Carl Henry, a modern historical figure in the evangelical movement and the first editor of Christianity Today, is being honored at a conference this fall entitled “Remembering Carl Henry: Evangelicalism Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” I hope to apply the color-line thesis to Christianity Today’s reluctance to address the color-line problem during Henry’s tenure. I would like to juxtapose it to the liberal efforts of the Christian Century on matters of race. Think, I will get to read through decades of articles from both journals.I must note, however, that Christianity Today like so many other evangelical movement did eventually address the color line issue.
Category Archives: Religion
Below is a copy of the conference press release. I am working hard to get this paper as well as another one completed for journal submission.
— FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE —
The Saint James Conference 2013
Friday 14 June through Sunday 16 June
Saint James School, St. James, Maryland
“Revisiting the Problem of the Twentieth Century: Will Evangelical and
Faith-Based Schools Mend the Color Line in the Twenty-First Century?”
Mr. Edward Carson
Instructor, Department of History & Social Science
Houston Christian High School, Texas
“How We Make Christ Present in School Ministry”
The Rev. D. Stuart Dunnan, D.Phil (Oxon)
Rector & Headmaster
Saint James School, Maryland
“Tom Brown’s School Days, Thomas Arnold, and Classical Christian Education Today”
James Freeman, Ph.D
Headmaster, Alpine Classical School
Alpine, West Texas
“Christianity and Honor: A Traditional Concern in 21st-Century Schools”
David Hein, Ph.D, FRHistS
Professor of Religion & Philosophy
Hood College, Maryland
“The Demise of Compulsory Chapel in New England Boarding Schools”
Frederick Jordan, Ph.D
History Department Chair
Woodberry Forest School, Virginia
“Apostles of Education: The Role of the Bishops in Promoting Episcopal Schools, 1783 to 1873”
The Rev. Dr. Charles R. Henery
Formerly Helmuth Professor of Ecclesiastical History and the John Maury Allin Distinguished Professor of Homiletics, Nashotah House Theological Seminary, Wisconsin
Director of Spiritual Life, St.John’s-Northwestern Military Academy
A scholarly response and open Q & A will follow each paper presentation.
The Reverend W. L. “Chip” Prehn, Ph.D (Charlottesville)
Headmaster, Trinity School
Midland, West Texas
Saturday Afternoon Panelists
Father Dunnan, Father Henery, Dr. Freeman, Father F. Washington Jarvis, Dr. Jordan
The Reverend Dr. O. William Daniel, Jr.
Chaplain, Saint James School, Maryland
The Conference will begin with Evensong at 5:30 P.M. on Friday, June 14th.
Lodging and all meals will be provided on the Saint James campus.
The Conference will close on Sunday following Holy Eucharist and Brunch.
Saint James School is situated in the Great Valley of America, sixty-five miles northwest of Washington, D.C. Dulles is the nearest airport. The school is only six miles from the Sharpsburg/Antietam National Battlefield and quite close to the intersection of Interstate Highways 70 and 81. Historic Harper’s Ferry WV is also near.
The Purpose of the Saint James Conference
Founded in A.D. 2012 as part of the celebration of Father Stuart Dunnan’s twentieth anniversary as Headmaster of historic Saint James School, Maryland, the Saint James Conference is a gathering of friends, educators, and scholars from all over North America and abroad. Convening as Christians dedicated at once to the premier education of the whole person and to the historic Faith of the Church, conference participants will engage with scholars, worship and pray together, and enjoy the hospitality of Saint James School in beautiful Western Maryland. The campus is one of the most beautiful in America.
Most independent school educators attend conferences and workshops designed to give them state-of-the-art practical knowledge in one kind or another; for example, of educational psychology, of statistical studies, of educational anthropology, of curriculum development, of educational technology, of brain research, or of the latest tips on pedagogy. The Saint James Conference complements other kinds of professional development by affording educators the opportunity to gain insights and inspiration from the latest scholarship in the humanities, history, literature, classics, theology, philosophy, economics, biblical studies, and other disciplines considered under the aspect of liberal education and the liberal arts. New knowledge and interpretations in these fields can lead directly to conceptual changes in the world, and these conceptual changes do alter how we teach, how we learn, and how we relate to one another in and out of school. Thus it is crucial that we school folk consider these other disciplines in our continuing education.
The inaugural Conference in June 2012 was a most enjoyable fellowship of Christian focus, hearty conversation, solid learning, debate, and worthy inspiration. (The meals were delicious!) Said one Conference participant, “This was truly one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had in terms of professional development. It was not only high-toned and the papers were very stimulating, but the genuine camaraderie we enjoyed in just a few days was very useful to me as an independent school educator. This was a very special gathering.”
The Conference begins with Evensong at 5:30 P.M. on June 14th.
All participants and guests will find lodging and meals at Saint James School
and/or at the nearby Hagerstown Sleep Inn. The Conference is a great bargain!
For cost info, more details, and to register:
Saint James and the Church School Movement
Saint James School (1842) is the oldest Episcopal college preparatory school in the United States built on the unique and eminently successful “Church school” model established by William Augustus Muhlenberg (1796-1877) and his immediate protégés, John Barrett Kerfoot (1816-1883), Henry Augustus Coit (1830-1895), and J. Lloyd Breck (1818-1876). The movement began in 1828 on Long Island. The disciples founded Saint James, St. Paul’s in New Hampshire (1856), and the Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Minnesota (1858). Faculty from Saint James School founded not only St. Paul’s, Concord, but Saint Mark’s, Southborough MA (1865), Racine College in Wisconsin (1852), and other schools. The founders of Groton School in Massachusetts (1884), TMI-Episcopal in Texas (1893), the Pomfret School in Connecticut (1894), St. George’s School in Rhode Island (1896), St. Andrew’s School in Sewanee TN (1904), and the Kent School in Connecticut (1906) named Muhlenberg and his disciples the pioneers of their own philosophy and practice.
The image below–”Christmas in Georgia, 1916,” by Lorenzo Harris, and taken from the December 1916 issue of The Crisis (pp. 78-79). The caption reads: “Inasmuch as ye did unto the least of these, My brethren, ye did it unto Me.”
“Christ Recrucified” (1922)
The South is crucifying Christ again
Christ’s awful wrong is that he’s dark of hue
The sin for which no blamelessness atones;
But lest the sameness of the cross should tire,
They kill him now with famished tongues of fire,
And while he burns, good men, and women, too,
Shout, battling for his black and brittle bones.
“The Black Christ” (1929)
O Form immaculately born,
Betrayed a thousand times each morn,
As many times each night denied,
Surrendered, tortured, crucified!
That love which has no boundary;
Our eyes have looked on Calvary (135-136).
[Source: James H. Smylie, “Countee Cullen’s ‘The Black Christ,’” Theology Today38/2 (July 1981): 160-73]
Great interview with Edward Blum on Jesus, race, and politics. Blum notes that our depiction of Jesus in terms of color emerged only in the 19th century. Yes, Jesus was a colored man or a man of color.
As noted before, there are black Americans frustrated with Obama; however, their frustration is greatly different from that of white America. Blacks have made the mistake of claiming Obama to themselves. Many assumed that he would arrive and eradicate the injustices placed on them with his New Deal thinking. In return, blacks now realize that Obama cannot be that savior. The president of the US is a weak man. His powers are limited. Obama is the voice of all people, not just blacks. During the arrival of Jesus Christ, the Jews had been highly anticipating this great savior who would unleash His wrath. Yet, much like Obama, Christ was not what the Jews anticipated. Both are viewed as weak and passive by the very people that had been calling for them. In the case of Obama, he will not face being crucified by his own people — like that of Christ. Obama knows that he is the chosen one for a race of people that cannot depend on the conservative anti-New Deal thinking that exists within a Republican Party that ushers to a certain class and race.
…does it really matter? For some Americans — yes, it does matter; however, for others — it does not. Black Americans are going through a religious transformation, one predicated on class; a topic I will continue to blog about.
Jesus Christ has been portrayed in a number of ways and by a number of groups. As religious scholar Stephen Prothero noted in his American Jesus: There is a Jesus Christ in all of us, regardless if one is a believer or non-believer. Jesus is ubiquitous in American culture, as seen and/or heard in movies, art work, and musical lyrics. I recall a post written on this blog by Turner Batdorf, in which he noted how Family Guy uses religion to drive its point: “One of Family Guy’s biggest targets is American Protestantism and the values that the average American calls American values, despite its Puritan origin. Family Guy’s approach to Protestantism is simple: to make God and Jesus look as silly and ridiculous as possible…. On a consistent basis, Family Guy portrays God as a womanizer, a drunk, and someone not able to control his powers.”
Though the American landscape has become keenly aware of the comical nature of Jesus, it still struggles at times with the more complex avenues of who is God, as painted by academicians. The question of race and God is cemented among the most divisive topics. I recall once a conversation by a white female who stated how disappointed she would be to die and find out that God is black. In an earlier post, I noted historian Edward Blum’s Jesus — as depicted by W.E.B Du Bois. I wrote that Blum discusses the Gospel according to Mary Brown and her child Joshua, who represent one of Du Bois’s black biblical characters who found comfort among those who were societal outcasts. He, who was [the black] Jesus Christ, marched with the poor, with sinners, and communists; however, this Christ was not embraced by whites. Better yet, this Christ was lynched by the white South because they could not accept a Christ that accepted all people, especially the American Negro. Because of this, Joshua was killed by the very people who awaited him – the Christian South. I often wonder about the thought processes of religious bigots who believe their God will accept them into His kingdom as a hater of people. I suspect many Christians do not realize they are destined to the one place they are trying to avoid, Hell. Furthermore, much of the historical literature paints a deeply racist American South in which Christians often attend Church in the morning, only to lynch blacks in the evening.
As noted by Prothero, Americans have their own image of God. That became clear when Morgan Freeman portrayed God in the hit movie Bruce Almighty. According to a New York Times article:
At this point, there’s a little bit of God in everything Freeman does. It’s as if he has transcended race by transcending human frailty. He seems less like an actor and more like an emissary from some higher, more decorous plane, which makes him the ideal host for a show like “Through the Wormhole,” a brisk and accessible primer on the various ways that today’s way-out-there science is becoming indistinguishable from science fiction.
Though not all Americans embrace the notion of a black God, it has been noted that many white Americans believe Morgan Freeman is God. This clearly supports what the NY Times article stated: Regardless of race, Freeman transcends race in a way that very few can. For most people, God has long been this old white-haired man with a long white beard. But that image has shifted. God is now Morgan Freeman; he is the first image that comes to mind when one ponders the image of God. Thus, God is not black, white, Asian, or Hispanic. This simply means I must revise the title of this post to God is not Black. God is Morgan Freeman, an actor who has been able to transcend race. Freeman makes us forget about race.
I have a few thoughts regarding John Fea’s book, which I have yet to read, but a copy is on the way. I take what I think is a very academic and accurate position on Fea’s book title and question. However, I have elected to first read the book before constructing a post about it. I will say that I do teach this matter from two schools of thought: A classical Marxist perspective and that of Max Weber. Though both are diametrically opposed to the other, they do draw many of the same conclusions. However, the processes and intent are very different. Fea discussed this at his blog.
Brad Hart has written a thoughtful review of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction at American Creation blog. Here is a taste:
Was America founded to be a “Christian Nation?” Did its founders endeavor to create a nation where Christ and Cross were joined hand-in-hand with the Constitution? And if so, how is America’s current makeup in harmony/defiance with the “original intent” of our nation’s Founding Fathers? These are just some of the questions addressed by John Fea, historian and author of the book, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction. With the current climate of today’s culture wars, which seem more interested in mud-slinging, name-calling and partisan hostility than honest scholarly inquiry, Dr. Fea’s book is a breath of fresh air that cuts through the nonsense with its sharp historical foundation.
Turner Batdorf was one of my top American Studies students for the 2010-2011 year; he is a student in my AP European History course. One of the themes discussed in this course was that of religion and popular culture. Turner reviewed a number of academic articles on the dynamics of the American family and religion, while analyzing countless episodes of Family Guy in constructing this essay
The way the American family works and the typical values that are associated with various members of the family define not only what pop cultural portrays and mocks, but also the values influenced by Puritanism. But how does one possibly summarize the American family into simple roles for each individual and a set of specific values for the family to follow as a whole? Scholars of the typical American family, a middle class white family, have tried to define it, yet have always discovered that no family is the perfect model because every family is dysfunctional. While Puritanism describes the work ethic the father should possess to provide for his family and put a moral code into place for the family, not everyone is going to be able to follow that code. The Cosby Show, which portrays the “ideal family” consisting of smart, studious kids, a hard working father, a caring mother, and little to no problems involving drugs, alcohol, or violence is unrealistic. No family in America is like the Cosby’s because every family is dysfunctional. In his creation of Family Guy, Seth McFarlane “uses ‘uncomfortable humor’… by taking advantage of generalizations with stereotypes, race, and sex” (Employing Comedy: Family Guy). McFarlane is not afraid to show the flaws of the typical family, although sometimes he does in exaggeration. Ultimately, McFarlane tries to show how the family is, not how it should be, thus making the show directed toward the mockery of not only the typical middle class man, but also what he believes in.
One of Family Guy’s biggest targets is American Protestantism and the values that the average American calls American values, despite its Puritan origin. Family Guy’s approach to Protestantism is simple: They want to make God and Jesus look as silly and ridiculous as possible. Some people might say that this would drive away a large American audience, but in no way is that the case. Family Guy allows them to look at their own views and laugh at them from another perspective. While one person may have his own beliefs that define the way he lives his life, the show invokes humor by making the guy laugh and say, “Wow, that is horrible.” Though it may be looked at as “a light-hearted, yet potentially hurtful strategy” (Employing comedy: Family Guy), the show allows the viewer to not be offended by a lot of the humor because the characters are animated. While Peter may represent the average, stupid American, he is not real, and thus, his comments or actions cannot be taken personally, despite one not agreeing with what the show is saying.
American values obviously had to have an origin, as it is very improbable that the laws of our country do not originate around some random Moral Law. Therefore, when one looks at the most important documents of the United States, such as The Declaration or The Constitution, one sees that these documents make reference to a God, mainly because the majority of the nation’s founding fathers were wealthy Puritans. Therefore, the United States naturally adopted a Protestant value system. In their article, “American Moral Exceptionalism,” Uhlmann, Poehlman, and Bargh argue that, “one does not have to be an American Protestant to exhibit implicit responses consistent with traditional Puritan- Protestant values. One may only have to be an American” (Uhlmann, Poehlman, and Bargh). Because American values relate back to Puritanism, God and Jesus become easy targets for Family Guy.
On a consistent basis, Family Guy portrays God as a womanizer, a drunk, and someone not able to control his powers. For example, in “Blind Ambition,” God approaches a girl and lights her cigarette with his finger, to which he says, “Yeah. I got the magic fingers.” Then, God points and winks, setting her on fire. In response, God screams, “Jesus Christ!” and Jesus appears; God then says, “Quick, get in the Escalade; we’re out of here!” In another episode, “Death has a Shadow,” God is shown the audience at church. When the priest reads the story of Job, God responds by sighing and saying, “Oh crap, I hate when they tell this story.” While comments on You Tube would show that even Christians admit to their humor, a few parent organizations disagree. For example, “The Parents Television Council, a watchdog group founded by L. Brent Bozell III of the Media Research Center, has been outspoken in his opposition to the portrayal of God and other religious figures on Family Guy. Several times, the PTC has deemed the show ‘The Worst Show of the Week’ specifically due to the portrayal of God in a gag or longer sequence” (God). While they were upset namely by the episode, “The Courtship of Stewie’s Father,” where God is shown in bed, about to have sex with a girl (God), the portrayal of God is very similar to the rest of the episodes.
Jesus, on the other hand, is portrayed as a magician. In “I Dream of Jesus,” Peter buddies up with Jesus, who is on Earth because he “visits every once in a while.” Upon first having dinner with the Griffins, Jesus says, “I’m actually glad you are all here tonight. I want to tell you that one of you will betray me… ha! Just kidding!” Peter then replies, “Haha, he is doing that thing he did in the storybook,” obviously showing Peter’s lack of religion. Throughout the episode Jesus walks on water, snaps his fingers to make ice cream sundaes appear, and, upon the request of Peter, makes his wife Lois’, breasts much bigger. He then reveals himself to be truly the Messiah, and goes off without Peter, to party and be a celebrity. While it is true that Peter is definitely not shown to be religious by his “storybook” remark, Jesus is a target for Family Guy because, as Stephen Prothero would argue, he is present in every American’s life, no matter what his or her religion is.
A theistic creation is also mocked in “Airport 07.” In the episode, Peter Griffin attempts to explain the origin of the Earth to his family. The show depicts a logical transition from lizard to dinosaur, to show evolution, and then proceeds to show a genie, emerge from the same water that the lizard came out of, and nod her head to create the rest of life, to show creationism. This is only after God creates the universe by lighting a fart, thus the “Big Bang”.
So what does this show about pop culture and our society as a whole? Although he claims that Seth McFarlane is an atheist, James Snare, from Hillis Bible Church, states in his article, “What should a Christian’s Response be to Pop Culture” that, “The irony is that their [Family Guy’s] mockery and satire has probably done more to bring Jesus and Christianity into the minds of Generation Y than most preachers in the world (Jesus has appeared in Family Guy in 19 episodes and that doesn’t include appearances made by God or other biblical characters). Generation Y is a generation that is deeply interested in spirituality yet many of its members have almost no experience with the Church, let alone any conception of who the biblical Jesus Christ is… If we as Christians remove ourselves from the pop culture discussion by only condemning portrayals of Christ like those mentioned above then the only conception of Christ that many members of Generation Y have are those which the likes of Family Guy shows them… if we fail to recognize the awesome opportunity that pop-culture depictions of Christ and Christianity are giving us to engage with a culture that ordinarily shirks at the name of Jesus, then we ignore Paul’s lesson at the Areopagus to engage a culture in a language they understand in order to preach to them a message they desperately need to hear” (Snare). While Snare may offer a good point on the positives that the humor has for Christianity and does agree that McFarlane “is not out to destroy Christianity” (Snare), it does not explain why Christians find the jokes humorous. One could argue, that for starters, Christians laughing at these jokes show that the public is generally accepting of jokes that target the beliefs of a large audience. While there may be a few groups that are very upset by the mockery of God, Jesus, or Christianity on Family Guy, there has been no effort to remove the show, nor has there been any shortage of the amount of puns intended toward God.
That being said, does this make America more or less Protestant? On one hand, one could agree with Uhlmann, Poehlman, and Bargh that “popular media designed to shock and titillate may not always reflect the average American’s explicit moral values” (Uhlmann, Poehlman, and Bargh 29). But one could easily argue that Family Guy shows America to be more Protestant, as jokes towards other religions are definitively used less frequently, mainly because people are nervous or uncomfortable about laughing at a group that they are not a part of because they do not want to offend someone. This relates a lot to the use of the word “Nigger.” A lot of times, it is white people who are against using the “N-word” in the classroom and the Blacks more for it, just like a the average Protestant American is okay about laughing at himself, but uneasy about laughing at jokes that target someone else of a different group. Therefore, the constant mockery of God displays that Family Guy is continuing its strategy of allowing people to laugh at themselves, and, thus, shows America to be truly Protestant.
Along with the element of religion, Family Guy depicts the societal norms and values of the typical middle-class man in Peter Griffin. As Family Guy takes on a different approach in portraying the family, one must question why so many people find it humorous. Do people laugh at the show’s constant mockery of minorities and social misfits, such as homosexuals, minority races, especially Blacks and Hispanics, and the mentally disabled, or is there a broader approach to what Family Guy is trying to appeal to in popular culture? More specifically, could it be that by making fun of minorities and social misfits, Family Guy is mocking the common man’s stereotypes and viewpoints of these groups? It is exactly through the creation of Peter Griffin that his stupidity allows us to laugh at the common man. For example, in the episode “Family Gay”, Peter is short on money, and thus signs up for experimental drugs. He receives the “gay gene” and ends up changing his clothes, the way he talks and walks, and in the process, invokes every stereotype that society has of the homosexual, White male. But, what is to be noted is that Family Guy is not making fun of gay people, but of Christians, who oppose the idea that there is a gay gene and believe that being homosexual is immoral. This precisely demonstrates that “Family Guy’s spontaneous and sometimes foolish attitude is effective because it targets a general audience to either laugh at themselves or laugh at another specific audience” (Employing Comedy: Family Guy). But this all generates around McFarlane’s idea to not portray the ideal American family but show how the common, White American thinks, and, more importantly, his faults.
There is no doubt that Peter is ignorant, socially unacceptable, and often, acts in ways that would peg him as a bad father. In fact, he is either rude or acts inappropriately to all of his children. For example, in “And the Weiner is,” Peter becomes very self-conscious and basically disowns his oldest son, Chris, because Chris has a larger penis than Peter. On another occasion (“Blind Ambition”), Peter becomes temporarily blind and waltzes into Chris’ bedroom, thinking it his own, climbs into bed with Chris, and mutters, “That’s right Lois, I’m your daddy. Shush, shush. Don’t talk Lois. Don’t talk. Just let me do all the work. Feel my warm breath on the nape of your neck, my hands on your big, soft boobs, running down your man-like chest… Holy crap, it’s Chris!” Peter, embarrassed, leaves the room, and is heard in the next room, saying “Honey, are you awake?” and is responded to by his other son, Stewie, an infant, yelling, “What the Deuce?”
This is also not the only time Peter mistreats Stewie. While wishing he was a mother, fat Peter caresses Stewie in his arms and breast-feeds him until Stewie realizes that there is one of Peter’s chest hairs in his mouth (“I am Peter, Here me Roar”). But, Chris and Stewie do not even get the worst of Peter’s immature behavior towards his kids. Meg, his daughter is constantly the receiver of the harshest puns. Primarily, one of Peter’s catchphrases on the show is, “Shut Up, Meg!” Also, Peter ravages Meg with disgusting behavior, like in “The Tan Aquatic with Steve Zissou”, where Peter runs around the kitchen after Meg farting in her face and laughing, until she falls on the floor and vomits, to which Peter replies, “Oh, not in the kitchen, Meg!”
But, when looking at the character of Peter Griffin, it is important to note that he has good intentions, and, while stupid, attempts to do the right thing on a daily basis. In all the examples sited, Peter has no intention of harming his children. He lacks basic common sense and maturity, and thus, finds humor in things like farts, wants to be a loving mother, and only “molests” his children as a result of his blindness. He feels threatened by Chris’ larger penis because he wants to feel like the man of the house, the provider just like middle class family ideology would dictate that the man is supposed to be the provider. But, while viewers find Peter’s worst moments to be the most humorous, and thus, the writers exaggerate the flaws of Peter and make them seen by the view more regularly, Peter still displays qualities that society would find admirable. A great example is seen in the first episode of the series, “Death Has a Shadow”. The episode begins with Peter wanting to go to a stag party that his wife, Lois, is opposed to because of his irresponsibility when there is drinking taking place. She reminds him of the time he got drunk of the communion wine and said, “Whoa, is this really the blood of Christ? He must have been wasted twenty-four hours a day, huh?”, the time he got drunk off of butter-rum ice cream and passed out, and the time he got drunk at the movie Philadelphia and said, “I got it, that’s is the guy from Big. Tom Hanks, I love this guy. Everything he says is a stitch. (Tom Hanks: I have Aids) Haha!”. But Peter persists, saying authoritatively, “As the father of this household, I demand you to give me permission to go to the stag party.” “The oxymoronic nature of this statement is the “demand for permission” between two mutually accepting married people (Employing Comedy: Family Guy), and shows that while being the man of the house, Peter still has respect for his wife (In fact, the only time Peter ever cheats on Lois is after everyone thinks she is dead). But, Peter ends up going to the stag party, promising not to drink, and then under the poor influence of his friends, drinks “twenty-six beers, a new family record, thus raising the bar for his son, Chris.” Peter loses his job as a result and begins to worry about how he will tell his wife. He does this because Peter, being a good father and husband, wants to provide for his family. He invokes his welfare and begins to receive an inordinate amount of money from the government, an obvious mistake. But, he remains mute on the subject, buying excessive material gifts for his family until his wife becomes extremely angry with him. After realizing his mistake, Peter attempts to receive forgiveness from the both government and his wife, and states, “I cheated the government, and worst of all, I lied to my wife, and she deserves better”, showing that Peter does possess genuinely good qualities and intentions, despite his incompetence.
Peter is not a racist, as seen in his friendship with Cleveland, a Black man and does not discriminate against the handicapped, as seen in his friendship with Joe. He is against adultery and does not have any resentment towards upper class people despite his desire to be one. This is seen in his numerous attempts to befriend Lois’s rich father. Despite his lack of intelligence and bad decision-making, it is next to impossible for someone to find Peter Griffin, the exaggerated depiction of the flawed, middle class American, to be completely immoral.
That being said, how does Peter fit into the role of the father according to the scholars of the family? Eggebeen and Knoester claim in their article, “Does Fatherhood Matter to Men”, that men who are fathers are not only more dedicated to the work place, but also spend less hours working (Eggebeen and Knoester 384). If this is true of the typical middle class father, it is much easier to place Peter Griffin in the category of good fathers. There is no question that Peter wants to be a provider; after getting fired in “Death has a Shadow”, Peter tries numerous jobs, although failing in a lot of them. But, does that make him a bad father? No, it only displays his inabilities. In at least one episode, Peter attempts to bond with each of his children, including Meg, a child who a lot of viewers assume he hates. Additionally, upon becoming rich, he buys whatever his children want, all as a way of Peter trying to show his love. There may not be a great example of the Protestant work ethic in Peter, but he does attempt to provide for his family. He also revolves his goals around consumerism, just Family Guy is trying to depict of the typical American. But Peter fails is in his lack of control and minimal change upon becoming a father. Eggebeen and Knoester hypothesize that fatherhood should make a man reduce his risky behavior, such as a drinking, drug use, and smoking. As seen in the example from “Death has a Shadow”, Peter drinks a lot (twenty-six beers), and Peter could be setting a bad influence for his children, especially his sons. Stewie, is shown to have gotten drunk on occasion and there is an episode devoted to Chris doing a new drug the kids are using called “toad.” But, again, what rationalizes Peter is that he does try to think about his family, except that it comes after he has done something stupid. In “Death has a Shadow”, Peter sleeps on the kitchen table after the stag party, to avoid waking up his wife. And in the instance of Chris, Peter works hard to stop the use of “toad,” not only within his household, but also in the school itself. While his lack of social skills may get the best of him and determine how he treats his children, Peter’s fatherly work ethic, his will to provide for his family, and his respect for doing the right thing display that he is a good replication of the American value driven father.
For me, Family Guy, simply put, is humorous; I watch Family Guy because I find it funny. While I do agree that sentiment behind the humor is sometimes inappropriate, and I do often wonder why I am laughing at puns that are degrading to not only other people, but also me, I applaud what Seth McFarlane has attempted to put forward in the making of his show. Family Guy makes fun of me, the average American in many ways. As a Christian, I am targeted with the God and Jesus puns; my favorite music has been targeted, like when a character gave a Maroon 5 record to Meg and told her that “she would like it because he knew that she liked terrible music”; and above all else, I can find myself relating to the characters, especially Peter, even though he is simple-minded, to say the least. While Peter is immature, he makes up for his mistakes with a genuine care for his family, proving him to actually be a “Family Guy”. While the theme song is ironic, singing, “What ever happened to those good old fashioned values on which we used to rely?” and, yet, still displays excessive amounts of violence and sex, there is definitely a sense of values underlying in the Griffin family, namely those that actually do relate back to Protestantism. While the show is inappropriate, I must give credit to McFarlane, as he succeeded in creating the perfectly dysfunctional and highly immoral, Protestant value driven family.
Rev. Peter Gomes passed away; if you are not familiar with Rev. Gomes, he is worth reading about. I have read two of his books; in recent, I read The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus. I am not sure many would call him an academic, but his point of view vis-à-vis Christianity was profound. Regardless, he was scholarly. Gomes made headlines in recent years by a) endorsing the Republican Party and b) announcing that he was a homosexual. Due to the problem of homophobia in the black community, this was a surprise. Also, being a black homosexual Republican is an oddity in and of itself. I was fortunate enough to hear the late Harvard Chaplin speak while doing some work at Princeton six years ago. I was beyond impressed. Two books and a number of articles later, I can easily say his death is unfortunate to the rest of us.
Karl Marx was not a nationalist nor a spiritual person like that of Georg Hegel, who found the Lutheran faith to be the highest form of religion in a man’s life. If one were to look beyond the exile of the Catholic church, during the early stages of the French Revolution, historical analysis would show a vibrant relationship between religion and nationalism. Marx, unlike Hegel, saw religion as a seductive force; it was an element that, as other Marxists scholars have noted, served as another means of exploiting the means of the masses. As noted in his Opium of the People:
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
Marx’s thesis, of class consciousness and class conflict, continues to be relevant today. Though Paul Gottfried’s The Strange Death of Marxism addressed the political shift of the left in relation to societal constructs, Marxism continues to be a significant school of thought in a world divided by class, race, gender, and national interest. Academic disciplines continue to focus on conflicts within society as they seek to explain economic interest in a pluralistic society. And yes, I do believe pluralism is a highly ubiquitous ideology that shapes the social and cultural make-up of the American polity.
But, if Marx had his doubts about the seductive force of religion, on the masses, he would contend that exploitation of any type is exploitation. Not only did Marx see forces of economic interest as being dangerous, the church (Catholic and Protestant) also voiced its concerns about agents that exploit. In a recent class discussion on capitalism, I told my macroeconomics class that Marx would be opposed to both a state lottery system, and casinos. As a self-professed liberal, I too do not favor the lottery or casinos. Here is the problem: politicians support legalizing casino gambling and the lottery because they are influenced by special interest. Many claim it will generate revenue for the state and create jobs; in truth, both exploit the poor, lead to more crime, and increase unemployment. The lottery is an indirect tax. I realize that it is a tax one does not have to pay, but if you are low on the socioeconomic scale, it is easy to be seduced by the possibility of cashing in quick for greater earnings.
In addition, education plays a major role in this matter. If you are poor and have a limited education, the seductive forces of the opium of gambling, will be hard to reject. A man works hard all week to earn a pay check, yet that check is not enough to make ends meet. Thus, he seeks to “earn” additional wages by handing that check over to a casino with the hope of getting rich. Casinos represents the bourgeoisie’s efforts at exploiting the poor. Once that hardworking man surrenders that check, he is granted a credit card to buy alcohol, rent a room, have dinner, and gamble with money he does not have. In the end, he leaves the casino in debt.
This is not an unusual predicament of classic exploitation. Spend time in a poor black inner-city neighborhood. You will see pawn shops, liquor stores, and porn shops. All of which are owned by the same class of people who own casinos and lobby politicians to legislate a state lottery. Their justification: lottery dollars will be used to improve the education of blacks in the inner-city. Special interests always look to states like Georgia and Mississippi as a reason for why it works. I am not convinced. The church is not convinced, as noted by John McArthur, who outlines the sins of gambling here. My two favorite points are 1.) it preys on the weak and 2.) it is part of the sin of materialism. Marx would draw this exact conclusion, too.
I do not think this is an ideological matter; I was a bit shocked that many of my students disagreed with me. They argued that it is a choice. In a society that is made up of freedoms and economic expansion, people have the right to enhance their earnings…be it the casino owner or the uninformed poor person looking to improve his lifestyle. They have the right to hold such a position. It is not my job to change my student’s minds; however, it is my job to present the historical evidence that proves otherwise.
I have already placed my order for this work; I am thinking that once I get started on it, I will periodically post questions and thoughts regarding race, faith, and class in America here at The Professor. I am set to start reading this work. If you are interested, I am thinking about organizing a scheduled discussion via The Professor. Email me or leave a comment regarding your interest. You can order it here.
Here is a summary:
Both religion and race have played important — and sometimes deeply interconnected — roles in American history. Religion was used to justify both slavery and abolition; likewise it was used to justify both segregation and desegregation. Today even conservative Christians support equality between the races, but that doesn’t mean that everything is settled or peaceful. In truth, evangelical Christianity continues to reinforce racial divides.
I was elated to be a participant with a former Muslim, Deist, and Hindu during Houston Christian’s most recent chapel program; if you are unfamiliar with this concept, our campus gathers once a week in the Pampell Chapel, as seen below. The spiritual component is one of a triumvirate of categories that describes campus life. The other two are found in our academics and extracurriculars: theater, sports, musicals, etc.
I expressed to my fellow panelists, students, and colleagues that being raised an agnostic, I had a distinct point of view regarding the concept of the Trinity. Furthermore, this point of view was shaped by three distinct elements: race, class, and family socialization. Though unusual to encounter southern blacks with no religious association, that was the case in my home. We never spoke ill about people of faith, however, we never endorsed any type of mythical cosmological belief, either. The natural notion of black religion is one encompassed by southern politics and race relations. Black folks used the church as a gathering place to discuss their plight. They also used the church as a reference mark to draw upon both community and spiritual matters. I noted to the audience that my agnosticism grew out of ignorance and anger. The anger was predicated on the fact that there was such a vast inconsistency among Christians in my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. There was a church on every corner of the block, but none of them were “fully” integrated faith bodies. Moreover, to hear the words and watch the racism of southerners in the so-called Bible belt added greater doubt to my faith.
I sought societal answers regarding matters of race and class from black intellectuals such as Richard Wright; it was my reading of Wright’s Native Son, that cast a veil across my eyes; I never could see matters in terms of faith, just in terms of race and class. Wright’s association with the communist party caught my youthful curiosity, as he and other great thinkers desired a more ideological answer for the social ills. Those ills were promulgated by racism and classism. Wright’s figurative character Bigger Thomas also wrestled with the complexity of faith, as he watched Christians seek to lynch him from his jail cell. Though Bigger had committed serious injustices, one might contend that factors such as race and class drove Bigger to be a criminal; in Wright’s egalitarian world, Bigger would have been saved by the humanity of communists, not by the inhumane actions of a material world. Though paradoxical, Wright saw a world that advocated both Jesus Christ and racism.
I admired the likes of Wright, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Ralph Ellison as a young student. I saw in them what many of my Christian friends saw in Jesus Christ: answers to a better world. For me, my answers did not come from a mythical man born of a virgin. A man who cannot be accounted for between the ages 13 to 30; I needed greater answers to address complex questions. Faith alone was not rational enough for a young student that lacked emotion; I was not driven by sad lyrical music about Jesus; I thought spiritual songs were something designed to elicit emotions. And, I was not moved by anecdotal testimonies regarding my peer’s faith. Though I grew in my faith, it was a matter of transformation. This transformation was not dictated by my parents; it was in accords with my own curiosity. In my next post, I will address my thoughts on the Trinity and Unitarianism.
As you read this post and view the short video clips, consider the following points and feel free to email me or leave a comment as part of the discussion.
1. Based on the historical makings of American culture, can one study contemporary society as it relates to religion without a discussion about race and class?
2. If the world is indeed religious, why do some fail to conflate various faiths and ideological views into one conclusion, as MLK JR and many of his followers have done?
3. Is Christianity indeed socialistic at heart? Feel free to view a previous post on Liberation Theology (click here).
Mark Noll, a prominent scholar of American religion and one that I have heard deliver conference papers before at historical society meetings, contends that the black civil rights era took hold circa 1960 once the black church organized and used Christianity to articulate change to the American segregated way of life. However, many black academics such as students of Martin Luther King Jr., advocated socialism and Hinduism too, as a method to eradicate American racism. As I have noted before here at The Professor, I have long admired the intellectualism of King, which is often lost among many. King’s complexities, are at times, subject to a mere conversation about his great speeches, but I believe his thoughts on the economy and war are more impressive.
King was heavily criticized by some for being an advocate for the distribution of wealth; I am not sure why that surprises so many seeing that blacks encompass a large body of the poor. Moreover, advocating a welfare state that merges with the ideology of the black church, allowed for radical activism in a pacifist way. Furthermore, this attitude shaped by elements of Hinduism, socialism, and Christianity created a birth of change. This was a clear reflection of black intolerance to global imperialism that collapsed due to decolonization, as well as the demise of Jim Crow America.
King believed that the plight of poor whites and poor blacks would create a unified construct that would push society pass the element of race and class, and closer to a more egalitarian society. Some contend that it is at this point in which various religious faiths and socialism are conflated.
Moreover, Noll goes on to address the relationship between blacks and the federal government that promulgated a systematic change; he contends that Americans excepted the expansion of government in this arena, but not in its decisions that created a greater gap between church and state.
I used the above picture during my week-long summer history institutes, as well as in my US history classes to illustrate the notion of American terrorism, religion, and white supremacy during Reconstruction. It seems that many believe the KKK existed before Reconstruction — but that is simply not the case. Whites seeking to recapture the South in the name of God and white supremacy sought to terrorize blacks and sympathetic whites. If you look at the image carefully, it portrays a change of the guard. At one point, blacks were enslaved thus controlled by environmental factors that worked against them. After the 13th Amendment, blacks were legally emancipated.
I am very careful in my class to illustrate to students that the KKK took on this role and act of terrorism in the name of Christianity; however, the reality regardless of their justifications is one that does not speak towards Christianity. The United States consist of a number of hate groups. Many of them claim to be doing the will of God. In truth, we as Americans know this is not the case. Moreover, Americans recognize that said groups only undermine the mission and faith of many loyal followers of Jesus Christ. Before 9/11, the worst act of terrorism to take hold on American soil was that of the Oklahoma City bombing; it was here that Timothy McVeigh invoked an act of terrorism on innocent Americans. Later, he will claim that he was driven to do so because it was God’s will. In a 2001 Time Magazine interview, he states:
Time: Are you religious?
McVeigh: I was raised Catholic. I was confirmed Catholic (received the sacrament of confirmation). Through my military years, I sort of lost touch with the religion. I never really picked it up, however I do maintain core beliefs.
Time: Do you believe in God?
McVeigh: I do believe in a God, yes. But that’s as far as I want to discuss. If I get too detailed on some things that are personal like that, it gives people an easier way [to] alienate themselves from me and that’s all they are looking for now.
I use the above examples to state that it would seem asinine for non-Christians to protest against a group of Christians wanting to build a church a block from where the old federal building once stood, simply because McVeigh was an American terrorist and Christian. I suspect that non-Christians realize the acts of McVeigh and other hate groups do not reflect the Christian community. So, if that is the case, then why are so many non-Muslims against the Manhattan mosque? I am sure such Americans realize that this center will be a showcase of hope and freedom.
By allowing Muslims to construct an Islamic center in Manhattan, Americans will be showing the world that we do stand behind the 1st Amendment of the Constitution and its values. The United States is not Iran…a state that would never allow a Christian center. Also, Americans might just weaken radical Islamic terrorist groups by allowing such a center to teach what is good and virtuous about the Qu’ ran and its 1 billion followers. I do believe this center is a good thing for both the Muslim and non-Muslim community. This is not an Obama matter; it is not a liberal or conservative matter; it is both a moral and Constitutional matter.
A number of independent schools and colleges are now offering “studies” courses in areas such as Islamic studies. This academic endeavour along with cultural centers, such as the Islamic mosque, are necessary in a world made up of highly devout Muslims.
Mark A. Elrod, Harding University, Convener: “Social Networking and Christian Education”
- Jeff Baker, Thomas Goode Jones School of Law School: Panelist
- Edward Carson, Houston Christian: Panelist
- Stephanie Eddleman, Harding University: Panelist
- Michael Lasley, Pepperdine University: Panelist
- Jim Miller, Harding University: Panelist
The Christian Scholars’ Conference yesterday at Lipscomb University was great; it is not officially over until Saturday. The panel I served on gave a presentation on social networking in the academy. Dr. Mark Elrod, professor of political science at Harding University, chaired our panel. The chemistry of the panel worked well. I sensed no egos among the group. Furthermore, each member’s humbleness and desire to hear the rest of the panel was clearly noted. I believe the chemistry of the group derived from a common purpose: A.) Mark Elrod, every one’s favorite professor while a student in the history/ political science department at Harding, chaired the panel B.) We all know each other in some way: Jeff Baker of Faulkner University, Michael Lasley of Pepperdine University, and Jim Miller of Harding University – all graduated with me in the late nineties C.) There is a Church of Christ relationship due to the religious nature of our Christian backgrounds and our interest in Christian education. In the end, we all have academic jobs at schools we enjoy teaching at.
Professor Elrod opened the session by addressing the purpose of social networking and academic work in the academy; he outlined his talk by stating three points:
- If you are going to blog, find an arena that works. He went on to state that in the technology world of today, there are two populations. The first being technology immigrants (people such as me who did not use the Internet until college), and technology natives (the students I teach).
- If one seeks to blog, should it be public or private? I have elected to make my blog public, realizing that at times I post topics that might be unpopular – though that is never my intent. This point here lends itself to the title of my paper: The Harkness of the Faculty.
- Should one be open or anonymous?
Professor Jeff Baker discussed the impact of social networking on the position of authority. His premise dealt with the democratization social networking brings to the academy. Hence, how and to what extent might such a medium like Facebook redefine the relationship between teacher and student? Because Jeff teaches at a law school, he mentioned as well as the other panelist, that social networking has become a teaching tool. He finds himself teaching 24/7 due to the legal clinic he directs. Others stated very few students come by for face-to-face time during their campus hours of availability.
Above: I have dropped an additional 15 lbs in my quest to qualify for the Boston Marathon. My jacket is huge. Here I am pontificating about the nature of academic work within the confines of teaching at a Christian school. I spoke a great deal about blogging and why I blog, as noted here. I am expanding this topic for the NAIS conference to address the significance of faculty autonomy and voice within an independent school community. I might touch on topics such as faculty retirement and its meaning to school culture, as discussed here. I will co-author a paper and deliver a presentation on this matter at NAIS with Donald Morrison, an upper school administrator at Tampa Prep.
I started my paper off by addressing three basic questions when it comes to academic blogging:
- What are the challenges non-tenured academics and those who exist on a year-to-year contract face when deciding to blog?
- What are the main concerns facing academics who decide to expose their identity?
- What impact might blogs have on one seeking tenure or to obtain a position at a Christian institution?
In my introduction, I stated:
Addressing matters of faculty, academic voice, tenure, and promotion has long been an interest of my blog; I do believe that good schools — be it a university, boarding, or day school can be measured in status by the intellectual freedom and voice permitted on its campus. Honestly, this is what separates schools from one tier to the next. Often time schools want to break into the top-tier of schools not realizing that it is the collection of faculty members that makes a school … as well as a healthy endowment and good students. Furthermore, the promotion of ideas and diversity of thought promotes a democratic campus in which decisions are made by committee and the faculty. This concept has long shared a role with social networking and independent thought.
In Preparation for this paper, I sent out a survey assessing the extent to which faculty members at independent schools participate in academic networking and academic life. On my campus I found that 55% of teachers rarely read journals in their field, while 35% do so but frequently. 10% never read journals. Many teachers at HCHS prefer books to that of journals. In truth, I read three different journals in my field, but I do so as a means of reading book reviews. As much as I read, I do not read as much as my students think I read. They ask me how I know so much about so many recent works. I honestly tell them that I read book reviews. Faculty members collectively stated that they do attend conferences and seek them as an important means of communicating with others in their field. Moreover, the content and information gained from attending conferences contributes not only to their own intellectual growth, but it serves as an important means toward how they approach their teaching. 40% of my colleagues stated that they attend conferences annually and with great interest. While, only 15% stated they do not due to time constraints and financial matters.
The most interesting part of the survey I conducted for this paper dealt with electronic networking. While a number of faculty members still maintain most of their academic contacts through email, students have shifted away from this medium as a means of communication. Students prefer Facebook or texting to that of email. 90% of my colleagues stated that they prefer email to Twitter and Facebook. Though, most did state that they are not familiar with Twitter. 85 % of all faculty members I surveyed nationally were either very familiar or familiar with Facebook. 70% of all faculty members including those on my campus stated that they use Facebook, but not for academic networking. Thus, discussing the nature of politics of Aristotelian theology is not a Facebook topic. On the other hand, administrators and campus leaders view Facebook as a means of maintaining contact with alums and perspective students.
In professor Stephanie Eddleman’s paper, she noted that academic blogging is a means of sharing both her faith and teaching interest with students. Her blog is an extension of her classroom, as noted by all members of the panel. Blogs can be used to enhance one’s research, teaching, and ability to communicate with students and colleagues in a non-traditional venue, as noted by professor Lasley — who likes to use blogs as teaching a tool when it comes to writing. But this too brings about challenges when discussing academic life and academic work. Professor Jim Miller of Harding University, pointed out that a recent study found that students and many adults experience withdraw to the likes of being an alcoholic, when asked to give up emails, Twitter, blogging, and texting for a day. Jeff Baker commented that he and his wife have even adopted “social network” talk as part of their vocabulary. Case in point: professor Baker stated that they “check-in” before retiring for the night. Hence, to update their status and see what others are doing.
Loventrice Farrow is a member of the Naperville, Ill, church. She is a writer, Bible teacher and public speaker. She is completing a doctorate in organizational leadership at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have a few guest posts in the pipeline, some written by folks I do not know, while others are written by colleagues and students. Being raised by agnostic parents, I witnessed religion through a different set of eyes. In the deep south, it was and is not unusual to attend segregated worship services. Toni Morrison, the black author, noted: Christians are most divided on Sundays; how do we rectify this problem? Thanks to Matt Lee for bringing me in contact with Ms. Farrow.
The year was 1969, and my Aunt Rose “should have known the customs of the area.” That’s what church elders in Selma, Ala., said after they were asked to apologize for the way they treated her. My family had traveled to Selma for the funeral of my oldest aunt, Easter. The funeral was on Sunday, and my Aunt Rose selected a Church of Christ that was on the way to where the funeral service was to occur. She hoped the church service would end in time for the funeral. Aunt Rose arrived at the church and, according to her, one saint barked, “Get out! We don’t integrate here.” She was then told that there was a Church of Christ for “coloreds” not too far away. She asked, “Do you think Christ would be pleased with this?” She received no answer. “I didn’t expect one,” she said. My mother, sister and I came to the church later not knowing what happed to my aunt (kind of like Sapphira in Acts 5). We too were turned away and taken to the “colored” church to worship since we didn’t have a car.
When my aunt returned to her home in Groton, Conn., she related her experience to the minister, who quickly sent a letter to the church in Alabama, calling them out for their behavior and asking for an apology. Instead, they responded that she should have known the customs in the South — and besides, her presence would have upset the members. This episode happened 40 years ago. One has to wonder what, if anything, has changed in our congregations. Isn’t racially segregated worship a dead issue? Actually, no. Segregated worship remains a phenomenon shared by many congregations in the U.S. — not just Churches of Christ. And it’s not just a black-and-white issue. Some worshipers prefer segregated Sundays to provide a respite from the racial tensions they encounter in daily life, according to a 2008 CNN report. Intellectually, we know that our worship is to God and not to our individual desires, yet racial and cultural tensions continue to interrupt how and where we worship. While we may not openly declare “We don’t integrate here,” the lines that we draw in our fellowship with one another speak loud and clear.
At a Church of Christ women’s conference I met a sister who told me that her predominantly African-American congregation shared a church building with another Church of Christ, but they met at different times. “You mean you don’t worship together?” I asked her. “Oh, no! We couldn’t do that,” was her reply. When I asked her why, she didn’t have a good answer. “We just don’t … that’s all.” This conversation occurred in 2003 — not 1969.
The reasons for separate Sundays have nothing to do with God. They are about what we want — what we want to sing, what we want to hear and what we want to control. Too often we are unable to shed ourselves to submit to God and to one another. None of us can point to the speck in the eyes of our brothers and sisters while we continue to be blinded by the plank of self-righteous separatism in our own (Matthew 7:3). In the past decades, many have worked tirelessly to bridge the racial divide in our churches. But racial unity is not the work of an elite group of Christians. It is the work of all of who claim to follow Christ. For most of my life I have attended predominantly African-American churches, smugly justified in my own mind. Currently I attend an ethnically diverse congregation in the Chicago area. The richness of the experience has made a tremendous difference in my perspective about salvation and what Christianity is really about.
In my lifetime I hope to see the children of God worshiping and working together in sincerity with unified purpose, submitting to one another (Ephesians 5:20). We must examine ourselves to determine what we can and will do individually and collectively to help bring about change. A church that values inclusion can better understand the sense of community, be more effective, reap the benefits of the spiritual gifts of its members and strengthen its outreach. Yes, integrating cultures and ethnic traditions can cause tension. Like that first year of marriage, it takes some getting used to. But we must persevere and stand as Christians or fall like broken branches torn by the winds of individual ideologies. In Galatians 3:26-28, the apostle Paul tells the church, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
I fear that when we stand in judgment before the Lord, he’ll point to those words and say, “You should have known.”
I love and enjoy teaching social and cultural history to that of political history; I am sure this comes as a bit of a surprise in that many of my blog posts address political matters; however, I like to relate the political to venues and constructs related to elements of gender and race. And to an extent, it is difficult to ignore the impact of religious history. Much like my love of art, I avoid the technical elements that relate to paint and style; instead, I prefer to relate art to the historical periodization that promulgated it. This is true of religion, too. I, as is the case for many historians, prefer to address the impact of religion on culture. This affects the political as well. My interest in religious history greatly relates to my interest in African-American studies. As an active member of the American Historical Association, I receive one of their journals entitled Perspectives. In a recent issue, author Robert Townsend addresses the increase in religious history. According to Townsend:
A significant number of the respondents also described the renewed attention to religion as an extension of the methods and interests of social and cultural history—noting a growing interest that extended back to E.P. Thompson. A number of the specialists noted that social historians had highlighted the interests of common people and cultural historians had supplied the tools for studying the influence of religion, but until recently, much of the work treated religion as aberrant. There was a perception that this left a significant opening for new research that treated religion on its own terms.
I am not a biblical scholar, nor do I pretend to be one; much of what I do focuses on religion in the context of both historical analysis and philosophical theory. This past Sunday while attending a religious service, the speaker focused on the topic of reaching heaven not by faith or by believing in Jesus Christ, but by the actions of faith, such as baptism. In doing so, the speaker went on to list a number of verses regarding the actions of Christians in a secular society. I have long wondered why churches focus much of their time dropping and quoting scripture? Do not get me wrong, there is a place for this; however, Christians seem to interpret scripture in vastly different ways. Hence the vast number of different denominations. To me, this is a simple process. I think it is more important to look at what Christians and other people of different beliefs do and have done to address societal vice and ills as an active interest of WORKS. I did not completely agree with the speaker. His talk is a denominational matter — one in which he contends is the WAY. Of course, if he is correct, then there are a number of practicing Christians that are wasting their time because their way is not the right way. Thus it is here that religious history plays a major part. Academics must teach the importance of religious pluralism in a diverse world. Religious instruction at religious schools must avoid guiding curriculum in a narrow and directive way. Religious schools are not churches nor should they take on that role; in doing so, it opens Pandora’s box: Thus, in what way and to what extent are students permitted to think freely about faith and the impact of religion? Historians have a duty to be objective as well.
My friend and colleague Stephen Hebert has been discussing the direction of our Bible Department on his blog; he wrote a post regarding what he deems to be the best direction for a department teaching religion; I should make it clear that the emphasis is more on the Bible and less on religious studies. However, according to members in the Bible department, after they visited a number of other independent schools, the consensus from those schools was this: a school is not a church but a place to study religion and how it impacts the lives of people and societies; I agree with this. It is a dangerous game to play when “folks” want to assign a church label to an institution of learning. In doing so, such an assignment limits the processes of free inquiry and intellectual thought. Case in point: the speaker this past Sunday on his message regarding how one gets to heaven. This was presented from one view-point… his denominational position instead of a more universal process. I say this only because there are Protestants that believe one can get to heaven without baptism. The speaker did not see it this way. This is a matter that divides Christians in how they worship.
An issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a piece by Stephen Prothero on the religious ignorance of Americans; he did a nice job addressing how some liberal Americans are quick to anger when the Christian right states that homosexuality is wrong, but do not know why they hold such views. Moreover, those who are a part of the Christian right are quick to claim all Muslims are evil, but have not read the Qu’ran . I have stated this before: All students should be required to take at least a year of required religious studies. This should be the case for both high school and college students. I am not asking for a doctrinal course on how to be Anglican, Baptist, Muslim, Methodist, or Catholic; I am talking about a religious studies course. Even if a person has no faith in a “holy spirit,” part of being educated is being aware of various cultures, beliefs, and norms. Stephen Hawking is a physicist who has devoted much of his time to discovering and understanding black holes. His premise states that if black holes exist, God does not; yet, his religious IQ is not bad. How can he argue against God if he does not know what God has to say. Here is Prothero’s article on religious ignorance. You can read it here; it is pretty good.
The image below–”Christmas in Georgia, 1916,” by Lorenzo Harris, and taken from the December 1916 issue of The Crisis (pp. 78-79). The caption reads: “Inasmuch as ye did unto the least of these, My brethren, ye did it unto Me.”
In chapter 4 of Edward Blum’s W.E.B. Du Bois, American Prophet, Blum discusses the Gospel according to Mary Brown and her child Joshua, who represents one of Du Bois’s black biblical characters, who found comfort among those who were societal outcasts. He, who was [the black] Jesus Christ, marched with the poor, with sinners, and communists; however, this Christ was not embraced by whites. Better yet, this Christ was lynched by the white South because they could not accept a Christ that accepted all people, especially the American Negro. Because of this, Joshua was killed by the very people who awaited him – the Christian South. The image portrays Christ arriving to save His people…but not the Jews…enslaved and persecuted black folks. Blacks during the days of Harriet Tubman (circa 1830) used folk tales via singing to describe Christ’s coming to save them from the Egyptian’s bondage; it would be Tubman — also called black Moses — that emerged in the days of the Exodus to guide the enslaved folks across the Red Sea into Canada. Such religious tales illustrated a “sense” of religiosity that still exists among black folk, but no long carry the same fervor. My parents, who grew up in the south, do not call themselves Christian. This is unusual due to their race, geographical upbringing, and level of educational attainment. Black academics tend to gravitate more towards being either agnostic or atheist.
In reading Cornel West’s memoir, reviewing the writings of James Cone, and analyzing primary documents by W.E.B Du Bois , I am looking to draw various conclusions about the religious plight of black people in an inherent Christian but plural country. Working on this book with Phil has created a number of questions regarding black folks, politics, religion, and faith in a democratic society. The one question that is often presented to me is this: Can one be black and non religious? This is an interesting question seeing that it’s an anomaly to meet a black atheist. Edward Blum speaks to the religiosity of Du Bois as a spiritual intellectual; West talks about the soulful needs of faith and the church as a process of survival in a world dominated by white supremacy. But in an age of reason, one that places too much attention on academics for profit such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the norm of thinking is that intellectuals lack a faith in God — particularly white academics; however, the thought of blacks being atheist is unheard of in the 20th/21st century. This can be explained through the roots of slavery and Jim Crow; black folks congregated in the black church as they do today as a form of spiritual “togetherness”, but also as a show of political solidarity. The church stands at the center of the political, educational, and social lives of black Americans. What is different about black theology? According to James Cone, “it is due exclusively to the failure of white religionists to relate the gospel of Jesus to the pain of being black in a white racist society.” For nearly three hundred years, the enslaved houseworker had been listening to their owners’ prayers and Bible readings….they were able to interpret their own inexplicable situation and give themselves reasons to stay alive. This notion has transformed itself from the plantation to the political arena as seen by such actors as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
While today most African-Americans seem to belong to the general segment known as the Southern Baptists, the first African Baptist church began this trend, in Richmond VA, in 1838 when the pastor and members of the First Baptist Church of that city debated its growing difficulty: What to do with the growing black population in the church. Perhaps one of the reasons so many African-Americans today consider themselves as Southern Baptists is because it is a far more orthodox and conservative branch of Christianity. It is at this point one might see a division between those of religious academic type and those of pure spiritual devotion. The religious academic types see the church as a vehicle to bring about social justice in eradicating poverty, racism, and social ills that permeate society. This type of black folk tend to be far more progressive than those rooted in the deep southern tradition of spiritualism.
Here are a few thoughts from a previously posted article drafted by then salutatorian Samantha Thompson on a chapel and pluralism. Again, Sam was a dual star in both my AP US and AP European History courses, as well as a National Merit Finalist. She is currently a junior at Rice University in Houston, Texas. I post this out of great respect for my campus; I missed this chapel talk due to presenting a paper at a European historians conference in New York. But upon my return, students informed me of the heavy political nature of this gathering. This was a bit of an anomaly in that HCHS avoids political talks during its chapel meetings; I do respect that. Below Ms. Thompson addressed the topic of faith and pluralism.
What is the one time each week where some teachers grade, others sleep, and still others skip altogether? It is the same time that students sleep, study, or text message. What else could it be besides chapel? It isn’t really the chapel’s fault that every speaker comes in from one or the other end of the spectrum and either way expects to rock our world. It could be a recovered drug addict or a life long believer that can now do something crazy impressive with his or her love for God, but everyone ends up the same in our minds. So imagine the excitement when we walked into chapel this past week to find something new, different, and, dare I say, interesting.
Although I do not think chapel an appropriate setting for a political message, no matter its Godly influence, I will not complain too loudly on that point considering the unusual ease at which I stayed awake. I’m also not writing to refute the entire Republican platform or attack any party’s beliefs. No, I will just touch on a few of the points made by our speaker.
I think it’s pretty much ridiculous to claim that the moral decay of this nation is linked to the removal of prayer from school. The fact that this happened in the early sixties as the sexual revolution was just taking off is purely coincidental. Let’s try the Vietnam War or the pill as more influential factors to the events of the sixties, not taking away that moment of prayer every morning sandwiched in between the pledge and announcements. Great examples of how prayer makes no moral impact on the student body as a whole are found in religious schools across the country. Students of such schools act “immoral” at just as great a degree and frequency as those at schools with no prayer. Besides, it isn’t as though God has been taken out of school completely. Every public school I have heard of has numerous religious organizations such as FCA and/or Young Life. Now religion in school is a choice, some people just get upset when young people don’t make the choice they want them to.
Also, it is true that the men who founded this country were for the most part men of God. It is probably additionally true that religion played into the decisions they made in shaping our government. But that is not any kind of proof that church and state should be one. Our country is not completely, but to a significant degree a reaction against Britain. Therefore these men knew how religion and government working as one panned out and weren’t too fond of it. Religion was taken out of government to protect it and the people’s choice to worship as they chose. On the other hand, I do agree that religious people can not separate their religious beliefs from their political. It is true that people of all faiths differ tremendously on the political scale from members of their same religion, but when voting all of your ideologies blend. You shouldn’t let the fact that most members of your religion vote a certain way sway your opinion, but if your faith leads you to decide something on an issue you shouldn’t dismiss it because you reached such a decision through religion.
Moreover, the statement about the polarization of the two major parties is a bit off. Candidates today are so middle of the road it’s a wonder citizens can pick. Worried about alienating voters, candidates dance around issues and compromise to an alarming degree. Take the gay marriage issue in the last election, where Kerry was against and Bush against it a little more forcefully. Such differing opinions that I don’t know how we will ever work things out! Now take that same idea and apply it to Texas. I’ve heard it called a split state, but anyone who knows anything knows it is basically red minus a very few strong liberal pockets. So do you really think that a very liberal candidate is going to win any kind of election in Texas? No, our Republicans are Republican and any “Democrat” elected in is really a moderate Republican or slightly left. Therefore, I find huge policy battles between the two major parties in the Texas Congress a bit hard to swallow.
The picture of all Christians as either Republican or confused old Democrats who don’t understand the parties have changed is a narrow-minded outlook that only alienates students and forces them into this little box of conformity. Forgetting the fact that we are young and just figuring things out and don’t really need to hear that if we believe this or that we’re going to hell, the statement is just plain wrong. While most Christians are conservative that doesn’t mean liberals can’t be Christian. We might as well say that since most African-Americans are Democrats, then if you are Republican than you must not be black…Condoleezza is just really tan. Platforms that include supporting social programs such as welfare, protecting the environment God created, and trying to bring equal rights to all makes me wonder why more people aren’t working to bring down these minions of Satan.