Dr. Anthony Bradley continues with his complaint against Rev. Doug Wilson concerning Rev. Wilson’s lack of historgraphy skills in relation to the antebellum South.
In the piece above Dr. Bradley is offended at the instances where the antebellum South is embraced in an idolatrous fashion. And of course, where ever there exists Christians that have made an idol out of the Old South, all Christians would agree that such idolatry is a wicked evil sin that should be abjured. However, Dr. Bradley goes a step further by saying that this idolatry occurs in “many Reformed circles in America.” Many Reformed circles? Many Reformed circles? This seems to be a rather sweeping indictment against Reformed Christians. How does Dr. Bradley substantiate his charge? Has he taken a poll? Has he gotten on the mailing lists of enough Reformed circles wherein he might be able to make an reasonable guess?
Further Dr. Bradley goes on to say that this Idolatry has existed without much resistance. Really? I can only speak from my own reading but in much of my reading I see a great deal of resistance. For example several years ago the Reformed circle that is the PCA issued an apology for and expression of repentance from the alleged racist past of Presbyterians they see as their direct forbears. If a Reformed circle is offering this kind of apology, I don’t know how it could be said that they were at the same time making an idol out of the antebellum South. In point of fact if people would read all the heat in way of comments that Dr. Bradley’s observations have created they would see all kinds of resistance to this putative confederate idolatry.
None of this is to say that I agree with Dr. Bradley’s contention. It is merely to say that Dr. Bradley has made some sweeping charges here that he can not, in any objective manner, substantiate as being true. It’s just his opinion — an assertion without any grounding.
Dr. Bradley then opines that it would be best to consider the era of the antebellum South a “rubbish” for the sake of gaining Christ (Phil. 3:8) and his Kingdom. Well, sure, this would be true even for the person who could imagine belonging to the most perfect social order that ever existed. Would not that person count that as rubbish in order to gain Christ? Why I can even imagine that Dr. Bradley would count as “rubbish” his association with “Reformed Blacks of America,” for the sake of gaining Christ.
So what point is Dr. Bradley making with his “rubbish” comment? Is he suggesting that in order to have Christ Southerners must give up their Southern heritage? Is Dr. Bradley saying that the antebellum South of R. L. Dabney, James Henley Thornwell, John Lafayette Girardeau, and Benjamin Morgan Palmer was anti-Christ? No one is suggesting that the antebellum South was without fault or that the men just mentioned didn’t have blind spots, but to suggest that it was not a Christian culture worthy of respect and esteem is to damn God’s work among His people. The truth be known, the antebellum South, with all its warts, was the last muscular expression of Christian culture on a civilizational level the world has ever known. And yet even R. L. Dabney said, “A righteous God, for our sins towards Him, has permitted us to be overthrown by our enemies and His.” So, just exactly why should Christians with a Southern heritage count their birthright “rubbish?”
Fortunately, one can at the same time, Dr. Bradley’s opinions notwithstanding, hold on to their God given Southern heritage, without making it an idol, while at the same time gaining Christ.
Dr. Bradley seems to think that the fact that the antebellum South is to be seen as “rubbish” because it did not allow all blacks to be fully human. Yet many many of these enslaved blacks were Christian by confession. Now, certainly Dr. Bradley is not suggesting that blacks, ontologically speaking were sub-human. I think what Dr. Bradley is saying here is that blacks were not as human as they otherwise might have been if they had not been enslaved. Since blacks did not have the rights they were supposed to have, I think Dr. Bradley is saying that enslaved blacks in the antebellum South had less opportunity to experience all of what it means to be human than they otherwise would have had. In other words, their opportunity to experience the fullness of humanity was thwarted due to their enslavement. However, I do not believe that all because a person is a slave that means that, existentially speaking, they missed out on experiencing the fullness of being human. In the New Testament Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives instruction to both slaves and masters in order to regulate the institution along Christian lines. This inspired New Testament regulation of slaves and slavery proves that slavery is not ipso facto a denial of the rights of “full humanity” to blacks and at this point Dr. Bradley’s criticism against the Old South is really a criticism of the biblical view of slavery. As difficult as it is for moderns to hear, the fact that the Holy Spirit in the New Testament regulated the institution of slavery indicates that there is nothing inherently wrong with the master-slave relation. Thanks to the Gospel witness of many fine Southerners countless enslaved blacks, now part of the Church at rest, knew, while alive, all the fullness of being human. In point of fact, because they were in Christ, they recovered a full humanness that they would not have otherwise known had they never come to know Christ.
Dr. Bradley tells us that he is not accusing Rev. Wilson of racism but rather he is accusing him of insufficient historiography. One wonders though why Dr. Bradley even notices Rev. Wilson’s historiography except for the fact that said historiography gives aid and support to alleged racists. So, Rev. Wilson isn’t racist, but his historiography leads to putative racism? Curious reasoning there on Dr. Bradley’s part. (Note, we are not even pursuing whether there is an agreed meaning of the word “racist.”)
Dr. Bradley then speaks of the links that he provided for his preferred historiography. Dr. Bradley seems to suggest that Rev. Wilson’s historiography is suspect simply because it is controversial. But in the spirit of providing historiography might I recommend that those YRR / new Calvinist types who want to get up to speed also get a hold of a copy of “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938.” In these exit interviews by former slaves you will read many voices giving a different view of slavery then is commonly portrayed. In point of fact you will read many former slaves who, “make a case for such a thing as “virtuous” Southern Confederate values.” I would also recommend, “Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made,” by Eugene D. Genovese, or, “The Tragic Era – The Revolution After Lincoln,” by Claude G. Bowers, or, “North against South; The American Illiad, 1848-1877, by Ludwell Johnson, or, “The Coming of the Civil War, by Avery Craven, or, “Lincoln, The Man,” by Edgar Lee Masters, or, “A youth’s history of the great Civil War in the United States from 1861 to 1865,” by R.G.B. Horton. Look, this era and the history surrounding this era is incredibly complex subject (the destruction of a great civilization usually is) and Dr. Bradley, by throwing out a few book suggestions from assorted Liberals, progressives, and non-Southerners, is being more than a bit simplistic by suggesting that Rev. Wilson’s historiography is simplistic all because Wilson’s reading isn’t the same as Dr. Bradley’s.
Dr. Bradley asks, “Why is there such interest in defending the South?” Perhaps the answer to that is found not in a longing for a return to slavery. Perhaps the answer to that question is found in the South’s insistence on limited government. In our current era, where Centralized government is running roughshod over state duties, family duties, and individual duties why wouldn’t people long for a time when, in principle, decentralized and diffused government is advocated. Perhaps the answer to why there is such interest in defending the South is found in the fact that the South was characterized by respect for families, the presence of chivalry, the last culture of honor, and the presence of a distinctly Christian church that had real influence for good among the population, both black and white. Despite Dr. Bradley’s suggestion that the defense of the South is about regret for loss of power and privilege perhaps it is explained by a longing for 5th commandment proper hierarchies and distinctions.
Dr. Bradley says that such a longing is insulting to blacks. Why? Can Dr. Bradley name one person in Reformed circles who wants to bring back the virtues of the southern social order along with black slavery? If we could find our way to a social order without black slavery and also without all the vices of cultural Marxism that we currently have what would be so terrible about that? What would be so terrible about a social order where civil government power was decentralized and diffuse? What would be so terrible about a social order that took seriously again the 9th and 10th amendment? What would be so terrible about a social order where family is healthy once again? What would be so terrible about a social order that once again found the Christian Church having a vibrant voice in the community? What would be so terrible about a social order that was once again agrarian? What would be so terrible about a social order uninfluenced by Jacobins, cultural Marxists, Corporatists, Fascists and other assorted collectivists? These virtues are hardly “rubbish.” Some might even say these virtues are Christian.
It is true that it is possible to make an idol out of the antebellum South. It is likewise possible to make an idol out of destroying all lingering memory of the antebellum South. Both tendencies should be avoided.