The Epic Journey
Southern Faith, Northern Unitarianism

Southern Faith, Northern Unitarianism

presented to the Fall 2002 War Between the States Symposium in Wilmington, NC

by Michael C. Tuggle

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 are?

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 hopefully clarify.

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” zone.

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 the community.

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 it.

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.


Michael C. Tuggle is a project manager and e-commerce consultant in Charlotte, NC. His first book, Confederates in the Boardroom, will be published by Traveller Press in June, 2003.


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