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Mary Thompson is the author of “The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret”: George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon. Here is a taste of Robin Lindley’s interview with Thompson at History News Network:
Robin Lindley: How did Martha Washington see and treat slaves? It seems she was more dismissive and derogatory than her husband concerning black people.
Mary V. Thompson: Like her husband, Martha Washington tended to doubt the trustworthiness of the enslaved people at Mount Vernon. Upon learning of the death of an enslaved child with whom her niece was close, she wrote that the younger woman should “not find in him much loss,” because “the Blacks are so bad in th[e]ir nature that they have not the least grat[i]tude for the kindness that may be sh[o]wed them.”
The Washingtons never seemed to realize that they only knew Africans and African-Americans as people who were enslaved, which meant that they were not interacting as equals and any ideas they may have had about innate qualities of this different culture were tainted by the institution of slavery.
Robin Lindley: I realize that direct evidence from slaves is limited, but what did you learn about how slaves viewed George Washington?
Mary V. Thompson: Because Washington was so admired by his contemporaries, many of whom came to Mount Vernon to see his home—and especially his tomb—those visitors often talked with the slaves and formerly enslaved people on the plantation in order to learn snippets about what the private George Washington was like.
Extended members of the Washington family, former neighbors, official guests, and journalists, often wrote about their experiences at Mount Vernon and what they learned about Washington from those enslaved by him. Some people were still angry about how they were treated, while others were grateful for having been freed by him.
Robin Lindley: In his early years as a plantation owner, Washington—like most slave owners—saw his slaves as his property and he bought and sold slaves with seeming indifference to the cruelty and unfairness of this institution. He broke up slave marriages and families, and he considered black people indolent and intellectually inferior. However, as you detail, his views evolved. How do you see the arc of Washington’s life in terms of how he viewed his slaves and slavery?
Mary V. Thompson: That change primarily happened during the American Revolution. Washington took command of the American Army in mid-1775. Within three years, he was confiding to a cousin, who was managing Mount Vernon for him, that he no longer wanted to be a slave owner. In those years, Washington was spending long periods of time in parts of the country where agriculture was successfully practiced without slave labor and he saw black soldiers fighting alongside white ones. He also could see the hypocrisy of fighting for liberty and freedom, while keeping others enslaved. There were even younger officers on his staff who supported abolition.
While he came to believe that slavery was something he wanted nothing more to do with, it was one thing to think that slavery was wrong, and something else again to figure out what to do to remedy the situation. For example, it was not until 1782 that Virginia made it possible for individual slave owners to manumit their slaves without going through the state legislature. After an 8-year absence from home, during which he took no salary, Washington also faced legal and financial issues that would also hamper his ability to free the Mount Vernon slaves.
Read the entire interview here.
On March 12, 2020, author Katherine Stewart will be at the Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg to discuss her new book The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. I will be interviewing her at the event. Learn more here.
Here is a description of The Power Worshippers:
For too long the Religious Right has masqueraded as a social movement preoccupied with a number of cultural issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. But in her deeply reported investigation, Katherine Stewart reveals a disturbing truth: America’s Religious Right has evolved into a Christian nationalist movement. It seeks to gain political power and to impose its vision on all of society. It isn’t fighting a culture war, it is waging a political war on the norms and institutions of American democracy.
Stewart shows that the real power of the movement lies in a dense network of think tanks, advocacy groups, and pastoral organizations, embedded in a rapidly expanding community of international alliances with like-minded, anti-democratic religious nationalists around the world, including Russia. She follows the money behind the movement and traces much of it to a group of super-wealthy, ultraconservative donors and family foundations. The Christian nationalist movement is far more organized and better funded than most people realize. It seeks to control all aspects of government and society. Its successes have been stunning, and its influence now extends to every aspect of American life, from the White House to state capitols, from our schools to our hospitals.
The Power Worshippers is a brilliantly reported book of warning and a wake-up call. Stewart’s probing examination demands that Christian nationalism be taken seriously as a significant threat to the American republic and our democratic freedoms.
I hope to see some of you on March 12 in Harrisburg.
I am glad to see the release of Disestablishment and Religious Dissent: Church-State Relations in the New American States, 1776-1833. Carl Esbeck of the University of Missouri and Jonathan Den Hartog of Samford University have edited a very useful book for anyone interested in the relationship between church and state in early America. Authors include Evan Haefeli, James Kabala, Shelby Balik Kyle Bulthuis, Brian Franklin, and John Witte. By the way, some guy from Messiah College who has a blog wrote the essay on New Jersey.
Over at the Age of Revolution blog, Den Hartog introduces us to the themes of the book. Here is a taste:
The American Revolution came about through a sequence of fractures in the ties between the colonies and Great Britain. One of those fractures arose from an important call from the Continental Congress. On May 15, 1776, Congress approved a resolution urging each of the colonies “to adopt such government as shall, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and America in general.” This invitation immediately called into question the charters and habits under which the colonies had been operating in a British constitutional and legal regime. It thereby forced the new states to question and modify long-standing arrangements, potentially transforming many aspects of American life.
One key element of those reconsiderations was the public place of religion for the states. In 1776, various forms of church establishment stretched from Georgia and South Carolina to Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Although “establishment” has often been used to mean financial support for the official church, in reality, these establishments often connected with many other aspects of colonial life, property holding, and governance. It was in the states that Americans experienced the most issues around “church and state.” The states thus provide the best location in which to examine how Americans pursued religious liberty in a revolutionary moment. Although much ink has been spilled about the First Amendment, even more significant change occurred at the state level.
The process of religious disestablishment in the states provides a fascinating story in political and legal innovation. It transformed conceptions of ties between religion and politics, religion and the law, and the citizen’s relationships and duties. It produced a unique American model of religious liberty for all, voluntary support of the churches, and non-sectarianisn (non-preferentialism) in governmental approaches to denominations. It’s a story that needs to be told.
In order to examine religious disestablishment at the state level, Carl Esbeck and I recently co-edited a volume entitled Disestablishment and Religious Dissent: Church-State Relations in the American States, 1776-1833(University of Missouri Press, forthcoming November 2019). We recruited twenty-one scholars to analyze how establishment and disestablishment operated at the state level. These scholars—historians, political scientists, and legal experts—brought their distinctive insights, as they each took up one specific state. The range of investigation took in the original thirteen states, along with other early-admitted states such as Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Contributors also examined the special cases of Ohio (admitted from the Northwest Territory), Louisiana and Missouri (additions from the Louisiana Purchase), Maine (carved out of Massachusetts), and Florida (gained from Catholic Spain).
Read the entire piece here and then buy this book for your personal and university library.
Over at The Washington Post, Heather Long calls our attention to Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller’s new book Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral & Drive Major Economic Events. Here is a taste of her piece:
As humanities majors slump to the lowest level in decades, calls are coming from surprising places for a revival. Some prominent economists are making the case for why it still makes a lot of sense to major (or at least take classes) in humanities alongside more technical fields.
Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller’s new book “Narrative Economics” opens with him reminiscing about an enlightening history class he took as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. He wrote that what he learned about the Great Depression was far more useful in understanding the period of economic and financial turmoil than anything he learned in his economic courses.
The whole premise of Shiller’s book is that stories matter. What people tell each other can have profound implications on markets — and the overall economy. Examples include the “get rich quick” stories about bitcoin or the “anyone can be a homeowner” stories that helped drive the housing bubble.
“Traditional economic approaches fail to examine the role of public beliefs in major economic events — that is, narrative,’ Shiller wrote. “Economists can best advance their science by developing and incorporating into it the art of narrative economics.”
Shiller, who is famous for predicting the dot-com crash and coming up with the Case-Shiller Home Price Index, is spending a lot of time looking at old newspaper clippings to understand what stories and terms went viral and how they influenced people to buy things — or stop buying things.
When asked if he’s essentially arguing for more English and history majors, Shiller said, “I think so,” adding: “Compartmentalization of intellectual life is bad.”
Journalist Tom LoBianco has published a religious biography of Vice President Mike Pence. I have not read the book, so I cannot endorse it. But I can say that I spent significant time on the phone with LoBianco as he conducted research for the book.
As part of my general research for this book, I relied on a handful of insightful books (and highly recommend them for anyone interested in understanding Mike Pence better). I’ll start with Pence’s two favorite books: the Bible, and Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. Additionally, I relied on John Fea’s tour of evangelical history and the Trump campaign, Believe Me; The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, as well as Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson’s review of the start and disbanding of the Moral Majority, Blinded by Might. And for all Hoosier-philes, I highly recommend James Madison’s The Indiana Way. I also feel like I found my own bible in this process, Jon Franklin’s Writing for Story.
In 2018, American billionaires paid a lower tax rate than than the working class. This is the first time in this has ever happened.
Here is Chris Ingraham’s piece at The Washington Post:
A new book-length study on the tax burden of the ultrarich begins with a startling finding: In 2018, for the first time in history, America’s richest billionaires paid a lower effective tax rate than the working class.
“The Triumph of Injustice,” by economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California at Berkeley, presents a first-of-its kind analysis of Americans’ effective tax rates since the 1960s. It finds that in 2018 the average effective tax rate paid by the richest 400 families in the country was 23 percent, a full percentage point lower than the 24.2 percent rate paid by the bottom half of American households.
In 1980, by contrast, the 400 richest had an effective tax rate of 47 percent. In 1960, their tax rate was as high as 56 percent. The effective tax rate paid by the bottom 50 percent, by contrast, has changed little over time.
The analysis differs from many other published estimates of tax burdens by encompassing the totality of taxes Americans pay: not just federal income taxes but also corporate taxes, as well as taxes paid at the state and local levels. It also includes the burden of about $250 billion of what Saez and Zucman call “indirect taxes,” such as licenses for motor vehicles and businesses.
Read the rest here.
Duke Divinity School’s Kate Bowler keeps churning out books. Her latest is The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities.
Over at Christianity Today, Liberty University’s Karen Swallow Prior interviews Bowler about her new book. Here is a taste:
Despite the title of your book, The Preacher’s Wife, your work is not solely about pastors’ wives. In a larger sense, it’s a metaphor that gestures toward the way in which the influence of evangelical women is almost entirely dependent upon men, whether those men are husbands, pastors, or the gatekeepers of the marketplace. Can you explain your thinking behind the title?
The title is a shorthand for my thesis: Modern megachurch ministry does not authorize women to be spiritual leaders based on their education, credentials, or experience. Instead, they are billed as wives and mothers, famous for spiritual gifts that do not directly interfere with pulpit preaching (like singing and leading other women or children). As such, the easiest path to fame is to be the wife, mother, or daughter of a famous godly man—someone, in other words, who offers complementary spiritual sustenance to audiences that he is not directly targeting. For instance, megachurches frequently need a woman to run their women’s ministry, and the pastor’s wife is one of the most obvious choices.
Just look at the small gestures, like her Twitter bio or the way she is announced as she goes on stage: Taffi is Creflo Dollar’s wife. Dodie is Joel Osteen’s mom. Priscilla is Tony Evans’s daughter. There are many scrappy women who built ministries from scratch, but it is a far smoother road to be married to the ministry.
Speaking of the marketplace, your analysis sheds light on what you describe as “the dark logic of the marketplace,” one based on a “limited spiritual economy” that encourages women to create platforms built on competition, resentment, and comparison. Can you talk about how the sexism and entrepreneurism present in both evangelicalism and the broader American culture have turned insecurity into a source of power for evangelical women?
When conservative women are barred from the pulpit—or any situation in which they appear to be teaching men—they must find other ways of reaching an audience, ways that center on stereotypically gendered tropes. For this reason, women in ministry might build their platform on their expertise in parenting, cooking, nutrition, weight loss, or beauty. Those who directly take on the work of preaching and teaching will call themselves “Bible teachers” instead. No matter how closely their work resembles that of a senior pastor, women in megaministry will be introduced as authors or speakers, television hosts or parachurch founders. It is a delicate balance of professed submission to authority and implied independence from it.
One might think that the power and influence of women within mainline denominations is less precarious simply because those traditions tend to embrace more egalitarian views. Yet you point out that the absence of “celebrity culture” within these denominations is also a factor. Can you elaborate on the difference that celebrity culture makes for women’s power and influence within evangelicalism?
The role of celebrity culture in the mainline is muted for a few reasons. First, mainline seminaries care very little about charisma and are far more focused on a procedural form of vetting for theology and prose. (I say this with ambivalence as a mainline seminary professor myself. Surely we want more engaging people in the pulpit?) Second, while there are numerous mainline megachurches, they are typically smaller and more denominationally focused, so they are not leaders in engaging the broader culture. And lastly, their cosmopolitanism makes them reluctant evangelists for their own “brand,” unwilling to engage in the marketing and promotion that the market requires.
If we take seriously Daniel Vaca’s argument in his forthcoming book, Evangelicals Incorporated: Books and the Business of Religion in America—and we should!—much of evangelicalism’s self-understanding is internally shaped by its consumer practices. Evangelicals are what they buy. And conservative Christian women have created a coherent set of consumer products—books, music, conference tickets, podcast ad buys, and so on—that give the culture its worldview. The mainline utterly lacks this consumer identity that animates the conservative subculture. By contrast, conservative Christian women are stepping into a capitalist wonderland when they decide to set up shop there.
Read the entire interview here.
Jamie Smith’s new book on St. Augustine looks great:
Eric Alterman, a professor of English at Brooklyn College, is a contributor to the recently released collection Long Walk Home: Reflections on Bruce Springsteen (Rutgers University Press, 2019). His essay in the book is titled “Growing Up With Bruce Springsteen: A Fan’s Notes.” Here is a taste of an excerpt of that essay published in today’s New York Times:
Bruce Springsteen is the son of Catholic parents and grandparents. There is no ambiguity on this point. And yet, in much the same way that New York football fans have casually annexed the stadium across the river to root for what they like to pretend is their “home” team, some Jewish Springsteen fans are devoted to proving that New Jersey’s favorite Irish Italian son is, if not actually Jewish, nevertheless somehow Jew-ish. Perhaps you thought young Bruce was mostly singing about cars, girls, and getting the hell out of town before he switched gears to focus on the dignity of working folk, the broken promises of the American dream, and more cars and girls. But amid the empty factories, crowded barstools, and swimming holes that constitute the foundation of the Springsteen oeuvre, some detect a whiff of the Chosen.
Read the rest here.
Here is the Baylor University historian discussing his latest book on the Christianity Today “Quick to Listen” podcast:
The book is Who is an Evangelical?: The History of a Movement in Crisis. Here is my back cover blurb:
“Thomas Kidd, an accomplished U.S. historian and practicing evangelical Christian, reminds us that evangelicalism has always been primarily a religious and spiritual movement that, when at its best, has transcended race, class, ethnicity, and politics.”—John Fea, author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump
This is a good interview, but where is Morgan Lee?
Over at The New Yorker, Isaac Chotiner interviews historian Eric Foner on the promise of Reconstruction. Foner, of course, remains the foremost historian of Reconstruction. I have taught his book Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 several times over the years. Foner’s current book, The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution, focuses on the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.
Here is a taste of his interview with Chotiner:
You say early in the book that, in one sense, “Reconstruction never ended.” What exactly do you mean?
I defined Reconstruction in two ways. One, it’s a particular time period of American history. You can debate the dates. It starts in 1865, when the Civil War ends, or maybe it starts in 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation is issued, and it ends sometime in the eighteen-seventies, although there’s debate about that also.
But, I think, more importantly, Reconstruction is a historical process. And the process is, How does the United States come to terms with the results of the Civil War? The unity of the nation we seem to have come to terms with. But the other matter is the destruction of slavery. How does the United States deal with the fact that four million people who were slaves became free? What role would they have? What rights would they have? How would they be treated? And those debates are still going on. Pick up today’s newspaper, and you’ll find things which relate back to the legacy of slavery. So in that sense, the reckoning has never happened, or we’re still grappling with the consequences of two hundred and fifty years of slavery.
Did you write this book because there was an area of Reconstruction you wanted to learn more about or teach people more about, or had things changed in your understanding of your previous scholarship?
Why does one choose to write a book in the first place? It may be some archival discovery, which was not really the case here. It may be the way debates are going on in the present. That did influence me. The issues central to the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fifteenth Amendment, the right to vote, are still part of our politics today. Who should vote? Who should be a citizen? What does equality before the law really mean? But, most important, and without trying to denigrate any other scholar, I lecture a lot about Reconstruction—I lecture in law schools, I lecture in history departments, I lecture to public audiences outside the academy—and I have found that there’s very little knowledge of why the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments are important, or what they were trying to accomplish, even in law schools.
One of the things that I think needed to be corrected is that so much discussion of these amendments is based on just law-making places, like Congress and the Supreme Court. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m a historian. You’ve got to look at the whole society. Everybody was debating these questions during Reconstruction. So if you want to find out the meaning of these amendments, you’ve got to look way beyond Congress and the courts to see the general debate. And I felt that hadn’t been really illuminated enough.
Read the entire interview here.
Over at Nursing Clio, Lauren Macivor Thompson interviews Emily Suzanne Johnson, author of This is Our Message: Women’s Leadership in the New Christian Right. Here is a taste:
Lauren: How did you become interested in the conservative women’s movement? Who were your historiographical influences?
Emily: Michael Lienesch’s Redeeming America (about the politics and rhetoric of the New Christian Right) and Lisa McGirr’s Suburban Warriors (about conservative women’s grassroots activism in the 1960s) piqued my interest. Both fascinated me — I loved their deep dives into the logic and language of these movements, which were not well understood at the time, at least in the academic world.
My personal history was also part of what drew me to this subject. I grew up in a left-leaning Canadian family, but I also have very conservative, evangelical relatives in the United States. I felt like I had an interesting perspective on the American religious right, since I had a deep personal understanding of the movement while also understanding why it can seem so illegible to people outside of it.
As I kept reading histories of this movement, one thing that was missing was the history of women’s leadership within it. We have great studies on male leadership and on the importance of women’s grassroots support, but relatively little acknowledgment of the movement’s reliance on female leaders at the national level. There are women whose names would come up frequently, but they were generally treated as anomalies or paradoxes in a movement otherwise led by men.
My book argues that although this movement focused on a particular idea of “traditional gender roles,” it was fundamentally shaped by women leaders, who helped to formulate its rhetoric and mobilize supporters.
Lauren: The book examines Marabel Morgan, Anita Bryant, Beverly LaHaye, and Tammy Faye Bakker as historical figures — what strikes you as the major differences or threads of similarity that bind these conservative activists together?
Read the rest here.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the most influential public intellectual in America. Jesmyn Ward, a pretty impressive writer in her own right, recently spent some time with him at the New York City coffee shop where Coates likes to write. Coates has just completed his first novel: The Water Dancer. Ward’s piece at Vanity Fair is an excellent read for what it reveals about Coates and what it reveals about the anxiety that another writer feels when interviewing a public intellectual of Coates’s stature.
Here is a taste:
It’s hard to do that work. Coates articulates this anxiety perfectly when he talks about the difference between the purpose of nonfiction and the purpose of fiction. Creative nonfiction, he thinks, “is not up to the task of humanizing. That’s not what it’s for.” He continues, “Also, I’ve got to tell you, you go to a very different place when you have to imagine a single person, versus write about mass. It’s not the same. I wonder, like, how you deal with the central tragedy and violence and darkness and horribleness that is happening, and the dehumanization without writing a work that itself dehumanizes.” He shakes his head. “My mom, actually, she can’t finish it”—The Water Dancer—“and… I actually feel like I intentionally held back. I feel like Hiram was very privileged in terms of being a slave.” He takes another bite of food. “How do I write about something, as horrible as it is, and not repeat the thing? You know what I’m saying?” And, he repeats, he has to resist the American legacy of myths. He has to resist the lure of the adventure story. He has to resist the lure of the cowboy. He has to resist the lure of the savior. It’s a hard thing to resist the great stories of your youth in an effort to discover new myths, new heroes, new legends that reveal a wider reality.
One of the things Coates must now do is figure out how to balance the two: how to write nonfiction and fiction, how to juggle his renown with his calling. “So many writers and so-called public intellectuals are driven by their desire for fame, celebrity, and money that this is practically all they see when they see someone like Ta-Nehisi. But he does what he does out of a deep sense of responsibility that has never changed,” says Jackson. “It’s a responsibility to his family—to his parents, his wife, his son. But also a sense of responsibility to black people. This is not to say that he fetishizes race or that he’s a nationalist. But that he knows that black people are keepers of a sacred tradition, not just of resistance, but artful, creative, generative, and generous resistance in the name of truth.”
Read the entire piece here.
Yes and no. Or at least this is the argument of Oklahoma University sociologist Samuel Perry in his new book Addicted to Lust: Pornography in the Lives of Conservative Protestants.
Perry argues that evangelical men who take their faith seriously and try to practice it in everyday life view porn less than non-evangelicals. The real porn problem is the church’s perception that is has a serious problem.
Here is a taste of Jana Riess’s interview with Perry at Religion News Service:
There are several. Drawing on numerous studies, Perry finds that:
Despite the statistical finding that conservative Christians are less likely to use porn, the perception within evangelical churches is that this has become an enormous problem for the faithful. To them, the fact that only 40% of conservative Protestant men under age 40 have seen porn in the last year is not cause for rejoicing but for alarm—and the alarm itself may be creating, or at least exacerbating, psychological and marital problems for those Christian users.
Whereas many other Americans seem to be able to view porn without it causing significant mental health problems, for conservative Christians it’s different. The church’s zero-tolerance policy for porn means those who consume it only occasionally might see themselves as addicts from the first viewing. Even though conservative Christians use porn less than other Americans, they are statistically twice as likely to consider themselves “addicted” to it. Their shame can be soul-crushing.
Read the entire interview here.
A new book by Lutheran minister Angela Denker seeks to answer this question in her new book Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump.
Here is a taste of her recent interview with Joseph Preville at World Religion News:
JRP: How diverse are Red-State Christians in their religious beliefs and political values?
AD: Quite diverse, though I will say that they were unified by a distinct dislike of Hillary Clinton that often surpassed their admiration for Trump. They were also diverse in the extent to which their Christianity influenced their vote. Many voters, especially in the rural Midwest and Appalachia – still theoretically sought to keep what they heard and believed and church separate from their decisions in the voting booth and what they heard on the news. However, I distinctly found in Southern Baptist congregations, especially across the South, an unqualified embrace of Christian nationalism that led to a unique embrace of Trump and the Republican Party.
JRP: What is the “shared language” between Donald Trump and Red-State Christians?
AD: A man who worked in a steel mill in Appalachia told me how frustrating his career was because the company had been outsourced. Instead of a local family running things, the owner’s son had moved operations. Now they got their checks from New Jersey instead of the local bank. It was clear that he preferred the local owner to the distant one. I compare that to many Red-State Christians’ embrace of Trump. Yes, he is often wealthier than them – but he’s “their rich guy.” He eats Taco Bell on Cinco de Mayo, he’s slightly overweight and his suits don’t fit right, he spells words wrong, he curses, he’s “politically incorrect.” Trump has an instinctual knack for speaking in ways that make people who are very different than him feel as if they’re close to him, such as the times he served fast food to championship athletes: food many Red-State Christians would connect with their day-to-day lives as well.
Read the entire interview here.
Robert Wilken‘s new book Liberty in Things of God: The Christian Origins of Religious Freedom makes the case that religious liberty has Christian roots that date back to the second century. Tal Howard reviews Wilken’s new book at The Anxious Bench blog.
Here is a taste:
Wilken seeks to reorient our understanding of the history of religious freedom. Today, many educated people believe that once upon a time history teemed with inquisitions, witch trials, and religious wars until, lo, the eighteenth-century Enlightenment arrived, paving the way for the American and French Revolutions and with them the constitutional protection of religious liberty. In this narrative, religious freedom is a relatively recent and secular achievement.
But the actual origins of religious freedom are far more complex and specifically indebted to Christian theology, according to Wilken. His argument proceeds in four stages.
First, the spread of Christianity in the classical world redefined religious belief. In the Roman Empire, religious devotion was tethered to the state and manifested itself in outward acts of piety. It was not an inward matter of conviction and conscience. Christians were thus sometimes charged with “atheism” and persecuted for failing to perform the customary rituals. Roman harassment inspired Tertullian and other early Christians writers, notably Lactantius and Origen of Alexandria, to insist that true religion resided in “conscience” apart from Caesar’s domain. Tertullian in fact first coined the term “religious freedom” (libertas religionis) and saw it as a “human right” (humanum ius). “Religion cannot be imposed by force,” echoed Lactantius against his Roman critics.
Read the entire review here.
Over at Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron talks with Jill Hicks-Keeton, co-editor (with Cavan Concannon) of The Museum of the Bible: A Critical Introduction. Full disclosure: I have an essay in this book titled “Letting the Bible Do Its Work on Behalf of Christian America: The Founding Era at the Museum of the Bible.”
Here is a taste of the interview:
Why does this museum demand so much attention?
Part of the reason is the money invested in it. It’s in a very public place, near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. One might even think, mistakenly, that it’s a Smithsonian. This museum is poised to have some influence on the way that the public understands the Bible. Our job as educators in the field of biblical studies is to use the museum as an opportunity to teach a wider public about the academic study of the Bible and its history.
What are some of the major criticisms of the scholars?
If one were to read all essays, they make a case that the museum is deeply intertwined with the evangelicalism of the founding Green family. Many people say it’s not a problem for people to use private money to invest in something they think is important, (but) we bristle at the public representation of their project. They say they have no perspective and no agenda. We don’t think that’s possible or true.
Are scholars saying the museum should come out and say what its perspective is?
That’s one way to rectify what they think is wrong. But the volume is not written for the museum. Our job as scholars is to analyze and catalog and chronicle what’s happening with how the Bible is represented. If the museum leadership doesn’t make changes as a result of the book, we won’t feel like the book has failed. It’s written for a wider audience and not in order to change the museum.
Read the entire interview here.
I am looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of Charles Camosy‘s new book Resisting Throwaway Culture: How a Consistent Life Ethic Can United a Fractured People. Camosy offers us a small glimpse of his argument in a recent piece at Religion News Service. Here is a taste:
A revitalized Consistent Life Ethic [CLE] — especially as understood and articulated in the Roman Catholic tradition by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and (especially) Pope Francis — could provide a path to unifying a fractured culture around a vision of the good.
Through the church’s CLE, rightly understood, a new generation can not only challenge our impoverished and incoherent political imagination but also can begin the hard work of laying out the foundational goods and principles upon which whatever comes next can be built.
To many, the CLE is equated simply with a pro-life or anti-abortion stance. But in the encyclical “Caritas in veritate,” Benedict said that it is false to distinguish between “pro-life” issues (where the church is thought to have more conservative views) and “social justice” issues (where the church is thought to have more liberal views).
Abortion, euthanasia and embryo-destructive research are to be understood as social justice issues — just as global consumerism, ecological concern and care for the poor are to be understood as life issues.
What the CLE really opposes is what Pope Francis calls “throwaway culture” — a mentality in which everything has a price, everything can be bought, everything is negotiable. This way of thinking has room only for a select few, while it discards all those who are unproductive.
Such a culture reduces everything — including people — into mere things, whose worth consists in being bought, sold, or used, and which are then discarded when their market value has been exhausted. Francis insists that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” applies clearly to our culture’s “economy of exclusion.” In the pope’s view, “Such an economy kills.”
In a throwaway culture, a primary value is maintaining a consumerist lifestyle. To cease caring about who is being discarded, most of us must find a way to no longer acknowledge their inherent dignity. Instead of language that affirms and highlights the value of every human being, throwaway culture requires language that deadens our capacity for moral concern toward those who most need it.
The values of the CLE, in other words, are the irreducible dignity of the person, nonviolence, hospitality, encounter, mercy, conservation of the ecological world and giving priority to the most vulnerable.
Read the entire piece here.