Evangelicals and Politics: Somebody Finally Gets It

It is heartening when someone, somewhere–and especially an academic like Bradford Wilcox at a respected institution (in this case the University of Virginia)–finally grasps what liberals cannot in his article Preaching to the Choir, namely that much of evangelicals’ political involvement is defensive rather than offensive.  This is something I have been repeating since Public Education: A Christian Perspective, published back in 1990.

Beyond that, the real eye-opener came when Wilcox presented this:

But even after controlling for class, I find that nominal evangelicals do worse than other Americans. Why? I suspect that many nominal evangelicals are products of a Scotch-Irish “redneck” culture, still found in parts of Appalachia and the South, that Thomas Sowell and the late Southern historian Grady McWhiney argue has historically been marked by higher levels of promiscuity, violence and impulsive behavior. This cultural inheritance, and not their Protestantism, probably helps to account for the poor family performance of nominal evangelicals.

McWhiney’s thesis was summarised in an article that appeared in the 4 March 1983 issue of the Miami Herald (an institution in a region that really dislikes “rednecks”):

At the heart of their (McWhiney and his University of Alabama colleague Forrest McDonald) besieged thesis is a contention that cultural differences between Yankees and southerners in pre-Civil War times and, so some extent, today can be traced to differences between the Celts, of Scotch [sic] or Irish extraction, who settled much of the South and the English, or Anglo-Saxons, who settled much of the North.

The Celts were a violent, rugged, rural, pastoral people who shunned other types of farming to raise hogs and potatoes, neither of which required much work.

“The Celts thought people were crazy to work if they didn’t have to.  If one could get a cow or a hog to earn a living for him, who grow plants?  Digging in the ground is hard work,” said McWhiney…

The two historians say their research shows antebellum southerners to be “more hospitable, generous, frank, courteous, spontaneous, militaristic, wasteful, lazy, lawless, impractical and reckless than northerners, who were in turn more reserved, shrewd, disciplined, enterprising, gauche, acquisitive, careful, frugal, ambitious, pacific and practical…”

In fact, they say, traits of their Celtic ancestors can be seen to this day in the boys of Dixie.

“God, yes.  The good ole boy is pretty much the incarnation of all these [Celtic] traits.  Look at his love of hunting and fishing, his attitude toward enjoying life and eating and drinking and his willingness to live a violent life if that’s what’s called for, his love of country music,” said McWhiney.

“One of the nicest letters we got was from Harper Lee (the Alabama author who won a Pulitzer Prize for the novel To Kill a Mockingbird), who said we explained from a scholarly point of view what she had always believed but never could give any authenticity to…”

One of the problems of some northern industries, McWhiney claims, is that they brought the myth of the southern work ethic and lured southerners northward to man factory assembly lines.

“Somebody quoted me as saying that Detroit is the Confederacy’s revenge,” he said.  “Bringing people out of the Deep South and Appalachia to man assembly lines in Detroit was not bringing people with a work ethic to Detroit.  They just brought their old junk cars and country music and honky-tonks and a desire not to work,” said McWhiney, who thinks the rocking chair should be symbol of the South.

Such was much of the inspiration of To Do The Work.

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