There is a big difference between the historical and present-day
mindsets of the North and the South, and it is my belief that these conflicting mindsets contributed to the conflicts between
the two regions that ultimately led to the War for Southern Independence. We are still referred to as “the Bible Belt,”
and are still attacked for our traditional beliefs. The continuing North-South split was made very evident in the last presidential
election between Democrat and Republican as graphically illustrated in the Red zones in the South, and the Blue Zones in the
North, as the various news media pointed out continually in their coverage of the election. Therefore, in the 2000 presidential
election, we see that the historical political differences between the two regions still persist and are still very significant.
Carl Schmitt, one of the great political philosophers of the 20th century,
once wrote that “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.”
In other words, politics is based on religion. And I would agree with him. Religion is that great explanation of life and
the meaning of life that draws people together to work for a common goal. The root word for religion is the Latin term for
“that which ties or binds together.” But just as all modern philosophy is based on religious belief, so is modern
political ideology. What we want to examine today are the religious foundations of the differing political and social philosophies
that continue to distinguish North and South.
In my opinion, the single best short description of the political and social
differences between North and South was made in the movie “Ride with the Devil,” which was directed by Ang Lee,
and starred Tobey Maguire, whom you probably recognize better as Spiderman.
“Ride with the Devil” is a powerful, visually striking movie
that tells the story of the guerilla war in Missouri during the War for Southern Independence. In the scene I’d like
to describe, Tobey Maguire’s character, a Southern guerilla fighter, takes an evening away from the bitter fighting
to stay in the home of a Southern sympathizer named Evans. Evans pours drinks for his two guests, who are extremely appreciative
of Evans’ hospitality. Despite their attempts to avoid the subject, they start talking about how the fighting is going.
Evans asks his guests if they’ve ever been to Lawrence, Kansas. They
reply that they have not, and Evans nods very thoughtfully. He finally says that he’d figured they had not seen this
Yankee outpost in the mid-West. Evans tells them what he’d seen in the town while it was under construction:
“As I watched those Northerners building that town, I witnessed the
seeds of our own destruction being sown. I’m not speaking of abolitionist trouble-making, or even the number of Northerners.
It was the school. Before they built the church, they built that schoolhouse. Then they brought in every farmers’ son
and every farmers’ daughter and made sure they would think and live the same free-thinking way they do, without regard
to station, or stature, or custom, or propriety. That’s when I realized that the Yankees will surely win, because they
believe everyone must live and think just like them. We don’t want to make everyone be like us. We shall surely lose
because we don’t care how other people live-we just take care of ourselves.”
Now of course, when Evans refers to “we,” when he says that
“we don’t want to make everyone be like us,” he means Southerners. And what he says is quite true--Southerners
do tend to mind their own business and to let things be. Northerners, on the other hand, as a culture, not only tend to remake
things to suit them better, but also tend to impose their way of doing things on others. As Admiral Raphael Semmes of the
CSS Alabama once put it, "The Yankee is compelled to toil to make the world go around." So, what is it about the Northern
mindset that made them that way, and makes them that way today? And what is it about Southerners that makes us the way we
These differing tendencies between the two cultures created much of the
conflict which led to the horrendous bloodshed of 1861-1865, and the argument I would like to make today is that these tendencies
are based on fundamentally different religious attitudes between the North and the South, which I would like to explore, and
The existing social, cultural, and political climate of the Northeastern
United States was established by the British colonization there. One of the best summaries of the colonial period and its
impact was the book, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, by Brandeis University historian David
Hackett Fisher. As documented in this book, the “cultural hearth” of New England was created by the immigration
of 21,000 East Anglian Puritans to Massachusetts in the period of 1629 through 1641. The South, on the other hand, was a “Puritan-free”
While many in the South shared Calvinist roots with the Puritans of New
England, they did not share the unique intellectual and theological journey that distinguished the Puritans. And that is one
of the puzzling questions we want to explore today--with similar Christian roots, even to the point of a shared degree of
Calvinism, why did the North and South diverge in such radically different directions?
Let’s start with a brief look at the Southern religion and its political
implications. It would be too easy to say that Southerners remain true to Christianity while Northerners have substituted
liberal social activism for Biblical faith. It would be true, but really doesn’t explain very much. Our understanding
of Northern religious and political temperament is enhanced when we compare them to Southern attitudes. Southern religion,
and therefore the entire Southern worldview, appreciates the richness of both the physical and the spiritual. We believe that
both belong to God. Therefore, unlike the Puritan, we do not believe that “things” are inherently evil. Tobacco,
food, alcohol, guns, you name it--are not evil in and of themselves. Evil people can abuse these things, but Southerners know
that these things can be not only useful, but enjoyable.
Southerners, as a whole, do not believe that things are evil. We appreciate
nature, and tend to the agrarian belief that nature is to be both enjoyed and preserved. We accept the world as it is given
to us, and believe it is our duty to find our place in it and accept our responsibilities. As stated in the original introduction
of I’ll Take My Stand in 1929: “Religion can hardly expect to flourish in an industrial society. Religion
is our submission to the general intention of a nature that is fairly inscrutable; it is the sense of our role as creatures
within it.” Anne C. Loveland, in her book Southern Evangelicals and the Social Order, 1800-1860 wrote that Southerners
are “as dubious of human ability in social and political matters as in the matter of salvation. The belief in the sovereignty
of God and dependence of man was the whole of their thinking.” Here is how Richard Weaver described the Southern spiritual
tradition: “Piety comes to us as a warning voice that we must think as mortals, that it is not for us either to know
all or to control all. It is a recognition of our own limitations and a cheerful acceptance of the contingency of nature,
which gives us the protective virtue of humility.”
A useful way to think about the difference between the Northern and Southern
religions comes from Southern theologian A.J. Conyers in his book, The Long Truce. In this study on the history and
political use of tolerance, Conyers discusses the two extremes that Christianity has long contended with. The Puritans, who
settled Massachusetts Bay Colony, tended toward Gnosticism, the belief that salvation comes from knowledge. Quoting from Conyers:
“At the other extreme we find Pelagianism, which relies on the goodness
of creation and fails to take seriously the extraordinary intervention of God in redemption. So the extremes that Christianity
has always struggled against is that of ‘all creation and no redemption’ (Pelagianism), versus ‘all redemption
and no creation’ (gnosticism).”
We could say that gnostics accept the Word and reject the World, while
Pelagians accept the World and reject the Word. I would argue that what distinguishes Southern religion is a healthy balance
between the two. Southern religion, and therefore the entire Southern worldview, appreciates the richness of both the physical
and the spiritual, of both the body and the mind. We believe that both belong to God. For Southerners, both the Word and the
World are God’s gift to us. This belief is grounded in the simple fact of the Incarnation, when the Word was made flesh,
and dwelt among us. Another way of saying the same thing is that Southerners believe in the Trinity, and everything it symbolizes,
including the religious and philosophical reality of both separateness and relatedness. We Southerners do not demand that
everyone be like us, as Evans pointed out in "Ride with the Devil." Yankees, who inherited the Puritan legacy, believe that
only unity has philosophical significance. You’ve heard this attitude expressed recently in the words, “You’re
either with us or against us.“ Southerners, on the other hand, believe that God encompasses unity as well as separateness.
We believe that unity consists of individual things sharing their relatedness, instead of total absorption. We believe that
the individual has its own purpose and its own reality. Deuteronomy 32:8 says "When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,
when He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples..." In other words, individual things should not be
made indistinguishable within some greater entity. We Southerners appreciate true diversity, not the phony diversity of the
multi-culturalists who actually want to destroy true distinctions. We celebrate both the individual and the community, and
do not believe that the individual must be absorbed by the community, but remain a distinct contributor to the richness of
Now, let’s take a look at the Puritans, and what made them different
from Calvinists in the South.
The Puritans were members of the Church of England who wanted to purify
the Church of non-Biblical elements. They wanted to eliminate all the practices that they viewed as holdovers from the Catholic
church, which the Puritans referred to as "popery", including the ritual robes of the priests, the various ceremonies practiced,
and the overall focus and purpose of the Church. They rejected the traditional aspects of worship that did not conform to
the Bible, and therefore made the Bible the exclusive reference point of their religious practices. As mentioned previously,
they adopted Calvin’s teachings, and aggressively promoted them as a counterpoint to the holdovers from Catholicism
that they believed still corrupted the English Church.
The Puritans not only made their reading of the Bible central to their
religious practices. They went so far as to make the Bible and their understanding of it as the exclusive authority for all
religious questions. And that is my argument about the Puritans, that their first mistake was to put their understanding of
the Bible above everything else. They intellectualized religion to the point of excluding all tradition and custom. As a matter
of fact, the Puritans came to see religion as exclusively within the realm of the mind. Education came to be the key to salvation,
and this of course established and legitimized the Puritan belief that lack of formal education equated to sinfulness. Here,
for example, is the opinion of one Puritan leader, Thomas Hooker, in his treatise, The Application of Redemption, "Its
with an ignorant sinner in the midst of all means as with a sick man remaining in the Apothecaries shop, ful of choicest Medicines
in the darkest night: ...because he cannot see what he takes, and how to use them, he may kill himself or encrease his distempers,
but never cure any disease." What Thomas Hooker is telling us is that religion is a serious profession, one that requires
professional training. What he’s saying is that he and his fellow Puritans are the professionals when it comes to knowing
the mind of God, and you people should not attempt these things at home. Articles of faith, in the hands of the uneducated,
can do more harm than good. And of course, the Puritan view of reason as a guide to the Word of God promotes the idea of an
elite that understands the ways of God, which the uneducated can never comprehend. What’s abundantly clear in Hooker’s
remarks is that the intellectual elite is the only guide that the corrupt masses have to lead them to salvation. That is a
recurring theme throughout Puritan ideology.
Therefore, education, or knowledge, becomes the key to salvation, and not
just for the clergy, but for the public at large. In 1635, just five years after the Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded,
the first "Free Grammar School" was established in Boston. In 1647, Massachusetts required "that every town of one hundred
families or more should provide free common and grammar school instruction." Children aged 6-8 attended "Dame schools" where
the teacher, who was usually a widow, taught reading. Four years later, Harvard, the first American College, was established
in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Now here’s where things start to go wrong, at least from the Southern
Christian perspective. As the Puritans intellectualized their religion, and sought to purify the Church from all human and
worldly corruption, they also sought to purify society of all sin. Again, not a bad idea, but it’s the way they went
about this crusade that we’re concerned about. The Puritans, both in England and in New England, began to reject traditional
society, just as they had originally rejected the traditional church. The doctrine of “total depravity” meant
that everything, even good works and best intentions, are affected by sin. Here is how A. J. Conyers described the Puritan
crusade in his book, The Long March:
“Their zeal drove them to criticism of existing orders and institutions,
fueling the wish for deliverance from the effects of human depravity. Driven in this direction, they were tempted by the same
dualism that Christians of all ages have entertained. It is a kind of Gnostic style of theologizing that finds no good in
the created order, in human nature, or in the institutions arising in such a world. For the gnostic--and, for the Puritan---Christianity
is altogether a theology of redemption without the inclusion of a theology of creation. “
Puritans stripped away the traditional trappings and formalities of Christianity
which had been slowly building throughout the previous 1500 years. The Puritans sought to "purify" the church and their own
lives, and they attempted this by rejecting the existing order and re-establishing the Church and society on Biblical principles.
And this is where we get the popular idea of Puritanism meaning strictness in daily life, and severe adherence to established
doctrine. It was HL Mencken who said that a Puritan was a person whose greatest fear was that somewhere, someone was having
a good time. What the Puritans were trying to do was to eliminate the sensual things in life that distracted from the logical
understanding of God’s word. That’s why the Puritan colonies passed legislation against gamblers, "tobacco-takers,"
and "stage-players." Cards and the theater were under all circumstances a waste of precious time, and therefore wholly banned.
As another example, music in worship was eliminated in Puritan services because it supposedly created an emotional state of
mind which was not conducive to listening to God’s message. Instead, the Puritan emphasized sermons that were serious,
well-researched theological arguments. For an example of this, read Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, "Sinners in the Hands
of an Angry God” to see just how logical and penetrating Puritan analysis could be.
At this point, we need to backtrack just a moment and take a look at the
term “gnosticism” that Professor Conyers used in describing the Puritan worldview. Gnosticism is the doctrine
of salvation by knowledge, and it is a religious heresy that pre-dates Christianity. The ancient Gnostics were "people who
knew", and their knowledge supposedly made them a superior class of beings. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Gnostics
teach that the physical is nothing but deteriorated spirit, and the whole universe is a corruption of the Deity. According
to this ancient pagan heresy, the ultimate purpose of life is to overcome the physical world and return to the Parent-Spirit.
In other words, gnostic belief is a pagan interpretation of the universe that sees the physical as a perversion of the mind-spirit
that created everything. Sin, in this view, is acceptance of the deteriorated physical world, and the rejection of the mind-spirit.
Gnosticism appears as a parasite that uses Christian doctrine as the host.
Gnostic writers from the early days of Christianity have stolen its terminology, and even acknowledged Jesus as Savior. They
claimed to be the only true form of Christianity, which they believe is intended only for the gifted and the elect.
Why is this important? The Puritan doctrine of rejecting creation and recognizing
redemption only is a modern-day instance of the ancient pagan practice of gnosticism, the belief that salvation comes from
knowledge that belongs to an intellectual elite. This enables us to see that over-emphasis on the intellect eventually led
the Puritans to see human reason as sovereign, and eventually superior to received faith and superior to tradition. This basic
error led them towards the gnostic attitude and all of its errors. Now I think we’re prepared to ask the question: how
did conservative, Bible-believing Calvinists degenerate into liberal Unitarians ?
Here’s what the Unitarian web site tells us:
“Unitarianism as we know it in North America is not a foreign import.
In fact, the origins of our faith began with some of the most historic congregations in Puritan New England where each town
was required to establish a congregationally independent church that followed Calvinist doctrines. Initially these congregational
churches offered no religious choice for their parishioners, but over time the strict doctrines of original sin and predestination
began to mellow. Growing out of this inclusive theology was a lasting impetus in both denominations to create a more just
society. Both Unitarians and Universalists became active participants in many social justice movements in the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries. Unitarian preacher Theodore Parker was a prominent abolitionist, defending fugitive slaves and offering
support to American abolitionist John Brown.”
This leaves out quite a few steps in the transition from a logical form
of Christianity to secular humanism, but it’s easy to fill in the blanks since we’ve just reviewed the history
and theological premises of the Puritans. Since they believed that all existing institutions in the physical world are corrupt,
and that an intellectually superior elite should therefore reconstruct society for the better, the temptation naturally arises
to assert one’s own power and importance over the world. Instead of working to promote God’s will throughout society,
as the Puritans did, the Unitarian works to promote egalitarian ideals throughout society. So, by slightly altering the Puritan
scheme of things, you end up with crusading liberals determined to re-make society in their own image.
So, what perverts the Puritan from a Bible-based belief system to a secular
one? That, too, comes from a Puritan belief that led to tension between the spiritual and rational aspects of the Puritan
world view. It is worth remembering that the Puritan movement comprised many of the new entrepreneurs in both old and New
England, and this rising middle class needed a religion that recognized its emerging identity. Add to this the Puritan ideal
of God rewarding the industrious with commercial success as a sign of virtue, and it is all too easy to forget that the original
mission was to remake society for the greater Glory of God.
The catalyst that provided the last push toward secularism is provided
by a political philosopher who has had enormous influence on American political development, or deterioration, depending on
how you look at it. Thomas Hobbes was not a Puritan, but he was well aware of their thought and influence in England. Indeed,
Hobbes’ Leviathan is an argument for a strong centralized government based on many Puritanical assumptions, and
his thought not only altered the direction of New England political developments, but also directly influenced Puritan theology.
Hobbes realized that the Puritans’ rise to power in the Church and
in Parliament represented the rising commercial class in England, and he deduced that a justification of the authoritarian
government that he believed essential to prevent anarchy had to tie in with this rising commercial class. Hobbes’ achievement
was to use the secular implications of Puritan ideology to justify centralized political power. The purpose of surrendering
authority to an all-powerful sovereign was to prevent anarchy and protect accumulated wealth. That’s the reward for
the emerging commercial class. Here is how Hobbes described human nature, and notice how this supports the Puritan view that
natural, unenlightened man is inherently corrupt:
“In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the
fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be
imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge
of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear,
and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
In other words, Hobbes argues that left to his own, corrupt man has no
means of organizing. There are no natural bonds between men, there is no basis for community, no natural means of creating
order and maintaining the peace that businessmen need. We are so violent, so irrational, and so corrupt that we are incapable
of governing ourselves. Our only hope as fallen, sinful creatures is to surrender all power to one sovereign. And we give
this allegiance to the Leviathan because we have consented to it in order to gratify our own self-interest. That is the rational
thing to do. Now, this appeals to the Puritan for a number of reasons. The sovereign, or, the Leviathan, assumes the role
of the unitary mind-spirit that created the universe and offers it salvation from its corrupted nature. More important, the
Leviathan, the all-encompassing source of power, protects lives and property, enabling the businessman to thrive.
Much of the Puritan ideology remains in Hobbes’ political theory.
Creation, that is, the natural world, is inherently corrupt (“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”). The
only way it can be salvaged is to return it to the control of the ultimate source of reason and order, which is the unitary
sovereign, the Leviathan. Hobbes’ modified Puritanism and its legacy into a vehicle for reconstructing the world, but
now the motivation to reconstruct was business success rather than the City on the Hill promoting and proclaiming the glory
of God. It was an easy conversion because Puritans had long believed that commercial success was a sign from God that one
was on the right path of discipline and hard work.
Religion, as we discussed at the beginning of this talk, is that which
binds people together. Hobbes made a few adjustments to the Puritan’s beliefs and concocted a new rationale for binding
people together. They submit to one sovereign in order to pursue their rational self-interest to enrich themselves. Remember,
in Hobbes’ view, there is no natural affection among people, no bonds of loyalty, because men’s lives are naturally
“Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Fear and greed, in Hobbes’ political philosophy, are what hold
this artificial society together. If you look at Washington DC today, with its open borders policy of mass immigration for
cheap labor, an imperialist foreign policy to force open world markets and to hold natural resources, plus the constant threat
of terror attacks that only Big Government can save you from, you are looking at Thomas Hobbes’ political legacy.
So, with their over-emphasis on knowledge and the sovereignty of reason,
the Puritans rejected the traditional order as impure, as a corrupted version of the ultimate spiritual perfection represented
by divine knowledge. Their original goal of reconstructing society continued, but now, instead of reconstructing it for the
greater glory of God, the goal was transformed into reconstructing it according to the ideals of human reason. Therefore,
by 1838, we hear the open expression of the transformed New England ideal by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson, a former Unitarian
minister, acknowledged that his aunt, Mary Moody Emerson, a devout Puritan, exerted the greatest influence on his life. Here
is what Emerson said in his 1838 address at the Harvard Divinity School: “Build therefore your own world, a correspondent
revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit. So fast will disagreeable appearances, swine, snakes, pests, madhouses,
prisons vanish; they are temporary and shall be no more seen until evil is no more seen. The kingdom of man over nature ..
a dominion such as now is beyond the dream of God.”
Could Emerson have been any clearer in expressing the radical difference
between the Northern and the Southern worldviews? Southerners see themselves as stewards of God’s creation, and believe
that traditional society is the result of God’s patient hand. Where Southerners see mystery and beauty in the world
around us, Northerners see chaos and untapped raw materials. More important, Southerners believe that our duty as Christians
is to accept the will of God and that our reward will come at Judgment Day. Emerson, however, is saying that traditional society
is inherently corrupt, and that the world can be remade as a paradise greater than any promise of heaven.
This helps us understand some of the pronouncements coming from Ted Kennedy,
Hillary Clinton, and the like. These people, and their followers, really believe that there is no justice, no order, no value
in traditional society. If any good is to be had, it must be imposed from the outside, by force, by the ultimate sovereign,
which is Big Government. Tobacco is an evil thing that must be eradicated in order to save people from themselves. As you
all know, guns make urban youths commit murders. Guns must be eliminated because ordinary people cannot handle that kind of
power. All power is to be surrendered to the Leviathan.
By understanding what happened to the Calvinist Puritans, we can better
understand why it is true that "The Yankee is compelled to toil to make the world go around." It’s because of the old
Puritan belief that the natural world is evil and corrupt, and that all goodness and order come from the mind-spirit of the
universe that only the elite can comprehend. According to this worldview, there is no culture whatsoever in traditional society,
no barn dances, no singalongs, no folk art whatsoever until Big Government creates a museum and imports artists from New York
to provide cultural uplift to the unwashed masses. And since there are no natural bonds between people, any talk about heritage
and kinship as a basis for social order is illogical sentimentality. The only thing people have in common is the shared desire
to make money and protect their lives and property. This is how liberal Yankees think. Because of this “fact,“
why shouldn’t we open our borders to all comers? And the thought process is the same even when they call themselves
neo-conservatives, which is nothing more than another name for the same perversion. It is important to recognize that internal
weaknesses in the original set of core Puritan beliefs made these perversions possible. That’s why it is absolutely
vital that we Southerners must appreciate what gives Southern faith its vitality and its uniqueness, and be ready to defend
We must defend it because it is the only barrier to the Puritan/Universalist
mindset. That mindset, as Evans warned in “Ride With the Devil”, is bound to make everyone conform, and that means
the end of freedom.