16 March 2009

Calvinism & The South

First of all - I'm not a Calvinist, my primary objection to America's founding religion being that of predestination. (Don't waste time posting about that objection.) However, there is no question that Calvinism had produced--and is still producing--some of Christendom's finest thinkers, writers, philosophers, and theologians. This flavor of Christianity had an enormous impact on our Nation's history--more profound and lasting in the South. That heritage continues in many ways; some seen, some unseen. Now comes Time Magazine with a piece saying that Calvinism is back as a dominating force in American culture. What does this mean for our future, politically and culturally?
Calvinism was once virtually the American Faith. It came to New England with the Puritans, to New York with the Dutch Reformed, to Pennsylvania with the German Reformed. And wherever Scottish Presbyterians went in the U.S., predestination, 90-minute sermons, and the "Shorter Catechism" went with them.

And . . .

Is Calvinism's stern faith on its way back—as a reaction against the emotional confusions of war, inflation and the atomic age? Sure of it, Professor Clarence Bouma, of Michigan's Calvin Seminary, writes in the current Journal of Religion: ". . . The once dominant and self-confident liberalism speaks a different language today. Horton and Van Dusen, Tillich and Niebuhr, Fosdick and Morrison—it scarcely makes a difference to whom you turn. All speak in the same apologetic strain, even though a few try to cover their retreat. . . .
You can read the rest of the piece here. (Ten Ideas Changing the World) The story dovetails nicely into a lengthy piece I'm working on regarding the modern dominance of Southern culture. The image here is of the Presbyterian (& Calvinist) Reverend Samuel Davies. I've posted about this amazing man before.

20 comments:

chaps said...

New England Calvinism was lost to Unitarianism and Trancendentalism. That loss helped create the culture, and self-righteousness, that allowed the New England states to raise armies and send them south to devatate Southern homes.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Chaps:

In a nutshell, you are correct.

cenantua said...

Richard,

I've noted the mention of the New England mentality as driven by Unitarianism and Trancendentalism here, but that only accounts for what percentage, exactly, of the Union troops in the field? Isn't this view overlooking the mid-westerners, many who participated in an agrarian-based economy and shared religious views similar to many in the South? In fact, I can trace many from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, etc. back to Virginia, sometimes separated by no more than one generation; sometimes originally Virginia-born themselves. How do you explain this set of people? It can't be under the same terms as the Trancendentalists of New England.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Good questions Robert. James Webb addresses this to some degree in his book about the Scots-Irish (Born Fighting). I know a lot of academics have taken shots at his work, but I believe the book is well worth reading and provides some excellent background information regarding the Scots-Irish and Calvinism's impact.

Webb goes into some detail regarding the westward migration of many of the original Southern colonists into Ohio, Indiana, etc. Have you read his book?

% of Union troops? I wouldn't have a clue, but the theological philosophy driving the Union effort is as important, in my view.

Also, the revivals and conversions in the Southern armies were much more widespread than the Union armies. Unitarianism and Trancendentalism does not have the evangelical outreach as does the orthodox beliefs of the Southern Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptist.

cenantua said...

I have a problem with Webb's work because he is too narrowly focused on praising the Scots-Irish. In doing so, I think he loses too much focus on other groups.

Much of my focus has been on German-Swiss Lutherans and Baptists, probably because that weighs heavy on my personal heritage in Virginia. The bulk of my Scots, Irish, and Scots-Irish element of my family was actually western Maryland and central Pennsylvania-based. Many a McKinney, Quigley, and Boyd kin of mine served in the Union army, and the roots of those lines had been in the country since the colonial era. For that matter, I even have German Lutheran roots in western Maryland.

Just as a comparative example, I can place two Lutheran families side-by-side, one from Virginia and the other from western Maryland. One is no less religious than the other, but the sides they opted to serve with during the war had more to do with driving opinion within the respective localities.

Incidentally, Page County, right here in the Valley, had a break-off set of Baptists over the issue of slavery. They left Virginia for Ohio, simply because of differences in opinion regarding the institution. This is the type of thing that plays into my point. They weren't any less religious in their values than those who remained in Virginia. Yet, there was a difference in opinion over the holding of slaves.

As for the theological philosophy driving the Union, are you suggesting that the Trancendentalist mentality was actually at the core of the motivation to sustain the Union? It might be said that it was strong in the abolitionists, but I don't think it can be sourced-out as the motivation across the board.

cenantua said...

Richard,

When comparing Civil War era Presbyterians of Pennsylvania with Civil War era Presbyterians of say, Lexington, Virginia, do you actually see a difference?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Even with Webb's bias, it is still a great source, in my opinion.

"As for the theological philosophy driving the Union, are you suggesting that the Trancendentalist mentality was actually at the core of the motivation to sustain the Union?"

No, primarily the abolitionists, as you state.

cenantua said...

I should probably add... regarding my focus on the western-moving Virginians to places such as Ohio, Indiana, Indiana, etc., most of these people that I have traced were of German and Swiss descent and with deep early roots from the Shenandoah Valley.

One of my Scots lines that made the migratory trek from Virginia (the same one that entered Virginia as indentured servants to the Lee family) ended up in Kentucky and even into Illinois... and were even well-acquainted with Lincoln. Many of them were only one generation removed from being Virginians.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"When comparing Civil War era Presbyterians of Pennsylvania with Civil War era Presbyterians of say, Lexington, Virginia, do you actually see a difference?"

Actually, very little in regards to theology. Their differences were likely tied to sectional and familial loyalties.

cenantua said...

Interesting stuff, and I think the localism thing holds more weight than religion in motivating factors behind the common soldier, blue or gray. I think that the Virginians turned mid-westerners... and even Union soldiers... gives us a lot to consider.

Even among New Englanders, I'd be hesitant to over-generalize motivation as driven by theological philosphy driven by Trancendentalists. We can certainly find evidence that it did occur in some, but I think we need to take care to say that it was the case in many. It's about as bad as saying that all common Confederate soldiers were motivated to preserve the institution of slavery.

brboyd said...

Cenantua, it does seem like the Boyds are spread throughout the Valley. I came from Alabama and was surprised at how many Boyds I have run into over the past three years.

cenantua said...

I'm not directly tied to the Boyds, but my McKinney line traces into them in Cumberland County, Pa. Between the McKinney, Quigley, and Boyd families in that area, we have the legacy of a genealogist from 1903 who did some good work to preserve family info, thankfully. Nontheless, there are, of course, Boyds in the Shenandoah Valley as well, but I'm not sure that they are tied into the same line from the Cumberland Valley.

cenantua said...

Richard,

Pardon me for going so far astray from your original post here, but it actually opened up the opportunity to address something that you mentioned a few times before that I've been wanting to discuss further.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

No problem Robert, make yourself right at home. I enjoy and appreciate your input.

RGW

brboyd said...

Cenantua, sure they are tied into the same line :). They all fought against English tyranny at one time! Being lowland Scots, they knew far too well what it was like to have their homes invaded.

cenantua said...

Careful now, is your ancestry limited to lowland Scots alone? Mine isn't and, among representation from the rest of the British Isles, I have a fair amount of English in there as well.

Cromwell just got out of hand when it comes to my Moore (formerly Moir) family. Followed by capture at Dunbar (I had two ancestors captured together there, James Moore and Ninian Beall), there was the long hard walk to England and eventually indentured servitude in Barbados. But in the end, it didn't turn out too bad as the Moores and Bealls made their way to eastern Maryland and got wealthy from surveying lands and growing tobacco.

cenantua said...

brboyd... Don't forget that, in all probability, the ancestry of several Scots knew what it was like to invade the homeland of others as well. All-in-all, it all goes around and around.

brboyd said...

Cenantua, you have cornered me with facts :). I agree, rarely anyone is blameless. I am obviously not too upset with the English, I married a LEE :).

Daniel Stinson said...

The General Baptist Seminary is located in Louisville, KY where I was born. So it influenced the Ohio River Valley region. It's one of the oldest Calvinist seminaries in the US.

Puritan-Calvinist were persecuted by the Anglicans and dominated from Pennsylvania and along the Great Lakes. The same regions were also Lutheran strongholds, with Lutheran seminaries in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri.

The Anglican-Calvinist weren't as persecuted by Great Britain. They dominated the "Deep South" and used their doctrine of Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, and Irresistible Grace to justify their slaves as God's "non-elect". With a life of slavery being better than the damnation that awaited them under God's final judgement. The Red Shirts, White League, White Knights, and KKK used their Calvinist-Christianity to justify their actions against what they perceived as those outside of God's grace (slaves).

The Lutherans in England were slaughtered under King Henry the 8th's fulfillment of the Papal Bull ordering inquisition. His creation of the Church of England (Episcopal-Anglicans) remained on poor terms with Lutherans, due to this history.

Loyalties split the General Baptist into two factions, generically North and South.

Theologically, you should recognize a split along "Free-Will" influence of John Smyth's Baptist and Jacobus Arminus's "Free-Will" Remonstrance influence. The conditional election crowd basically speaking, which held the North. The Deep South was basically controlled by the Hyper-Calvinist who attempt to perceive God's will.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks for the comment Daniel. Yes, I'm well aware of that theological split. That bit of information was, however, beyond the scope of this post. Thanks again.