Dr. Anthony Bradley continues with his complaint against Rev. Doug Wilson.
In the piece above, Dr. Bradley is offended at the instances where the antebellum South is embraced in an idolatrous fashion. And of course, wherever there exist Christians who 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? 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 a reasonable guess?
Dr. Bradley goes on to say that this idolatry has existed without much resistance. Really? I can only speak from my own perspective, but in much of my reading I see a great deal of resistance. For example, several years ago, the Reformed circle known as 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 do not 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 cannot, 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 as “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 one of the last muscular expressions 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.” Why, exactly, should Christians with a Southern heritage count their birthright “rubbish”?
Fortunately, Dr. Bradley’s opinions notwithstanding, one can at the same time hold on to his God-given Southern heritage and keep it from being an idol – while at the same time gaining Christ.
Dr. Bradley seems to think 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, according to Dr. Bradley, 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 simply because a person is a slave, it follows that, existentially speaking, he 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. Indeed, 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 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. According to Dr. Bradley, Rev. Wilson is not 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 desiring to learn more 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 than 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; The Tragic Era: The Revolution After Lincoln, by Claude G. Bowers; North against South: The American Iliad, 1848-1877; The Coming of the Civil War, by Avery Craven; 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. This era and the history surrounding it are an 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 is not 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 were 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 the respect for families, the practice of chivalry, the 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 a loss of power and privilege, perhaps it is explained by a longing for proper hierarchies and distinctions, in accord with the fifth commandment.
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 black slavery along with the virtues of the Southern social order? 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 the civil government’s power was decentralized and diffuse? What would be so terrible about a social order that took seriously again the ninth and tenth amendments? 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.