David French wonders where “the South ends and Christianity begins.” Some history will help those wondering the same thing

Here is French at The Dispatch:

There’s an enormous amount of literature describing shame/honor culture in the South and shame/honor culture generally, but I like this succinct description from David Brooks:

In a guilt culture you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you. In a guilt culture people sometimes feel they do bad things; in a shame culture social exclusion makes people feel they are bad.

Shame/honor cultures are very focused on group reputation and group identity. Again, here’s Brooks:

People are extremely anxious that their group might be condemned or denigrated. They demand instant respect and recognition for their group. They feel some moral wrong has been perpetrated when their group has been disrespected, and react with the most violent intensity.

Brooks was writing about the general growth of shame culture in America, including in left-wing circles on campus. But doesn’t this sound familiar on the right? Have you noticed how much of the GOP, the party of white Evangelicals, is often positively obsessed with grievance, how it marinates in anger at the insults of the “elite” or the “ruling class”?

We experience this reality constantly. It sometimes appears as if the bulk of the conservative media economy is built around finding and highlighting leftist insults, leftist disrespect, and leftist contempt. And yes, it exists, but there is a difference between highlighting a problem and marinating in grievance over the rejection of the left.

This has old, old roots. In his book Desire, Violence, and Divinity in Modern Southern Fiction, Kent State professor Gary Ciuba writes that “honor meant that southerners beheld themselves as others beheld them,” and that meant that “their self-worth lived in the look of the other.”

French asks an important question. Where does the South end and Christianity begin? Historians have wrestled with this question for decades. If you want to dig deeper, I encourage these books:

Christine Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt. (I haven’t taught this book in a while, but it used to be a staple of my course on the early American republic).

Bertram Wyatt Brown, Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South

Craig Thompson, ed., Southern Manhood: Perspectives on Masculinity in the Old South

Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in the Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause

Paul Harvey, Redeeming the South: Religious Cultures and Racial Identities Among Southern Baptists

Paul Harvey, Freedom’s Coming: Religious Culture and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Era

Ted Ownby, Subduing Satan: Religion, Recreation and Manhood in the Rural South

Daniel Stowell, Rebuilding Zion: The Religious Reconstruction of the South

James Bennett, Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans

Robert Elder, The Sacred Mirror: Evangelicalism, Honor, and Identity in the Deep South

I am sure I missed others. Feel free to add more at Facebook and on Twitter and I will try to add them to this list.