Hoge.

The Sexually Permissive Society

Ch 7: Take It Easy


After reading Alan Petigny’s The Permissive Society, I have come to have a better understanding of the lives of average Americans during the late 1940s up to the early 1960s. Petigny’s thesis that the 1960s was not the massive change of values for the American people but it was a gradual permissive attitude that started immediately after World War II. With all the data and examples from religion to youth culture to back his argument which was actually enlightening and made perfect sense. I honestly thought that the 1960s was time of counter culture and change to American society. After finishing the book, I like the last chapter that, Petigny uses to explain that with this Permissive Turn, the personal norms of people had to catch up with society’s norms in the 70s and 80s. The creation of new movements and organizations that sought to change American society helped push the liberalizing views into becoming the norm for everyday Americans. We can still see this permissive turn today in American society with the push from advocacy groups for gay marriage, abortions, the poor, and the black community.



In regards to religion, I knew that the Jewish community was more likely to accept liberal ideals then the Christian community both Protestant and Catholic. The allowance full clergy rights for women  in protestant churches especially, the Methodist Church came as a surprise when they allowed full clergy rights in 1956. Another important factor was the development of pastoral th-5counseling in the 1950s. I thought that style of how pastors counsel people had been around much longer than that. The mixture of psychology and religion was an interesting aspect of how two different ways of counseling people could be combined to form something more beneficial that is still being used today. The allowance for more liberal views pertaining to religion led to evangelical movement in the 70s and 80s which was had as part of it the ideas that were introduced in the 50s.

Another development that started with the permissive turn, which caused the creation of advocacy groups for, big issues for which government needs to get involved. Starting in the late 60s and into the 70s there was the creation of the Feminist movement that advocated for women’s rights, which they won in Roe v. Wade in 1973. This landmark case showed that society norms had changed in v
iew of sex and rights for women. In that same period of time the Black Panther Party had taken root in the Black community in which they advocated for Black resistance to conformity of American society at the time. This reth-6
sistance is still evident today in the Black Lives Matter movement that advocates rebelling against the system. Finally, another group that got its start from the Permissive Turn, the LGBT community gained a victory this pass summer with the landmark Supreme Court Case Bourke v. Beshear. This 5-4 vote by the Supreme Court allowed for the recognition of gay marriage across the country.

Although Petigny writes of the Permissive Turn beginning in the late 40s and into the 50s, there are still remnants of the turn today in our society with the continued eroding of traditional social norms and the changing of people’s personal norms. Petigny’s theme of the whole book makes perfect sense on how to view society of the 1950s and 1960s, but also today’s society. I feel that Petigny gives a better understanding of how to view today’s society.

Kyle Anderson




Ch 7: Take It Easy

Chapter 5: The Era of Teenagers in the 1950s

Youth Culture, the topic of my chapter, in the 1950s happen to be the era in which teenagers paved the way in changes and transformation in the social in many different ways including; the music, Rock‘n’ Roll, the fashion and the perspectives of it from the adults.

The Permissive Society is a book of knowlejaneilpicdge of how the author saw this generation during the World War II. In the 1950s teenagers were flouting norms and the styles of the older generation, from the music they listened to, the clothes they wore to the sexual mores of these adults. During the postwar decade this is where teenagers became very oppositional in a very short period of time. These youths used their fashion in this decade to differentiate their styles from parents. Throughout this happening Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra played a big role in dividing these two generations. They both were appealing to teenage girls throughout their careers, both were successful in the music industry. However Sinatra was the “number 1 ‘pin up boy’ for America’s feminine contingent” during the World War II according to the Washington Post. Rock ‘n’ Roll had some harsh critics by Frank Sinatra who insisted that it was performed by “ cretinous goons” that consisted of “sly, lewd, in plain fact, dirty lyrics.” With this it reflected a sentiment of widespread among the adult population. The association of Rock ‘n ‘Roll with mayhem and delinquency was only a fraction of its troubles. It was very disturbing to the white middle-class Americans because they thought it was linked to sex. One parent said “I think this primitive kind of music, if you call it that, is lewd” (Page 181).

Blue jeans was a symbol of the adolescent quest for independence. After World War II denim jeans became the fashion statement of all sorts for the youth culture. However many high schools banned the wearing of the jeans. They said that if teenagers wore them they are said be hobos. In addition they were said to the signature of apparel for hooligans, and also said to be the perfectly suited to certain popular forms of present-day youthful diversion- like stealing gas, slashing tires, and assaulting strangers” (page 189). It was also said that it wasn’t lady like for girls to wear jeans to school. On some occasions females were being assaulted by male’s classmates because they felt it was enticing to them in it. Who knew that wearing jeans would cause this more controversy back in the 1950s. Today we think of it as a fashion statement in which it comes in all colors and different styles. A lot has happened during this era of which teenagers wanted to grow up faster than they should.

Chapter 5: The Era of Teenagers in the 1950s

Chapter 6: A Godless, “Permissive” Society

By: Chelsea Yell


Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 9.28.27 AMWhen American’s reminisce about the 1950s, they tend to remember a strict, conservative, somewhat religious society. While this is a common thought of believing that American’s during this time were more religious or “God-Fearing”, Alan Petigny presents a different view. In his book, The Permissive Society: America 1941-1965, Petigny talks about the change of the belief systems people had in the 1950s, particularly in his  sixth chapter entitled: “The Self”.

During the 1950s, there is a shift in the thoughts of society. American’s general viewing of  religious aspects in life, such as the nature of God and certain aspects of sin, radically changed to be less fearful and more accepting. American’s became more traditional in religious aspects, but the way of life did not match up with those values. Petigny states that the numbers don’t lie when it comes to seeing where American’s fell out of line in conservative religious values. “The answer lies in sociological studies (with respect to permissive parenting), survey data, and explosive market demand (with respect to the democratization of psychology), and climbing rates of both single motherhood and premarital pregnancies (with respect to sexual behavior)” (p 232).

Based on “The Permissive Society,” the ’50s show historians that people changed their views from the “feared… God of Abraham” to a more lovable, approachable figure. This view of God completely changed how people approached the idea of God, the idea of sin, and the idea of self. When God was seen more as a friend and less of an all-knowing God, the fearfulness of God became almost nonexistent. With the fear of God less intense within the belief, the guilt and shame felt from sin (disobeying God and His commandments) also shrunk in society; both in everyday life and religion itself. The shrinking of God and the impact of sin gave more room for the exploration of “the self” to grow. Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 8.31.49 AM

The idea of searching for goodness from within was a very enticing idea during this time. American society began to embrace the idea that each person, no matter who that person may be, has goodness at the core of his or her being. Sin was no longer how people started, needing to receive grace, but instead that each person has goodness and if one seeks within that goodness can shine. This idea is the complete opposite of what the Bible teaches, as it says that every person has sin and only God has goodness. Nevertheless, American’s embraced this idea and were enthralled by people leading in peace such as Mahatma Gandhi.  Gandhi fascinated many and became an example to those wanting to lead a life of peace and happiness. During the 50’s, instead of Christ being the center of society and religion, Gandhi became a focal point in how to live and how to have purpose.

While there is still the strong narrative that the 1950’s was a wholesome decade in American history, the argument Petigny makes for the permissiveness of society is decidedly strong. Just based on this chapter, “The Self,” readers can glean that while that narrative is strong, it may not be the most accurate of the time period.



Chapter 6: A Godless, “Permissive” Society

Chapter 3: Sex and the “Permissive Turn”


By Wesley Johns (Student at Louisiana Tech University) February 22, 2016

Mospermissive society book covert scholars consider the years following World War II, particularly the late 1940s through the 1950s, as a time of conservatism. The social structure of the time is considered by many as that of obedience to social norms and chaste, however, Alan Petigny, in his book The Permissive Society: America, 1941-1965, suggests completely the opposite. Petigny contends the mainstream belief of conservatism in the 1940s and 1950s in chapter 3 with issues relating to sex. Petigny proposes that there was a “permissive turn,” referring to a general liberalization of social norms, prior to the 1960s era. Most scholars argue that the “permissive society” emerged with the coming of the Vietnam War Era in the 1960s. In the chapter on sex, Petigny brings to light the prevalence of more premarital sex and argues against the emergence of a “sexual revolution” with the introduction of the birth control pill in the 1960s, stating, “Contrary to popular belief, the sexual revolution (on a behavioral level) did not start in the 1960s, it was not ignited by the introduction of the birth control pill.” Petigny also argues that the “permissive turn,” in respect to sexuality and the attitudes toward it, was brought about by the commoditization of sex. Petigny refers to the commoditization of sex as “an increasingly sexualized popular culture.” I believe the topic of sex in Petigny’s book makes, most apparently of all topics of the book, the best platform for the argument of a “permissive turn.”

Most scholars would argue in favor of an emergence of a “sexual revolution” in the 1960s that coincides with the introduction of the birth control pill. However, Petigny makes a counterargument and suggests that, through the liberalization of norms in the 1940s and 1950s relating to sex, attitudes were changing enough for a “sexual revolution” to be realized in the 1960s. Petigny supports his argument against the coincidence of the “sexual revolution” and “the pill” stating, “the pill was not an especially popular form of contraception.” Petigny says that, in a 1971 survey, “only about 10 percent of sexually active single women between the ages of fifteen and nineteen even admitted to ‘being on the pill.’” The evidence suggests there was much more, a “permissive turn” in the 1940s and 1950s, to the emergence of a “sexual revolution” in the 1960s.

Petigny speaks of a commoditization of sex in the 1940s and 1950s. What Petigny means by “commoditization of sex” is the emerging prevalence of sexuality in popular culture. Petigny draws on examples of this in anything from music to film of the time. Through the realization of more sexuality in popular culture of the 1940s and 1950s, Petigny asserts, “During the 1960s, Americans were simply more willing to acknowledge the extracurricular activities of their youth than they had been during the previous decade.” Petigny’s ideas about the surge of sexuality in popular culture speaks much to his argument of a “permissive turn” during the 40s and 50s,  showing a loosening of restraint on issues of morality relating to sex.

Petigny brings to attention an increase in premarital sex that signified a change in social norms, which became a factor in the “permissive turn” of America. The prevalence of out of wedlock birth “between 1940 and 1960,” as Petigny proclaims, “increased by 2.5 fold.” Such evidence suggests there was an increase in premarital sex, making apparent the drastic liberalization of social norms – particularly those dealing with sexual promiscuity – taking place before the 1960s. The increase of premarital sex in the 1940s and 1950s makes evident the “permissive turn” that took place in the 1940s and 1950s.

I believe that Petigny – through evidence relating to a general liberalization of sexuality – makes the best points toward the argument of a “permissive turn” in the 40s and 50s. The changing of attitudes, regarding sexuality, reinforce an increasingly liberal view of morals and a shifting of social norms. The liberalized view on morals and a shifting of social norms are the most important aspects of the “permissive turn” that took place in 1940s and 1950s America, because they represent the shifting tides of the time that would eventually allow for an even more liberalized decade in the 1960s.


Chapter 3: Sex and the “Permissive Turn”