Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Carl R. Weinberg's "Red Dynamite"

Carl R. Weinberg is Adjunct Associate Professor of History and Senior Lecturer in the College of Arts and Sciences, Indiana University Bloomington. He is the author of Labor, Loyalty, and Rebellion.

Weinberg applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Red Dynamite: Creationism, Culture Wars, and Anticommunism in America, and reported the following:
A reader opening Red Dynamite to page 99 would get a good idea of the book as a whole. On that page, I begin my discussion of Mordecai Ham, Jr. (1877–1961), a Christian fundamentalist preacher who linked evolution, communism, and an alleged international Jewish conspiracy during the 1920s. Since the book is devoted to tracing this kind of thinking throughout the twentieth century, Ham is pretty representative of the cast of characters I cover. Ham is lesser known than fellow fundamentalists Gerald Winrod, J. Frank Norris and William Bell Riley (who I write about earlier in the chapter). If people have heard of Ham, it’s probably because he converted a young Billy Graham to the cause of Christ.

In some ways, Ham was a typical fire-breathing fundamentalist. In his sermons during the 1920s, he railed against the fruits of “modernism,” that is, the liberal Christian thinking of the day, as well as taking aim at the young Bolshevik Revolution. According to Ham, Moscow was undermining America by promoting immorality: the “false philosophy of evolution,” the liquor industry, prostitution, dancing, jazz, and Charlie Chaplin movies. Most dangerous was the impact of all this on the nation’s youth. As Ham typically ended his sermons, “The day is not far distant when you will be in the grip of the Red Terror and your children will be taught free love by that damnable theory of evolution.”

In one other way, Ham was atypical: he glommed onto the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Jew-hating conspiracy-mongering fabrication, earlier than those other fundamentalists did. By the mid-1920s, Ham, following Henry Ford, warned that Satan stood behind a communist-Jewish cabal with a “tremendous banking connection” that sought to “demoralize” America, overthrow Christian civilization, equalize wealth, and install the Antichrist as ruler.

Again, this is the preacher who won Billy Graham to Christ in the 1930s. In a number of ways, Graham was a far cry from Mordecai Ham. And yet, see endnote #30 on p. 315 for how at least one recent historian has obscured the possible connection between Ham’s anti-Semitism and Graham’s own ugly views on Jews. Those views emerged in 2009 when new portions of the secretly recorded Nixon tapes were released to the public. Graham can be heard on tape in 1972 blaming Jews in the “Synagogue of Satan” for pornographic literature and “obscene” movies. The truth hurts, but it seems that in some respects, Mordecai Ham’s views lived on through his most famous disciple.
Follow Carl R. Weinberg on Twitter and visit his website.

--Marshal Zeringue