The Southern religion

Southern writer and academic Richard M. Weaver (1910-1963) in his essay “The Older Religiousness in the South,” included in The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver (Liberty Fund, 1987), explores many of the same points summarized in my book Our Southern Nation: Its Origin and Future (AAP, 2015). These are concepts which Southern nationalists would do well to study today in reconnecting with the spirit of our people and facing the challenges of Modernity.

The major theme which underlies Wearer’s points is that “although the South was heavily Protestant, its  attitude toward religion was essentially the attitude of orthodoxy: it was simple acceptance of a body of belief, an innocence of protest and schism by which religion was left one of the unquestioned and unquestionable supports of the general settlement under which men live.” Weaver points out that both Lower South Episcopalians and Upper South Evangelicals were “inimical to the spirit of rationalism.” Southerners “regarded [their religion] as a part of their inheritance which they did not propose to have disturbed.” They “clung stubbornly to the belief that a certain portion of life must remain inscrutable, that religion offers our only means of meeting it, and that reason cannot here be a standard of interpretation.” This underpinned the Southern belief that “the content of religion was settled” and meant that “the South afforded poor soil for religious radicalism.”

As Classically-minded people, both Evangelicals and Episcopalians in the South “regarded themselves as custodians of the mysteries, little concerned with social agitation, out of reach of winds of political doctrine.” The “religious skepticism of Thomas Jefferson and his “free-thinking” radicalism represented a “transient phase” in the South which “disappeared so completely in the antebellum years that it can be properly ignored in any account of the molding of the Confederate South.” By 1830, Jefferson’s example was dead in the South and the people “wanted the older religion of dreams and drunkenness – something akin to the rituals of the Medieval Church, and to the Eleusinian mysteries of the ancients.”

Socially and politically the South’s religion supported a traditionalist worldview, a bastion of conservatism in a Modernist world of chaos and radicalism. Weaver writes that “a sense of restraint, and a willingness to abide by the traditional were universally viewed as marks of the gentleman.” He continues, noting that “the Southern gentleman looked upon religion as a great conservative agent and a bulwark of those institutions which served him. Spokesmen of the South were constantly criticizing Northerners for making religion a handmaid of social and political reform.”

Note: The conservatism and traditionalism of the South’s religion was likewise found in the other plantation societies of the Golden Circle and continues to impact the region to this day.

Celtics Cross

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  1. On a side note. I find that Northerners expressing religious sentiments seems odd and incongruous to me. Seeing the current, non-Southern presidential candidates trying to pray, tells me that they’re not accustomed to do it as we are. Nor does it come with the ease which we take for granted and as natural.

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  2. “Although the South was heavily Protestant, its attitude toward religion was essentially the attitude of orthodoxy: it was simple acceptance of a body of belief, an innocence of protest and schism by which religion was left one of the unquestioned and unquestionable supports of the general settlement under which men live.”

    Yes, how very true; which, incidentally, Sir, is why I find it so easy to be a Southerner who is a member of the Russian Orthodox Church.

    We’ve gone over this before, and I will say it again : the same motivations that produce in me a veneration for our traditional society, and a desire to see it perpetuated, are the very same that see Christian developments, since the last ecumenical council, some 1,400 years ago, with suspicion.

    Either the original Christian faith was right, or it was not, and if it was not, there is no need in ‘reforming’ it.

    If something is right, their can be no ‘progress’ – only ‘digress’.

    So, while I joyously attend Wednesday night bible class, at a local, out in the sticks, Freewill Baptist church, and enjoy myself roundly, I think that, though they are god-fearing folks who are living The Lord, they are missing elements of the faith.

    Protestantism is, in my view – not my church’s – a valid platform to reach The Lord, but, not the most optimum – as it is founded on schism, and cynicism in God’s church, two things which add a little sour tang to all the beautiful other things present in their piety.

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  3. “although the South was heavily Protestant, its attitude toward religion was essentially the attitude of orthodoxy: it was simple acceptance of a body of belief, an innocence of protest and schism by which religion was left one of the unquestioned and unquestionable supports of the general settlement under which men live.”

    These things are very true, Sir, and yet, oddly, it is this very nature of schism upon which Protestantism is founded; and yet, odder still, it is so very right to note that there is a cultural link between certain attitudes of a Southern Protestant Christian and that of Orthodoxy.

    That is probably why I am a Southerner, but, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church.
    In my mind, either the original Christian church was right, and if it was not, then there is no ‘improving it’.

    Happily I attend Wednesday bible school class at a local Freewill Baptist church, out in the sticks, and, oh, my, do they have the spirit of The Lord : yes, they do!

    I have come to believe, the only area where my own church might censor me, is that Protestantism is a capable platform for souls to reach God, though, missing things from Orthodoxy that render Orthodoxy a more optimum platform.

    Just the fact that the Orthodox church has gone practically unchanged, since the last ecumenical council, some 1,400 years ago, has tremendous value.

    It has refused to change, because there is no changing right.

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  4. ‘Weaver points out that both Lower South Episcopalians and Upper South Evangelicals were “inimical to the spirit of rationalism.”

    I do not know about how true that assertion is. After all, it is Protestantism which rejects the mystery of the church, and the revelations of The Lord, to the church fathers, by it’s very ‘rational’ insistence of ‘sola scriptura’.

    Protestantism uses, very litigiously, certain passages in the scripture, to rationally justify it’s own existence, outside of the original church.

    Yet, there can be no doubt that Southern Evangelicals have a fondness for mystery that is absolutely galling to Northerners – even Northern Christians, or, in many cases, even, Southerners who attend more staid services, in urban settings.

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  5. I have found that, all my life, being a Southerner, with rural blood, seems to have given me good qualifications for understanding Eastern Europeans, and their particular mindsets.

    I uset to think myself bizarre, but, now that I have noted, in recent years, White Nationalists and or Southern Nationalists, in some cases, gravitating towards Orthodoxy, I think it less so.

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