Christianity Today has a series of posts pulling back the curtain on Christmas concepts and traditions. W. David O. Taylor describes the debauchery of 17th century Christmas celebrations, how Puritan leaders outlawed Christmas all together, and the influences that brought it shaped what we celebrate today.
One of those influences was Queen Victoria, who shared her family traditions with the world just as Christmas was beginning to be accepted again in America. (Alabama was the first state to make it legal in 1836.)
As the historian Stephen Nissenbaum summarizes things in The Battle for Christmas, what was once marked by liturgical celebrations at church and festivities in the village, revolving around public rituals and civic activities, eventually turned into a domestic affair, revolving around a children-centric holiday, marked by extravagant gift-giving and, in time, commercial-oriented activities.
Tom Flynn in The Trouble with Christmas adds this remarkable fact: “[It is] surprising how small a role the churches played in the Victorian revival. From its inception, contemporary Christmas was primarily a secular and commercial holiday. The parsons were as surprised as anyone else when after a century-long hiatus, the pews started filling up again on Christmas morning.”
Add to this Dickens giving us the Spirit of Christmas instead of the Spirit of Christ and various artists portraying St. Nicholas as a secular toymaker.
Photo by Jessica Lewis/Pexels
“On the morning of Thursday, Dec. 6, 1917, the captain and crew of a French munitions ship called Mont-Blanc were eager to reach the safety of Halifax Harbour, and with good reason,” writes John U. Bacon for The Boston Globe. The ship was chock-full of explosives for use against Germany. But before it could reach the harbour, you might say mistakes were made.
The ship exploded at in dock at a force estimated to be one-fifth that of the first atomic bomb.
About two hours after the explosion, Governor Samuel W. McCall sent a telegram to the mayor of Halifax: “Understand your city in danger from explosion and conflagration. Reports only fragmentary. Massachusetts ready to go the limit in rendering every assistance you may be in need of. Wire me immediately.”
“Americans today,” Ferreiro says, “celebrate the July Fourth holiday under somewhat false pretences.” Yes, the colonial-wide support of Boston in the wake of the Coercive Acts (1774) was a factor in pushing British Americans toward independence. So was the publication of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. So were the ideas of the founding fathers and the activism of ordinary colonists who destroyed the homes of tax collectors, tarred and feathered loyalists, and burned tea. Yet, as Ferreiro shows us, the men sitting at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia during the Second Continental Congress also realized that a declaration of independence was their only real chance of securing the foreign aid necessary to defeat the mighty British army and navy. As Virginian Richard Henry Lee put it in June 1776, “It’s not by choice then, but necessity that calls for independence, as the only means by which foreign alliance can be obtained.”
John Fea draws these ideas from Larrie D. Ferreiro’s Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It. He says French and Spanish diplomats wanted to push back Great Britain’s power (particularly the French after their defeat in the French and Indian War) and exploited ways to encourage our War for Independence. (via Prufrock News)
Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option is being released tomorrow. Collin Hansen reviews it here.
My main fear with Dreher’s book is that the people who need it most won’t read it. How do you convince Americans that replacing fast food and cable news with fasting and hard labor will be good for their souls?
Overwhelming evangelical support for Trump suggests not many conservative Christians would agree with Dreher that “losing political power might just be the thing that saves the church’s soul.” Rather, they seem to believe the American Empire needs our partisan politics in service of God’s kingdom.
Dreher will have many interviews this week. This one with Russell Moore is bound to be one of the better ones.
On March 22, a “Vigilance Committee” in Montgomery . . . burned Spurgeon’s sermons in the public square. A week later Mr. B. B. Davis, a bookstore owner, prepared “a good ore of pine sticks” before reducing about 60 volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons “to smoke and ashes.” . . .
Anti-Spurgeon bonfires illuminated jail yards, plantations, bookstores, and courthouses throughout the Southern states. In Virginia, Mr. Humphrey H. Kuber, a Baptist preacher and “highly respectable citizen” of Matthews County, burned seven calf-skinned volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons “on the head of a flour barrel.”
British newspapers quipped that America had given Spurgeon a warm welcome, “a literally brilliant reception.”
Christian George, head of the C. H. Spurgeon Library, has produced the first volume of lost sermons by the great London preacher. The dark history above comes from the preface of this volume.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson, founder of what has become Black History Month, wanted to spotlight the many social and academic achievements of African Americans.
“For serious, solution-oriented black conservatives today,” Chidike Okeem writes, “Woodson provided a model of how one can be enthusiastically pro-market, doggedly anti-Marxist economics, and do so while being unapologetically African. He demonstrated that endorsement of free market economics does not have to coincide with self-hatred and anti-blackness.”
“Black Americans have African ancestors who were marvelously accomplished, built civilizations, and were intrepid innovators. African Americans, despite a history of oppression, have demonstrated that same entrepreneurial spirit throughout American history.”
Despite many arguments to the contrary, many writers and literary advocates have yearned for unique voices within single cultural traditions. In the early days of this country, we wanted to forge distinct American literature that was not dependent on our British roots or British authors. We continue that yearning in all artforms today. You’ll remember that one of the strength’s of the Netflix original Luke Cage is how culturally black it is.
In his fascinating and original new book, Reaping Something New: African American Transformations of Victorian Literature, Daniel Hack provocatively joins the contrarian chorus by examining the relationship between one of the most marginalized literary traditions and one of the most dominant. He has found that a wide range of the most important 19th-century African-American writers drew from and engaged with writers of equal importance to the Victorian literary tradition.
While it may be natural to want one’s own voice in art, many of us may unrealistically define that uniqueness. We may chafe at anything at smacks of dependency while ignoring the relationships and influences we cannot avoid. Nothing, after all, is truly original. (via Prufrock)
“This story is important to me because people in America aren’t aware that black farmers are still around,” Mr. Santiago said. “People don’t know what their struggles are and that they are still being discriminated against. For the most part, whether they are black or white, the farmers get pushed down and end up having to sell their properties because they can’t get loans. Small farms are denied because they don’t usually have any collateral to get a loan. Through my research I’ve learned if you’re looking for stolen black land, all you have to do is follow the lynching trail. That’s how it started to happen. Black farmers were killed for their land.”
Justin Taylor explores many details in the true story behind the new movie The Birth of a Nation, which one history professor called “a deeply flawed, historically inaccurate movie that exploits and distorts Nat Turner’s story and the history of slavery in America.”
According to his own testimony, Nat Turner appears to have been a strong, intelligent man who could not be subdued by a slave economy. He was gifted and believed he was called by God to lead a righteous war against slave owners. Reading his spiritual account, you could say he was powerfully deceived, but you might also say a brilliant and spiritually sensitive man can be twisted and perverted when shackled by oppression. Not that any motive or character study would justify the murder he and his allies committed, but the slavery in which they lived cannot be justified either. Four times as many slaves were murdered in retribution to Nat Turner’s revolt as whites were murdered by the revolt, which speaks to the war-like nature of the whole affair. This wasn’t a just war nor was it followed by a just condemnation.
Recommended reading ends the post.
History professor Vanessa M. Holden, in the past linked from Taylor’s, says, “Parker’s movie is important. Its independent roots and blockbuster distribution deal are significant in an industry that still grapples with racism. It also draws the public’s attention to a history that has no white saviors or triumphant endings. The character Turner is not long suffering; he springs into violent action as soon as he becomes aware of slavery’s brutality and validates his claim to humanity and freedom, just as the historical Turner did, through a radicalized Christianity. But the license that Parker took in an effort to craft his heroic version of Turner ultimately strips away too much valuable context.”
Do we have religious freedom by the generosity of our government or by our natural rights as human beings? Is it more correct to say “all Men should enjoy the fullest Toleration in the Exercise of Religion, according to the Dictates of Conscience” or “all men are equally entitled to the full and free exercise of [religion], according to the dictates of Conscience”?
Justin Taylor writes about the birth of religious freedom in the American colonies. The quoted lines above are from George Mason and James Madison respectively. “Madison’s breakthrough was the insight that since the human mind and consciences only works properly when they are uncoerced, it is therefore inherently wrong to coerce them. One should not revoke or restrict religious liberty because it is based on human reason and conscience, which cannot be revoked or restricted.”
He draws this thought from the book The Right to Be Wrong: Ending the Culture War Over Religion in America by Kevin Seamus Hasson.
Twenty-five years ago, Francis Fukuyama argued that liberal democracy was the only viable political structure of our world and all nations would eventually adopt it out of their own interests. Some disagreed with Fukuyama, saying “the Western traditions of rights and limited government, which themselves had evolved out of Christian tradition, particularly Western Christian tradition,” were in no way universally adaptable. Democracy needs fertile ground in which to grow. Now, two political scientists are arguing that our rising generation is far less committed to democratic principles than any previous generation, even willing to accept authoritarianism in various forms. (via Prufrock News)
Dr. Thomas Kidd is now blogging at The Gospel Coalition and he responds to a charge made this week that the Declaration of Independence is a systemically racist document.
“The greatest ideal animating the American experiment is here: the notion of equality by creation.” And yet, “if people are equal before God, then how can you justify slavery? Some African Americans like American soldier and evangelical pastor Lemuel Haynes asked this question within weeks of the promulgation of the Declaration.”
Haynes wrote an essay in response to Jefferson, in which he said, “Liberty is equally as precious to a black man, as it is to a white one, and bondage equally as intolerable to the one as it is to the other.”
But is the Declaration fundamentally racist? No, though it does have troubling spots, which only makes it an imperfect document. The key idea still isn’t racist at all, even if it was originally interpreted in a way we would not today. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”
Russell Moore on the church in America and our intersection with public policies in today’s New York Times. We are not a majority white church anymore more nor should we want to be.
The Bible calls on Christians to bear one another’s burdens. White American Christians who respond to cultural tumult with nostalgia fail to do this. They are blinding themselves to the injustices faced by their black and brown brothers and sisters in the supposedly idyllic Mayberry of white Christian America. That world was murder, sometimes literally, for minority evangelicals.
Alan Noble talks about the politicization of our morals and how that has raised fences around our communities.
Politics do not (or at least should not) define us, but cultural values that are traditionally wrapped up in political movements impact our perception of our neighbor. If politicians and the pundits who support them regularly speak about immigrants as threats to our country or view poor minorities as drains on our economy, or if they mock Christian voters as backwards bigots and pro-life advocates as anti-woman, it shapes the way we envision one another. We grow skeptical of one another, hostile, and cynical. In a word, we become less neighborly.
A South-Carolinian professor of history, who has many good reasons to celebrate his Confederate heritage, talks about the problems with the Confederate flag.
After the Civil War, the Confederate battle flag took on new meanings on the Southern landscape. It became thoroughly identified with a movement known as the Lost Cause, which sought to memorialize and preserve a collective Southern memory celebrating the Confederacy. However, as African-Americans were entering into civic spaces, running for office and voting in large numbers during Reconstruction and into the 1880s, they began to represent to Southern whites many of the great changes affecting the Southern landscape — chief among them a threat to Southern white political power. The Confederate flag began to be used publicly as a symbol that represented a return to “white rule.” Further, the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 became a legal tool to help whites regain political control through massive disenfranchisement of African-Americans. Through literacy clauses, poll taxes and interpretation clauses, African-Americans were almost entirely removed from the voting process in Mississippi until the mid-1960s. In the midst of this, attacks on African-Americans in the form of lynchings and violent intimidation attempted to keep African-Americans from political activity or challenging a new system of white control.
He recommends the state of Mississippi put this symbol behind them. “Mississippi can be a beacon to the rest of the world that love, selflessness, repentance and reconciliation can reign.”
Dr. Carl Ellis describes what he calls “ol’ redneck culture” in the South and how it produced a group of African-American underachievers who celebrate the ghetto. “The values of this culture,” he says, “produced self-sabotaging, self-destructive behavior patterns, including: drunkenness, gang formation, ‘talkin’ trash,’ a scornful attitude toward education and boisterous exhibitionism, to name a few.”
[The achievers] who participated in the great northern migration generally succeeded in spite of racial discrimination in housing and employment. However those who continued to wallow in the ol’ redneck culture became what I call “non-achievers.” Unlike the achievers, they generally did not succeed when they migrated to the urban North. Thus, The values that governed their lives included devaluing work as a means of getting ahead, instant gratification with a disregard for the future, and crisis orientation with no planning.