Monday, February 16, 2015

Disappearing The Religious Force That Fueled The Abolition and Civil Rights Struggles

Harriet Tubman was known as "The Moses of her people," for a reason.  As I noted a while ago, all through the accounts that former slaves gave, the story in the biblical Exodus of God freeing The Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt was cited and alluded to, over and over again.   Other than that the claims made in The Declaration of Independence that their Creator had made them the equal of anyone else and endowed them with the right to freedom and that their life was their own is what inspired slaves to risk the dangers of escaping slavery and opposing it.  Over and over again, in recent biographies of Harriet Tubman I've found that her religious beliefs were attributed to the injury to her head given to her by a slave owner when she refused to help him prevent another slave from escaping.   This, from one found on PBS, is typical.

As a teenager, Tubman suffered a traumatic head injury that would cause a lifetime of seizures, along with powerful visions and vivid dreams that she ascribed to God. She would rely on these visions first in planning her own escape from slavery and later, when leading others to freedom in the North.

Rather interestingly, that follows from this first paragraph in the short bio.

Born into slavery on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in 1820, Harriet Tubman (named Araminta Ross at birth) is remembered for challenging stereotypes of race, gender and class. As a child, she learned Bible stories from her mother, finding inspiration in the Exodus narrative and rejecting the admonitions for slaves to obey their masters. She would later become known as "Moses" for her work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, leading slaves North to freedom.

t seems that,  after saying that, there's a felt need that the anonymous author of the bio attribute Harriet Tubman's religious experience to pathology so as not to risk anyone suspecting he or she takes it seriously, as seriously as Harriet Tubman obviously did since she recounted such experiences and attributed significance to them.  And, I will point out, there is no real scientific evidence to go on in making that assumption, it is based on meager evidence filled in with a popular and superficial understanding of "neuroscience" as it is presented by the media, the farthest thing of an expert opinion on the matter.   You would have to have a modern medical assessment of the living Harriet Tubman to do anything valid about it.

That is a pattern I've found in this look at the motives and reasoning of major figures in the abolition of slavery, figures in the past struggle and, as I'm finding ever more, now.  The direct testimony of those who are the only experts on their experience, over and over again, cite their religious experience and reasoning about the scriptures as the thing that powered their resistance to slavery and oppression is discounted or unmentioned instead of being acknowledged as central to it,  The motives of that in the academic and media class is partly ideological but, I think even more so, the result of the coercion to suppress any acknowledgement of positive religion and a felt need to demonstrate that someone is reliably non- or anti-religious so as to be acceptable in the peer group and hierarchy of those institutions and groups.   As I noted a while ago, nothing from the injury to her head seems to have effected the brilliance with which she planned, studied and carried out many successful missions to rescue people from slavery, an effort in which she was able to say that she had never lost a passenger as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

That it is a fundamental distortion of history and a serious impediment to understanding what has worked in resisting one of the major evils that human beings face makes this disappearing of positive religion a means of supporting the continuation of that evil.  Clearly for those deputed to be on the left who do that, ending oppression is not their primary goal, ending religion is.  That has been announced as part of the intention of ideological atheists, to make religion into something seen as evil, as bad, as backward and superstitious and unkewl and so to convince people, especially the young that religion is nothing they need to or want to consider and think about seriously.

One of the major figures in the early post-abolition civil rights movement is the great journalist and writer Ida B. Wells-Barnett who I've seen presented as having rejected Christianity through selected quotes from her so as to make them seen condemn Christianity.  I've seen quotes from Fredrick Douglass used the same way.  In both cases the writers were not rejecting Christianity, they were pointing out how those involved with lynching and those who refused to do anything to end it were being hypocrites BECAUSE THEIR RELIGIOUS PROFESSION REQUIRED THEM TO END LYNCHING.  They were being as bad at being Christians as it was possible to be, if they were doing it the right way, no one would be lynched or oppressed in any of the ways that comprised the Jim Crow period, in the South or in other and not so different ways in many other parts of the country.   Both saw that as an offense against the religion that they took very seriously.   Ida Well-Barnett began her anti-lynching campaign in church newspapers, she continued it through the churches, she taught Sunday school even as her anti-lynching campaign was well underway and continuing.

The same effort even led Christopher Hitchens to lie about the fact that THE REVEREND Martin Luther King jr. was primarily motivated in his civil rights resistance by what he learned from The Bible and the Christian theological tradtion.   I guess Hitchens and the many online atheists who have parroted him on that are saying The Reverend Martin Luther King jr was lying about that, even in his last sermon as he compared himself to Moses who was allowed to see the future where civil rights would be won but which he, though still a young man, would not enter into himself.   And it's obvious from the context of that sermon that he knew he was going to be assassinated, he clearly saw that as well.

But the fact that The Reverend King led the last great successful campaign of the left, with the clearest of religious motives and working primarily within the churches and with them, can be disappeared by the coercive force of atheism which did virtually nothing in that effort that yielded any results.  If anything, it was a burden and a hurdle that had to be gotten over, one of the major lies told about The Reverend King in his lifetime was that he was a fraud and a communist.  I sometimes wonder if he had it to do again if he would have not gone to address the Highlander School where someone took his picture and used it to lie about his commitment to Christianity from the other side.  The same lie told from two sides, serving the same end.  

I would guess that any school teacher who told the truth about that would be in hot water for proselytizing or inserting religious propaganda into history classes, though the facts of the matter couldn't possibly be clearer.  You can't honestly teach The Reverend Martin Luther King jr or the civil rights struggle without noting the major motivating force that the religion of the people involved is what made it happen.  You can't ignore that it was their understanding of The Bible in the context of their lives that allowed slaves to imagine freeing themselves and ending the institution of slavery.   It is often forgotten, especially in movie and TV costume dramas that it was the slaves, former slaves and free black people who are the primary force in the abolition and civil rights struggles and what they, themselves, articulated as to their motives and thoughts are the primary, primary source material in the period during which that first becomes available to us.  No doubt it also was true when that was in the oral tradition which is, of course, lost to us now.  To disappear the motives of those who struggled, fought and died to end slavery, to free people from it, is to lie about them, their struggle and to impede the continuation of that work which is certainly not over.


  1. You can if you're Jeffery Tayler (who has a new unhinged rant at Salon. Honestly, his screeds are so ignorant they would embarrass a more intelligent and informed person.). Or if you're Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, all of whom say the most outrageous things and then when those words are taken seriously, deny they meant that at all.

    But when the words of Christianity are taken seriously, and it leads to the abolitionist movement or the Civil Rights movement, then it is religion which was never meant at all, especially when the movement is successful. Because we all know, religion cannot self-critical and it cannot function in the world, since religion is, by definition, a fiction.

    So in another Salon article (I almost stop at the headlines now), Lincoln was a harsher critic of Christianity than Obama. But the evidence adduced (comparing Lincoln's second Inaugural to Obama's speech at the prayer breakfast, as poor a choice for comparison as can be imagined), Lincoln is harsher than Obama, and therefore better. Let's say, rather, that Lincoln was more realistic, especially in the middle of a Civil War. Doesn't make him a superior atheist, or a superior religious person; it simply puts him in line with a number of Christians across time. King savaged the church in his Birmingham jail letter, and King was clergy speaking to clergy.

    Obama was speaking at a non-denominational religious occasion. It wasn't even a state function, with a history extending back to Washington.

    But on and on it goes, the ignorant and the uninformed screeching their stupidity as if noise proved them right. I'm slowly giving up on paying attention to it (at least this time I didn't post a comment at the Tayler article about how incredibly stupid and ignorant it was. His definition of "prayer" for the National Prayer Breakfast (which, yes, we could all do without) was so parodic it should have shamed him to put his name to it.). It's funny how Tayler and some of the comments there insist that 99% of the world is wrong, and that they are rational and leading the vanguard of advancing humanity because Sweden!

    One of the least populous countries on the planet is their constant proof that we'll all be atheists within 20 years. It's so stupid it's painful, but it proves the old adage: you can't fix stupid.

  2. Adding: it doesn't have to be Sweden; maybe it's Norway. The assertion is never clear, but it's clearly one of those Scandinavian countries, and they're clearly all atheists now, and that means we all will be soon.

    Because as goes Scandinavia, so goes the world. Might as well argue we'll all be socialists sitting on IKEA or Danish Modern furniture, too.

    You speak of personal experience and who is an expert in what they have experienced, and again, religion is what the harshest critics say it is. Taylor's description of prayer makes me wonder who hard he had to imagine to make it up. Proof-texting of scripture is worse among atheists than among fundamentalists, as they mine it to "prove", well, whatever they want to prove. But it's true because "atheists!"

    Honestly, whatever idea of "reason" these people have, it doesn't conform to any definition you'll find in Webster's.

    And, of course, African-Americans worked through churches because it was a source of community; not because it had anything to do with religion whatsoever. In that way we don't demean them because they were foolish enough to believe, but we don't disregard the elephant in the room.

    We just redefine it to be, in fact, a coffee table. Probably Danish Modern. I hear that's coming back into style

    1. Last time I looked, most of the Scandinavian countries still had established religions, most Swedes considered themselves Christians, though there was a big fall off in those who claimed membership in the Lutheran Church when the law was changed so that only official members of the church would be taxed to support it.

      I seem to recall reading that Norway had disestablished its official church but I'm not sure of that. When I looked at the Pew figures on religion they showed that the typical atheist claims about the atheism of Britain or Sweden were contradicted by that. As with their "Nones" distortion, they made the weekly attendance of services their defining issue, which would mean I'm an atheist as I haven't been to church in over a year.

      The condescension of that kind of atheist attribution of insincerity and hypocrisy to black Christians and even Muslims is typical of atheist condescension to everyone but particularly telling as to how "liberal" they are not.

  3. I thought of an experiment to do on the question of Lincoln and his alleged atheism by doing a word search of his collected papers for appropriate terms, such as "God" to see what he really said, especially at the end of his life, his mature thinking on the question. I just looked at one of the volumes at Project Gutenberg and see he was clearly up front on his thinking on the matter, even rather mystical in describing his experience and his situation, for example in a April 4, 1864 tp A. G. HODGES, ESQ., Frankfort, Kentucky: :

    "I add a word which was not in the verbal conversation. In telling this tale I attempt no compliment to my own sagacity. I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years' struggle, the nation's condition is not what either party, or any man, devised or expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North, as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God."

    I've come to believe there is a concerted effort to de-religionize a history of American liberalism and liberalism around the world which, when you read the actual history, especially of those most committed to and most effective in making change, and that it is done on behalf of atheism by atheists and those who they can coerce or dupe into censoring themselves and history on that count. Reading primary documents instead of stuff like Max Weber or other secondary junk and the tertiary crap written on that junk is really illuminating and I'm convinced shows the way forward. I think that's even true in the problematic issue of gay rights. When I look at the secular program for where gay men are supposed to end up, in the pornographied lives advocated, it's exchanging one form of oppression from the outside with a more insidious one embedded into our minds and lives. The same for women as the 50 Shades phenomenon demonstrates.

    1. Coupled with the desire to define" true" Xianity as fundamentalism, so the rest of us aren't real believers.

  4. I can imagine what that guy would have said if Obama had issued an order like this one:



    The President, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, desires and enjoins the orderly observance of the Sabbath by the officers and men in the military and naval service. The importance for man and beast of the prescribed weekly rest, the sacred rights of Christian soldiers and sailors, a becoming deference to the best sentiment of a Christian people, and a due regard for the divine will demand that Sunday labor in the army and navy be reduced to the measure of strict necessity.
    The discipline and character of the national forces should not suffer nor the cause they defend be imperilled by the profanation of the day or name of the Most High. "At this time of public distress," adopting the words of Washington in 1776, "men may find enough to do in the service of God and their country without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality." The first general order issued by the Father of his Country after the Declaration of Independence indicates the spirit in which our institutions were founded and should ever be defended:
    "The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country."

  5. "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"

    - Famed Atheist Reverend King paying homage to Famed Atheist Battle Hymn