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On being a Southener

18 Apr

By Barton Swaim at New Criterion:

Two-thousand-eleven marked the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, the Battle of Bull Run, and the beginning of America’s bloodiest war. In Charleston and in fields outside Manassas, Virginia, war re-enactors put on lavish displays of martial conflicts. Essays and articles on the War appeared in all the major newspapers, books on the conflict were widely reviewed, and PBS again ran Ken Burns’s documentary series The Civil War, provoking at least one observer to express irritation that the Confederacy lends itself so easily to romantic portrayal. Once again (or so I imagine) people found themselves asking, perhaps with the red and blue map of Electoral College results in the back of their minds: Who are these Southerners? Are they the racists and political reactionaries we’ve always suspected them to be? Are they Americans in the deepest, most genuine sense, or is the South some aberration about which we ought to be embarrassed?

Jacques Barzun once remarked that Darwin’s Origin of the Species is one of those books on which people have always felt free to discourse without having read it. That’s true of the American South, too, and has been for a long time. “In the Southern states, gaming, fox hunting and horse-racing are the height of ambition; industry is reserved for slaves”: so wrote a twenty-six-year-old Noah Webster who had never been further south than New York. Exactly that sort of confident ignorance has long animated the American entertainment industry. Every Southerner has a favorite complaint: the apparent inability of film and television producers to find actual Southerners to play the part of Southerners; the routine association of the South with incest and abject stupidity; the location of all forms of bigotry in the South, even those for which Southerners aren’t known; and of course the amazingly resilient idea that the Civil War was merely and exclusively about racism—a belief lampooned by Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell) in the television comedy “The Office.” Defending himself against imputations of racism, Michael remarks, “As Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘If you are a racist, I will invade you with the North.’”

Southerners themselves, or at least the writers and intellectuals among them, have long been preoccupied with defining Southern identity—often with results that confuse rather than clarify. Before the War, a number of influential Southern writers circulated the bogus notion that Southerners were descended from Cavaliers (mannerly, aristocratic, unmindful of money) and Northerners from Puritans (earnest, plain in habits, inclined to moneymaking pursuits). After the War, a disparate variety of journalists, industrialists, and politicians promoted something they called the “New South,” a region that would foster economic and cultural vibrancy without giving in to the worship of Mammon (or, for some, to racial equality). It was against this latter collection of hopes and ideas that the Agrarian intellectuals reacted in I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition. The twelve authors of that book—among them Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Frank Owsley—inveighed against the project, as they felt it to be, to make the South more like the North: more vulnerable to the cultural volatility and spiritual shallowness of an unregulated economy, more hospitable to radical individualism.

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Perhaps not all that was lost in the Lost Cause was a good riddance

17 Apr

Form Dr. Boyd Cathey:

it was a war between two ideas of government, and, in reality, two ideas of history and progress.  For the North, which now controlled the Federal government, it was a war to suppress what was seen as a rebellion against constituted national authority. For the states of the Southern Confederacy, it was a defense of their inherited and inherent rights under the old Constitution of 1787, rights that had never been ceded to the Federal government. And, more, it became for them a Second War for Independence against an arbitrary and overreaching government that had gravely violated that Constitution.

Thus, at Appomattox were set into motion momentous events in the future of the reconstituted American nation.  With the defeat of the South, the restraints on industrial, and, eventually, international capitalism were removed. The road to centralized government power was cleared. But even more significantly, there was a sea change in what we might call “the dominant American philosophy.”

In the old ante-bellum Union the South had acted as a kind of counter-weight to the North and a quickly developing progressivist vision of history. Certainly, there were notable Southerners who shared the growing economic and political liberalism of their fellow citizens north of the Mason-Dixon Line (e.g, DeBow’s Review). Yet, increasingly in the late ante-bellum period, the most significant voices in the Southland echoed a kind of traditionalism somewhat reminiscent of the serious critiques being made in Europe of “the Idea of Progress” and of the deleterious effects of 19th century liberalism.

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Consequences of secularization: replacing religion with secular and pagan ideologies, which is worse for us all

23 Mar

From Peter Beinart in the Atlanticlead_960

“Over the past decade, pollsters charted something remarkable: Americans—long known for their piety—were fleeing organized religion in increasing numbers. The vast majority still believed in God. But the share that rejected any religious affiliation was growing fast, rising from 6 percent in 1992 to 22 percent in 2014. Among Millennials, the figure was 35 percent.

Some observers predicted that this new secularism would ease cultural conflict, as the country settled into a near-consensus on issues such as gay marriage. After Barack Obama took office, a Center for American Progress report declared that “demographic change,” led by secular, tolerant young people, was “undermining the culture wars.” In 2015, the conservative writer David Brooks, noting Americans’ growing detachment from religious institutions, urged social conservatives to “put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/04/breaking-faith/517785/

 

Lest we forget about the last 8 years regarding religious liberty. A summary

19 Jan

From Andrew Walker and Josh Wester in the National Review:

For eight years, the Obama administration brought fundamental change to American life. As the administration comes to an end, it is appropriate to evaluate its legacy. And though many such assessments will be written, among the most important issues to consider is the Obama administration’s record on religious liberty. As we’ll argue based on episodes throughout President Obama’s time in office, this administration oversaw an unprecedented effort to intentionally malign and dethrone religious liberty as a central pillar in American political and civil life. Notwithstanding this overall record, and though neither of us is a political supporter of Obama, we applaud the efforts made by the administration in a few areas to champion religious liberty. In 2008, Obama was a U.S. senator and presidential candidate publicly opposed to same-sex marriage. Much has changed in eight years. For the foreseeable future, the legacy of the Obama administration will rest on two alliterative, colossal initiatives that have left an indelible crater on the landscape of religious liberty: Obamacare and Obergefell v. Hodges.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/443933/obama-administration-has-troubled-religious-liberty-legacy

Two Americas

20 Oct

Gertrude Himmelfarb in her book One Nation, Two Cultures (2010) argued that America is comprised of two distinct cultures.  A traditionalist one (conservative, Puritan heritage) and a dissident one (counterculture of the 1960s).  She wrote:

As a minority, the traditionalist culture labors under the disadvantage of being perennially on the defensive.  Its elite — gospel preachers, radio talk show hosts, some prominent columnists, and organizational leaders–cannot begin to match, in  numbers or influence, those who occupy the commanding heights of the dominant culture; professors presiding over the multitude of young people who attend their lectures, read their books, and have to pass their exams; journalists who determine what information, and what ‘spins’ on that information, come to the public; television and movie producers who provide the images and values that shape the popular culture; cultural entrepreneurs who are ingenious in creating and marketing ever more sensational and provocative products.  An occasional boycott by religious conservatives can hardly counteract the cumulative, pervasive effect of the dominant culture.

A Taxonomy of Conservatism

2 Sep

From Peter Lawler:

Americans today are understandably confused about what it means to be a conservative. The Republican nominee, for example, doesn’t seem to be one. And the conservative movement seems to be as fractured as our republic. After this election cycle, conservatives are going to have rethink who they are and what they’re supposed to do.

Who will be there to lead the rethinking and realigning? Here’s a list of nine conservative factions or modes of thought around today. Consider this your beginner’s guide to understanding the rivals on the right and the issues that animate them. It goes without saying that this list isn’t complete, and you might identify with more than one group. That issue of identity has become bigger than ever over the past year. The advantage of living through startling and unprecedented events is that we conservatives have no choice but to reflect deeply once again about who we are.

1. Growth Conservatives

They are associated with the Wall Street Journal and the so-called big donors. They think the main reform America needs today is to cut taxes and trim regulations that constrain “job creators.” On one hand, they think that America is on “the road to serfdom.” On the other hand, they often think this is a privileged moment in which conservative reform—such as the passing of right-to-work laws—is most likely to succeed.

2. Reform Conservatives

These conservatives think that growth is indispensable and that it’s unreasonable to believe America could return to a time when global economic dominance and lack of birth dearth made possible unions, a mixture of high taxes and unrivaled productivity, and a secure system of entitlements. So they’re for prudent entitlement reform. They’re also for a tax policy that treats Americans not only as free individuals but also as, for example, struggling parents who deserve tax credits. In our pessimistic time, reform conservatives are also characterized by a confidence that nobody should ever bet against America, that we’re up to the challenges we face. Their intellectual leader is the think-tanker Yuval Levin, and they have the ears of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio.

– See more at: https://home.isi.org/confused-students-guide-conservatism#.V7heLTic2Fx.twitter

Is America drifting away from its Virginian – New England founding?

29 Aug

From Peter Lawler:

There were the original settlements — one in Virginia and one in New England. And ever since that time, you’ve had two conflicting impulses in American political life. The Virginians are all about liberty, as in Mr. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. And the New Englanders — the Puritans or the Pilgrims — are all about participatory civic equality through the interdependence of the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty. America works best when the Americans harmonize by curbing the excesses of both Virginia and New England. That’s what the compromise that was the completed Declaration of Independence, as opposed to Jefferson’s rough draft Yo, did. You see that in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which dedicated our country to the proposition that all men are created equal. And you see that in the rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr. at his best. The Puritans, in general, tend to be too moralistically intrusive, to turn every sin into a crime. They’re an important source of our history of taking sexual morality very seriously, and for believing that American liberty depends on Americans sharing a common religious morality. They’re also the source of some of our most ridiculous and meddlesome legislation, such as prohibition (and, in some indirect way, Mayor Bloomberg’s legal assault on our liberty to drink giant sodas in movie theaters). On the other hand, the individualism of American liberty sometimes morphs in the direction of cold indifference to the struggles of our fellow citizens. Mr. Jefferson spoke nobly against the injustice of slavery as a violation of our rights as free men and women. But he wasn’t ever moved to do much about it. And today members of our “cognitive elite” are amazingly out of touch with those not of their kind, living in a complacent bubble. Puritans, you might say, care too much about what other people are doing, and they say “there ought to be a law” way too to often. But they’re free from the corresponding excess in the other direction: the cruelty of indifference.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/439404/teaching-american-government-tocqueville-virginia-puritan-new-england-liberty-equality

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