A historian shows how the pursuit of God and “black gold” went hand in hand—and how it changed the shape of American Christianity.
Editor’s note: CT’s June cover story considers the use and abuse of oil from a Christian lens.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus frames a stark choice between God and money, declaring, “You cannot serve both” (Matt. 6:24). His warning has not exactly fallen on deaf ears in the modern United States, but it hasn’t kept many awake at night either. American believers have for generations possessed a buoyant confidence—one might call it a faith—in their ability to make money without being mastered by it. The righteous can pursue riches, so long as their hearts are in the right place.
Such bits of conventional wisdom have a history. In recent years, scholars have delved deeper than ever before into the longstanding synergies between American Christianity and American capitalism. Their efforts have yielded a wealth of excellent studies focused on everything from Wal-Mart to Chick-Fil-A, from spiritual celebrity to Christian nationalism, and from the origins of fundamentalism to the rise of prosperity megachurches.
Darren Dochuk’s landmark book, Anointed with Oil: How Christianity and Crude Made Modern America, at once builds on this important body of work and represents its most stunning achievement. Authors rarely deliver so fully on their titles. Through the stories of believers hot in pursuit of both God and “black gold,” Dochuk indeed opens a breathtaking new window onto the making of the modern nation.
Sparring Spirits of Capitalism
Oil is not incidental to Dochuk’s narrative. Its distinctive qualities, ranging from its hiddenness and explosiveness to its extraordinary value, make it an essential player. Dochuk underscores this point from the outset, characterizing …