Blessed by Oil, Cursed with Crude

Paul Harvey
J. Howard Pew

As a lot of our readers know, historian Darren Dochuk, whose work From Bible Belt to Sunbelt has been featured here a number of times, is at work on a project on oil and evangelicalism, a book that seems destined to be one of the most important works in the history of religion and economics that one could imagine. Darren has just published, in the new Journal of American History, a small piece of his work: "Blessed by Oil, Cursed with Crude: God and Black Gold in the American Southwest; the link should take you to a free html version of the article. A bit more about the piece and an excerpt after the break.

Darren's article is in a volume of the journal that is devoted to oil in American history. Here's a little excerpt below, and from reading the whole you will see the piece combines Dochuk's characteristic sweeping narrative power together with acutely poised analysis; it's that combination of narrative with analysis that the rest of us would kill to be able to achieve so routinely.

Since 1901, countless Beaumonts have nurtured a multitude of evangelical-minded prophets, proprietors, churches, and corporations stirred up with spiritual ardor by the prospects of oil, which they have seen as a special providence and a fragile gift bestowed by God to advance His Kingdom. To be sure, that sense of custodial duty granted by God has produced as much angst as hope; in the boom-bust cycles of the oil business, where crises beget catastrophe, Christian citizens are often reminded that crude can also be a curse. Yet oil-patch evangelicals have always understood this trade-off as the price of being one of the chosen in a fallen world. Evangelicals have prayed in their pews for oil’s bounty and for deliverance from its excesses; worked on rigs and at corporate headquarters to maximize oil’s proliferation; and toiled as politicians to rein in the excesses of the oil business and allow it to pursue its profits unfettered by undue regulation. From Spindletop on, evangelicals have envisioned themselves on a grand quest for a supernatural resource, never doubting the virtues of the pursuit even when the costs have seemed great. All the while they have used their religious commitment to buttress the interests of the oil business and to build sacred empires from the monies accrued through petroleum. In the process they have brought their dominion theology to bear on energy and environmental issues, including land use and resource management. In this way they have shaped the Southwest into a “Petrolia” that at once honors God and black gold


Randall said…
I am blessed to know Dochuk. Bessings, Randall
Curtis J Evans said…
Very good article with much helpful and thoughtful information. The discussion of Beaumont, TX and the local Baptist church's ambivalence about Sunday School teacher Patillo Higgins' discovery of oil is a superb analysis of "on the ground" dynamics. I have odd and mixed memories of traveling from Houston, TX to Beaumont on freeway I 10 East, speeding past the Shell distilleries and myriad oil refineries. Even with the a/c on, vents shut, and windows closed, the acrid smell of chemicals in the air was nearly overwhelming. Yet, the oil wells in various parts of Texas reminded me of those I saw in LA as a child. My brothers and I were fascinated with them, imagining perhaps because of our exposure to the long running Dallas series that we too could one day acquire such fields and wield power like a JR. How far way and peculiar that fantasy and imagined world appears to me now.

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