January 12, 2007

More on fundamentalism and history

Jeff Sharlet's article on the Christian right's re-writing of American history is one of the scariest things I have read in a while. I quote a little below, but read the entire, very long essay for yourself.

Some of it I understand, but most of it confuses me. Much like those who see Bush as God's chosen President, their view of American history is so unbelievable that it often sounds like a completely different country. The part that bothers me the most is the underlying savagery of their faith. Like the post from D. James Kennedy where the chaplains provide the final link to a "victory" where an entire Indian village is massacred--men, women, children, this article highlights more insanity. One of their favorite Americans is Stonewall Jackson. Fine. Whatever. Though, as I have said here many times, I am growing weary of the Southern "lost cause" apologists in this country.

But the Stonewall story is even more interesting.
In All Things for Good: The Steadfast Fidelity of Stonewall Jackson, fundamentalist historian J. Steven Wilkins opens a chapter on Jackson’s belief in the “black flag” of no quarter for the enemy with a quotation: “Shoot them all, I do not wish them to be brave.” The only path to peace, he believed, was total war.

“Today,” writes Freeborn,

"Mr. Jackson’s life stands as a witness to a new generation of what God can and desires to do in each of His children. Let us rise up and follow the shining example of this stern soldier, loving husband, devoted church officer, and Christ-like man."
Yeah, slaughtering the enemy is wonderful, isn't it? How does one claim to follow Jesus and embrace slaughter? It isn't Christianity.
But Freeborn chooses as case study not a Civil War battle but his first victory as a lowly lieutenant out of West Point. Sent to the Mexican War, he defied an order to retreat, fought the Mexican cavalry alone with one artillery piece, won, and was promoted, later commended by General Winfield Scott, commander of the U.S. forces, for “the way in which [he] slaughtered those poor Mexicans.”

Many of the poor Mexicans Jackson slaughtered were civilians. After his small victory had helped clear the way for the American advance, Jackson received orders to turn his guns on Mexico City residents attempting to flee the oncoming U.S. army. He did so without hesitation—mowing them down as they sought to surrender.

What are we to make of this murder? Secular historians attribute this atrocity to Jackson’s military discipline—he simply obeyed orders. But fundamentalists see in that discipline, that willingness to kill innocents, confirmation of Romans 13:1: “For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” Obeying one’s superiors, according to this logic, is an act of devotion to the God above them.

It is bad enough that the Puritans believed they weilded the sword of God when they attacked the Pequot, or that Chivington shared their belief when he slaughtered the Cheyenne at Sand Creek. It is ten times worse that people living today also share that mania.

This is not Christianity. I am not sure what it is, but it isn't Christianity. It is some bastardized form that sees market capitalism as Godly, and cares more about stopping gays than feeding the poor. Can you imagine Christ as Stonewall, turning his guns on innocents simply trying to get out of a battle? I guess only if you can see him in the torture rooms with Dick Cheney, smoking a cigarette as some poor Muslim is waterboarded.

It isn't for me. But it evidently is the curricula of choice for homeschoolers and fundy schools. Sharlet makes the comparison to madrassas, and we should all wince.


The first pillar of American fundamentalism is Jesus Christ; the second is history; and in the fundamentalist mind the two are converging. Fundamentalism considers itself a faith of basic truths unaltered (if not always acknowledged) since their transmission from Heaven, first through the Bible and second through what they see as American scripture, divinely inspired, devoutly intended—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the often overlooked Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which declared “religion” necessary to “good government” and thus to be encouraged through schools. Well into the nineteenth century, most American schoolchildren learned their ABCs from The New-England Primer, which begins with “In Adam’s Fall/We sinned all”—and continues on to “Spiritual Milk for American Babes, Drawn out of the Breasts of both Testaments.” In 1836, McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers began to displace the Primer, selling some 122 million copies of lessons such as “The Bible the Best of Classics” and “Religion the only Basis of Society” during the following century.


“Providence” would have been a better word. I was “unschooling” myself, Bill Apelian, director of Bob Jones University’s BJU Press, explained. What seemed to me a self-directed course of study was, in fact, the replacement of my secular education with a curriculum guided by God. When BJU Press, one of the biggest Christian educational publishers, started out thirty years ago, science was their most popular subject, and it could be summed up in one word: “created.” Now American history is on the rise. “We call it Heritage Studies,” Apelian said, and explained its growing centrality: “History is God’s working in man.”


Tony said...


Please be a bit more careful lumping homeschoolers together with "fundy schools."

We don't all ascribe to this historic revisionism. I understand your frustration; it aggravates me too because I agree with your view on the hijacking of land from the Indians.

Nevertheless, you unfairly stereotype homeschoolers.

Streak said...

tony, I actually meant to ask you about this. I don't think that all homeschoolers are like this at all, but this is out there in some of the homeschooling curricula, isn't it?

And for me, just to be clear, the issues are more than even just land theft, but how the right can actually embrace the slaughter of human beings as some reflection of God's divine hand.

But I don't mean to be unfair to you other homeschoolers. I really don't.

Tony said...

I didn't think you did.

this is out there in some of the homeschooling curricula, isn't it?

You better believe it. A BEKA and BJU Press are the worst. My wife and I being "veteran homeschoolers" now, having done it for five years, pick and choose what we want and tailor it to our tastes and educational method. We don't teach from a single curriculum; this is one of the dangers I counsel against when I talk to other parents about homeschooling.

All curricula are biased in some way; whether it be an abject refusal to accept evolution as a theory, historical revisionism of some stripe, or even fundamental (and often ridiculous) Bible courses.

Some curricula make their Bible lessons part of the schedule so that whether you want to buy them or not, in one way or another you get them. You can't not get them.

And I do see what you mean about land not being the primary issue--but how easily we can apply this to the current state of affairs in Iraq.

The most recent justification I heard about our presence in Iraq from some conservative friends (steel yourself) is that God mandated invasions and exterminations in the OT, why should it be any different now?


My favorite I just recently heard; Pres Bush is God's man for God's time isn't he?

Incidentally, my younger brother has enlisted in the army. He is doing AIT right now and will probably be stationed in Ft. Hood in TX soon...to be deployed to Iraq.


Streak said...

Tony, none of that surprises me. I am more surprised that many evangelicals I know buy into this, or at least part of it, without really realizing the implications of such ideas. Like I said, it isn't Christian, or I certainly don't see it as such. It goes against the message of Christ, which seems to me to be the heart of the faith. It is kind of a rabid Judaism, but not really Judaism.

I remember reading about your brother on your blog. We will keep a good thought for him and all of our fighting men and women put in harms way by this President.

Tony said...

Thanks, Streak. I know my little bro appreciates it, too.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating; you have a great blog.