The Holy Apostle Paul warned the elders over the Christians in Ephesus that ‘grievous wolves’ and other dishonorable men would arise in their congregation shortly after his leave-taking from them (Acts 20:29, 30). We believe that such men have come amongst us here in the South, where many of the churches have become yet another means by which to destroy Southern culture and identity, whether knowingly or unknowingly.
Displaying the American Flag
Many congregations in the South display the flag of the [u]nited States either inside or outside their church buildings. Doing so is a silent acknowledgement that they agree with the principles represented by this flag. This in effect forces Southrons to spit upon the legacy of their forefathers, who tried valiantly to defend the truth that the union is voluntary, made up of unique, independent countries (States). Displaying the uS flag declares the opposite: that there is ‘one nation . . . indivisible’, and that if any State dares try to leave it, THE NATION has every right to force her to stay in.
There are a whole host of other ideas bound up with this flag, but the other main one we wish to focus on under this heading is the idea that ‘America is the last best hope of mankind’. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it this way: ‘America ... appears like a last effort of divine Providence in behalf of the human race.’ Such ideas are a blasphemous slur against Christ and His Body the Church. They are a declaration that the gates of Hell have overcome the Church brought into the world on Pentecost, and that now God has raised up another, a better, ‘church’ - the Nation of America - to do what the other failed to do, to finish bringing salvation to the world.
A country may have within it many, many Christians, but it will never be completely identical with the Church. But one of the Yankee legacies (or heresies) is just that: That ‘America’ is the Church and vice versa. Nevertheless, it remains precisely the Church, and not Puritan, Emersonian, Lincolnian America, that is the ‘last effort of divine Providence in behalf of the human race’.
But there are other errors of Modernity that have taken hold of Southern churches.
In his book The American Religion, Prof Harold Bloom explains that what passes for Christianity in modern America hinges on two un-Southern attitudes: God must be experienced by the individual in complete isolation from 1) other people and 2) the creation (Simon & Schuster, 1992, p. 32). We will take the second of these first.
The creation has always been for Southerners, as for their forebears, a means of encountering God, of experiencing the grace of His presence, ‘a “second book” of revelation’ (James Farmer, Jr, The Metaphysical Confederacy, 2nd edn., Mercer UP, 1999, p. 88). Such ideas are present in numerous poets, novelists, and theologians of the South. Some of their sentiments are expressed in the following:
Far from seeing conflict between revealed religion and nature, they [subscribers to natural theology] insisted upon the mutual dependence of the two. The order and beauty so manifest in nature pointed, for them, to a supernatural wisdom and directed the observer to a divine cause, thereby confirming and reinforcing the teachings of Scripture. . . . For the educated clergy, and especially the Presbyterians, the idea of being apathetic or fearful about the study of nature was simply unacceptable. To reject the study of God’s handiwork was to close one avenue through which man might approach the Almighty. To fear the consequences of rational inquiry into nature was to separate the Creator from his creation (Farmer, pgs. 88-9).
The Rev James Henley Thornwell once wrote,
“External nature, to reason, . . . becomes an august temple of the Most High.” Since mortal man was not capable of rising to the full contemplation of God through His Word, he “must study God in his works, as children who cannot look the sun in the face behold its image in the limpid stream” (Farmer, p. 89).
A recently departed Romanian priest, a renowned theologian, amplifies these thoughts:
The economy of God, that is, his plan with regard to the world, consists in the deification of the created world, something which, as a consequence of sin, implies also its salvation. . . . Salvation and deification undoubtedly have humanity directly as their aim but not a humanity separated from nature, rather one that is ontologically united with it. For nature depends on man or makes him whole, and man cannot reach perfection if he does not reflect nature and is not at work upon it. . . .
. . . The glory of Christ on Tabor was spread out over nature too. Yet, for the eyes and senses of the many it can remain hidden, while nature can be degraded and affected by the wickedness of the few. In its turn, nature can be the medium through which the believer receives divine grace or the beneficent uncreated energies, just as it can be the medium through which influences driving him toward evil flow out upon him (Fr Dumitru Staniloae, The Experience of God, Vol. 2, The World: Creation and Deification, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2000, pgs. 1, 3).
The summit of this sacramentalism is of course in the elements of the Holy Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper: the bread and the wine, the fruits of the earth happily united with the brotherly labor of mankind and consecrated by the Holy Ghost, so that the divine presence of the Logos, the Lord Jesus Christ, in creation is intensified to the greatest degree possible.
Having noted this cooperation of labor that is necessary in observing the rites surrounding the Eucharistic meal, we will now turn to the other spiritual illness ravaging Southern churches that we noted above: individualism.
The Solitary Individual
The aforementioned Orthodox priest, Fr Dumitru, will help us transition. He writes,
Thus, when nature is maintained and made use of in conformity with itself, it proves itself a means through which man grows spiritually and brings his good intentions toward himself and his fellow men to bear fruit; but when man sterilizes, poisons, and abuses nature on a monstrous scale, he hampers his own spiritual growth and that of others. This confirms the fact that nature is given as a necessary means for the development of humanity in solidarity . . . .
. . . Through work, moreover, every person obtains the means necessary not only for himself, but also for his neighbors. Humans must work and think in solidarity with regard to the transformation of the gifts of nature. Thus, it is through the mediation of nature that solidarity is created among humans, and work, guided by thought, is a principal virtue creative of communion among humans (Ibid., pgs. 3, 4).
Wendell Berry continues these themes in his poem ‘The Farm’:
Be thankful and repay
Growth with good work and care.
Work done in gratitude,
Kindly, and well, is prayer.
. . .
No gratitude atones
For bad use or too much.
This is not work for hire.
By this expenditure
You make yourself a place;
You make yourself a way
For love to reach the ground.
In its ambition and
Its greed, its violence,
The world is turned against
And yet the world survives
By the survival of
This kindly working love.
. . .
Soon you have salad greens
Out of the garden rows,
Then peas, early potatoes,
Onions, beets, beans, sweet corn.
The bounty of the year
Now comes in like a tide:
. . .
Eat, and give to the neighbors;
. . .
Later will come the fall crops:
Turnips, parsnips, more greens,
The winter squashes, cushaws,
And pumpkins big as tubs.
“Too much for us,” you’ll say,
And give some more away.
(A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, Counterpoint, 1998, pgs. 141, 143, 144)
Churches, more so than farming villages and any other community, are not playgrounds for mere individuals. A man reflects the image of his Maker, the Holy Trinity, the most when he lives in the same manner as the Trinity, as a being in loving communion with others. To live alone, or even to live solely for oneself while in the midst of others, is a mark of rebellion against God and against other men and the angels; it is the rejection of community, the way of the devil. It is unsurprising, then, to find Rev Thornwell describing the Church as an ‘organic body’ and having ‘an organic unity as the supernatural product of the Holy Spirit’ (The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, Vol. I: Theological, Banner of Truth Trust, 1986, pgs. 44, 45).
The Church Fathers, whom Southerners have been inclined to read, emphasize the need for others in our lives, especially in the context of Church life. The fourth-century Father, St Basil the Great, writes,
And if indeed we all, who share in the one hope of our calling [Eph. 4:4], are one body, having Christ as head, and are each members of one another [1 Cor. 12:12], if we are not fitted together in the Holy Spirit to join in concord into one body, but each of us chooses the solitary life, we will not serve the common good with coordinated planning according to God’s good pleasure, but fulfill our own passion for self-indulgence. When we are split off and divided, how can we preserve the relationship and service of the members to each other, or our submission toward our head, that is Christ? . . . the one receives each of these [gifts of the Spirit, 1 Cor. 12:8-10] has it no more for his own sake than for the sake of others. Consequently, in community life the activity of the Holy Spirit in one person must pass to everyone together. So the one living by himself perhaps has one gift, and he makes it useless because it is uncultivated, buried in the earth within himself. This indeed involves great danger, as all see who have read the Gospels. But when many live together, each indeed both enjoys his own gift, multiplying it through sharing, and profits from the gifts of others as his own (On the Human Condition, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2005, pgs. 120-1).
And selfish individuals in the present, sundered from community, will likewise have no love for their departed ancestors. Though their labors have made our lives possible, we will neither remember them, nor honor them, nor pray for them.
Tinkering with Tradition
And here we come to another profound point, the handing down of the patrimony of our ancestors to present and future generations. Prof James K. A. Smith writes throughout his book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, that ways of thinking and acting are inculcated in people far more by the physical rituals or liturgies we perform day by day than by intellectual or rational study. Therefore, if our Southern churches are constantly changing their modes of worship, exchanging ancient rites for the fads of the day created with secular marketing techniques, it is not ‘the faith which was once delivered unto the saints’ (St Jude’s Letter, v. 3) that we will be receiving. And if this is how flippantly modernist churches handle the Apostolic deposit, with how much less care will they handle the traditions of our Southern forebears?
Church and Culture
Though politics grabs most of the attention, it is the churches we must be most concerned with. For, as many are fond of repeating nowadays, politics is downstream from culture. And culture, as T. S. Eliot reminds us, is the incarnation of a people’s religious beliefs. Thus, if Southern churches teach us by word or act that Americanism is our creed; the severed, autonomous individual is paramount; that the creation/sacraments, community, and history, are of no importance; that the old liturgies may be replaced with cushy theater seating, rock bands, virtual campuses, and ‘obscene’ (to use Miss Flannery O’Connor’s word) video screens that strive to give us a hit of carnal euphoria before buying a cup of coffee at the Starbuck’s attached to the hideous architecture of the ‘worship center’ - if this is what is being passed off to Southrons as Christianity, then there is little hope that Dixie’s centuries-old culture will survive. For its survival hinges on retaining the ‘older religiousness’ Prof Richard Weaver dwelt much upon. If political separation from Washington City and Greater Yankeedom is a good goal for the South (and many think it is), it will have to be preceded first by a religious separation, by an escape from Yankee Fundamentalism and other innovations, and a return to much older modes of Christian thinking and worship - the very soil which gave birth to and has nurtured the South all these many years.
Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!
Anathema to the Union!