Thursday, June 25, 2015

Charleston Shootings, the CSA Battle Flag, and Lost Cause Religion: Primer of Valuable Reflections

Larry Wilmore (by way of (Media Matters): "Progress is one step forward, two Bill O'Reillys back." 
As I'm sure I've told you here previously, I went to a public high school in south Arkansas (an all-white one, it goes without saying, until my final two years of school) in which the Confederate stars-and-bars battle flag was proudly paraded into school assemblies side by side with the American flag. As the procession took place, the band played a spirited rendition of "Dixie." When the two flags reached the stage, the Confederate flag was crossed over the U.S. flag, as the assembled faculty and students screamed, "The South shall rise again!"

This ended with integration. There was actually a debate about ending the practice in some civic-governance organization of which I was an officer in the school — a thing that was called, I seem to remember, the Key Club. 

The screaming and buffooning and "Dixie"-singing and flag-waving ended grudgingly in the late 1960s in my part of the country. And, yet, current events have shown me and everyone else in the U.S. willing to listen all over again how little the mentality underlying this toxic nonsense has really shifted. 

Having lived with and through all of this decades ago, and having thought that the nation (rather, my part of the nation) had come to its senses and gained some perspective on the nonsense, I am sick unto death of the pseudo-debate about the CSA battle flag and the legacy of the Confederacy. I am sick unto death of the recrudescence of open, hateful racism in many areas of the country including my own after an African-American man has twice been elected president. 

I am sick unto death of the pretending of the 60% of white Catholics in the U.S. who, with the blessing of the U.S. Catholic bishops, now vote for a political party that has hinged its future on keeping that open, hateful racism alive. I'm sick unto death, quite specifically, of the pretense of those 60% of white U.S. Catholics who now vote Republican that their political choices have nothing to do with racism.

Time. for. the. nonsense. to. be. over. Here are some good things I've been reading about all of this — especially, about the religious underpinnings of this "debate":

The founders of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary did not affirm biblical orthodoxy, Baptist beliefs, and missionary zeal. They affirmed white biblical orthodoxy, white Baptist beliefs, and white missionary zeal. Like Mohler, these 19th-century white Baptists did not perceive any distinction between those things. They saw no difference between "biblical orthodoxy" and white biblical orthodoxy, and thus were unable to perceive or conceive of any way the latter might not live up to the former.

Critical to Lost Cause religion is the conviction that the Civil War was not about slavery, and that white Southerners were victims.  . . .  As the unholy creation of white Christian ministers, it is tragically appropriate that the Religion of the Lost Cause should come to an end with a devotee murdering black Christians in a church in the city where the Civil War began. On the 150th anniversary of the faith's creation, let that be Dylann Roof's legacy. 

That this was a carefully planned political assassination is hard to dispute. But it is also hard to dispute that this was an attack on Christianity of the kind that believes in the empowerment and equality of all people, and advancing social justice is at the core of this particular church’s mission.  It is hard for the Christian Right to co-opt the legacy of the African American Civil Rights Movement, as is currently the fashion, while ignoring the assassination of nine Black Christians who were killed both for their race and for their progressive faith. 
And that is why after some initial claims that the Charleston massacre was part of a wide ranging attack on Christianity and a threat to religious liberty in America, we just aren’t hearing such claims anymore.  

The South, more than the North, has dominated and defined the limits of America’s political culture for most of the last 140-ish years. The North has the money, the North has Wall Street, and the North runs (most of) our high and popular culture. But the South has run our politics. And this moment that we’re witness to now could be the blessed beginning of the end of all that.

A "conservative" result in those two cases [i.e., King v. Burwell (Obamacare subsidies) and Obergefell v. Hodges (marriage equality) would turn our present gap between blue states and red states into a chasm. The effect would be extraordinary. Citizens in blue states (more or less) would continue to have a major federal income tax subsidy, a functioning health insurance market, and critical revenues to support hospitals and health care providers. Red state citizens would be denied this federal tax break, their health insurance market would become dysfunctional, and health care services would be placed under enormous stress. Add to that a decision leaving gay marriage to the states, and you have a country in which no Fortune 500 company is likely ever to locate a new plant in any red state that continues to prohibit gay marriage.

I see little difference between the Transatlantic slave trade, state-sanctioned segregation and American apartheid, the entitled land theft of Manifest Destiny, the slaughter of indigenous people, medical experimentation on Black bodies, the state's infiltration and assassination of resistance groups and leaders of color, and Dylann Roof's slaughter of nine innocent Black people in that church.  . . .  
We need white Americans to be jolted from their racialized ignorance and fragility and to begin to be honest about what America historically has been and continues to be: honesty that the shining "city upon a hill" is ideologically and functionally similar to other racist settler colonial projects around the world.

The criminal Hitler regime had to be defeated before the nation could get on a track leading toward an egalitarian democracy. And the South had to lose the Civil War if the slaves were going to be freed and human rights embraced. Both the Third Reich and the Confederacy are now history. Dead and gone and good riddance.

Overlooking the follies of one’s ancestors is one thing. But embracing the symbols of the racist and genocidal regimes they lived under is another.

As I’ve said before, the Lost Cause version of history and the black history/Civil Rights Movement narrative are mutually exclusive. You cannot simultaneously believe that the Confederacy was a lost, but noble cause, while also believing that slavery and the subsequent Jim Crow regime was a moral evil. At some point the South is going to have to decide which side of history it's on, and the rest of the country will have to realize that racism is a cancer that is going to take down this nation unless it is properly addressed. 

All religions have vectors of religious thinking that justify extreme violence against people defined as threatening, just as they all have vectors stressing peaceful reconciliation and harmony with adversaries. We can find sacred texts, creedal statements and other authoritative sources in all our traditions to justify both standpoints. 
It was the late Bishop of Sweden, Krister Stendahl, who noted that believers, like members of any human group, have the tendency to see themselves in reference to the "other" by comparing the best of one’s own community with the worst of the other community. 
And it was Jesus who said, "Hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your fellow’s eye" (Matt.7:5).

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