Barbarities of Fundamentalism

Walter Francis White

Walter Francis White led the NAACP from 1931-1955.  He could pass for white and exploited that as an investigator.  As Gary Dorrien writes, he "undertook assignments in the South, passing for white to investigate lynchings.  Risking his life repeatedly, White investigated forty-one lynchings and eight race riots."

In 1929 he published Rope and Faggot: An Interview with Judge Lynch in which he concluded that "lynching mania could only have occurred in a Christian society."  He "equated racist terrorism with fundamentalism."  He wrote:

It is the Christian South, boasting of its imperviousness to the heretical doctrines of modernism, that mutilates and burns Negroes, barbarities unmatched in any other part of the world.

Note: Omaha had a horribly violent lynching in the early twentieth century.  Protestant Fundamentalism probably does not explain that lynching.

White wrote, "Baptist and Methodist preachers were the very best material for Klan organizers."

White grew up at First Congregational Atlanta.

"The Source of Power" was the last post in this series on The New Abolition by Gary Dorrien.

Daniel Dennett

This morning I read the profile of Dan Dennett in the March 27 New Yorker. It is a delightful portrait, but I found myself surprised in a few places as I was agreeing with Dennett. I've never felt agreement with Dennett other than on the basic point that I'm a physicalist and not a dualist, though I characterize the physical in a way that is pan-experientialist and he doesn't.

But reading here his view seems closer to mine than I had ever thought before. Particularly at this point:

He told Chalmers that there didn't have to be a hard boundary between third-person explanations and first-person experience--between, as it were, the description of the sugar molecule and the taste of sweetness. Why couldn't one see oneself as taking two different stances toward a single phenomenon? It was possible, he said, to be "neutral about the metaphysical status of the data." From the outside, it looks like neurons; from the inside, it feels like consciousness. Problem solved.

That penultimate sentence sounds very like my dissertation.

P. S.  The profile made me a little envious of his rich personal life.


AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This novel did do two things I found interesting: 1) Provide some interesting social commentary on the United States from the perspective of a black African immigrant and 2) Give some perspective on contemporary life in urban Nigeria. However, I did not think it was a good book, in either sense of that term.

I believe most good books--the classics that persist through time--are those which have moral depth and wrestle in some meaningful way with the profound issues of life. I thought this book skated across the surface. Sebastian owns children's book with greater moral depth.

Second, I didn't think it a very good story or characters. The characters were often shallow and at times almost cartoonish in their one dimensionality, and I believed the turns of the plot were often quite predictable and maintained very little narrative interest.

View all my reviews

The Source of Power


"Until he started school at the age of seven," Gary Dorrien writes about Adam Clayton Powell, Senior, who was born in in 1865, "he had one piece of clothing, a shirt made of a bleached flour sack.  His bed was a bag filled with cornhusks. In decent crop years he ate corn and wheat; at other times he had to subsist on dried apples and black-eyed peas."  But he was whip smart.  On his first day of school, he memorized the alphabet.  He soon memorized the Gospel of John.

Powell characterized himself as a Progressive and not as a Fundamentalist or a Modernist.  Dorrien writes, "Progressives worshipped the biblical God of love and embraced the social gospel of Jesus without submitting to literalistic tests of orthodoxy."  He was known for bridging the divide between intellectual preaching and emotional worship and grew the churches he pastored.  Dorrien writes, "He was theologically liberal and evangelical, an exponent of biblical criticism and biblically centered, and politically pro-Washington and anti-Washington."

And also developed a wide array of church programs and ministries.  "To save a man is to get him out of a bad environment and to put him into a good one with Jesus Christ as his example, ideal, and inspiration."

"When you get a man into heaven, he is not worth anything more to his family and the world; but when you can get heaven into him, you have done a great deal for Christ and humanity."

Praying "with a heart cleansed of carnal rubbish, the little Ultimate Reality in [a person's] soul rises like the tide to meet the great Ultimate Reality, which is God, and he becomes conscious of the fact that he is in touch with the source of power."

During the onset of World War I he declared, "While we love our flag and country, we do not believe in fighting for protection of commerce on the high seas until the powers that be give us at least some verbal assurance that the property and lives of the members of our race are going to be protected on land from Maine to Mississippi."

Dorrien writes, "True patriotism, he preached, was love of one's country plus something higher--an unselfish devotion to the highest ethical and spiritual ideals."  Powell said, "Patriotism is not only a love for one's country and nation but a love for weak suffering people everywhere."

Powell advocated pressing for civil rights during the war, while other leaders like DuBois cautioned waiting.  Powell ultimately believed the war made things worse for black people.

He wanted Abyssinian Baptist Church to employ only black builders when they built their new building in Harlem, but they could not find enough.  He was angry and apologized for his attacks on Booker T. Washington's emphasis on industrial education.

Dorrien writes "If one proposed to follow Jesus, Powell urged, one had to take up the costly, fellow-suffering discipleship of the Sermon on the Mount."  It was this theme which deeply influence Dietrich Bonhoeffer who attended Powell's church while a student.  Given that this theme as worked out by Bonhoeffer has been one of the most influential in theology in the last century, it is far past time to give the source its due.

There is a disappointing paragraph in which Dorrien details Powell's homophobia.

In politics he wanted great leaders: "I am appealing for men who will get in touch with world currents and world movements, men with cosmopolitan spirits, men whose purview has been so broadened that they can say, 'The world is my country and all mankind my countrymen.'"  One sighs to think of our current leadership.

He was an early proponent of Gandhi, who of course came to influence the next two generations of African American civil rights leaders.

I was appalled by this statement of Powell's "Had not thousands of Negro ministers preached the meekness of Jesus to their people, they would have long ago suffered the tragic fate of the Indians."  What of the religious tradition of Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey?

But I liked this one, "These spirituals are the finest revelation of the will and heart of God outside of the Bible."

As World War II began he said, "The greatest danger to the civilization of the United States is not Germany, Japan, or any other foreign country but the vitriolic hate which exists between the white and the colored living withing its borders.  This hatred is at an all-time high and is mounting higher every day."

Dorrien writes, "Powell stressed that he had been a hoodlum, so he knew what it felt like.  The church had saved him from a short, destructive, and meaningless life.  Now the church had to pour itself out for a generation of nihilistic wreckers."  Powell proclaimed, "Don't shoot them.  Don't send them to a reform school.  Don't brutalize them, but brotherize them."

During his 29 years pastoring Abyssinian Church, the congregation grew from 1600 to 14,000 members.  In a charge to his son and heir, Powell said:

Preach with all the power of your soul, body, and mind the old-time simple Gospel because it is a fountain for the unclean, food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothing for the naked, strength for the weak, a solace for the sorrowing, medicine for the sick, and eternal life for the dying.

"The Superior Individual" about Nannie H. Burroughs was the last post in this series.

A spring morning

It is a fresh, crisp spring morning with just enough coolness in the air, cool that's been missing the last few days, cool that has refreshingly returned.

I brewed some tea and sat on the back patio and listened to Bob Dylan's Nobel lecture for a second time today:


Then, I read some stanzas from Desire Moving Through Maps of Matter by Adonis and encountered this great question:

"How can I convince al-Ghazzali to see his soul with Nietzsche's light?"  


The next line: "I'll remind him: You've been traveling toward the world since its creation but you have not arrived."

The next stanza:

In the cafe
I ignore the noise.
I read Nietzsche and imagine him as a flood--
Yes, I should yield to the flood of meaning
bow like a sunflower, befriend the sun
or surrender to the lilies of desire
that float on the lake of my body
and empty myself to become the child
I had wanted to be in the future.

A worldview of deep history and tradition--a religious, literary, philosophical worldview--frees us from the exigencies of the present moment and all the Trump clap trap.  He is an insignificant nothing, a pathetic little man, in the great sweep of civilization.

"They make our country seem disgusting in the eyes of the world."

In an, at times, beautiful column, David Brooks writes that 

People have moral emotions. They feel rage at injustice, disgust toward greed, reverence for excellence, awe before the sacred and elevation in the face of goodness.

People yearn for righteousness. They want to feel meaning and purpose in their lives, that their lives are oriented toward the good.

People are attracted by goodness and repelled by selfishness.

Yet, the Trump administration "dismiss [es] this whole moral realm. By behaving with naked selfishness toward others, they poison the common realm and they force others to behave with naked selfishness toward them. . . [they] sever relationships, destroy reciprocity, erode trust and eviscerate the sense of sympathy, friendship and loyalty that all nations need when times get tough . . . [and they] affront everybody else’s moral emotions. They make our country seem disgusting in the eyes of the world."

The Superior Individual


"Preachers, teachers, leaders , welfare workers ought to address themselves to the supreme task of teaching the entire [African-American] race to glorify what it has--its face (its color); its place (its homes and communities); its grace (its spiritual endowment)," wrote Nannie H. Burroughs the founding leader of the Women's Convention Auxiliary to the National Baptist Convention and one of the founders of the Black Social Gospel in Gary Dorrien's The New Abolition.  I'm glad to have discovered Burroughs through this book.

Of her Dorrien writes, "Burroughs brushed off conservative male constraints and middle-class family conventions, stressing something that made her controversial in the National Baptist Convention (feminist ideology), something that defined her career (the dignity of working-class women's labor), and something that defined her denomination (race pride)."

The annual women's convention were largely made up of working class women, domestics in particular.  "Women came to the convention to be inspired by each other and to draw strength for the fight against poverty and abuse."  The auxiliary was organized to counter the sexism in the church, this despite the fact that, according to Burroughs, "The women are carrying the burden. . . .  They've made possible all we have around us--church, home, school, business."

She taught that working class African-American women were morally superior to most people, particularly white people. "Let us at all time and on all occasions remember that the quiet, dignified individual who is respectful to others is after all the superior individual."

She believed in an active church.: "If a congregation did nothing to improve the life of its community, it had not business being a church and no community should support it."  In churches there was "too much Heaven and too little practical Christian living."  She advocated the teaching of moral character.

She was called "the female Booker T. Washington" but Dorrien notes that she sided with DuBois on the need for protest politics.  He writes that "respectability and social justice politics fit together for Burroughs."  Then he quotes Evelyn Brooks Higginbothm in discussing Burroughs, "The politics of respectability, while emphasizing self-help strategies and intra-group reform, provided the platform from which black church women came to demand full equality with white America."

This historical fact made me wonder two things: 1) since church women were so essential to the civil rights marches and protests, Burroughs role is probably significantly underestimated; and 2) when I was taught about the Washington-DuBois debate in tenth grade American history, how interesting it would have been to also learn about Burroughs feminist synthesis of the two.

Like many of these early 20th century theologians, she anticipated movements from later in the century.  For instance, "I believe it is the Negro's sacred duty to spiritualize American life and popularize his own color instead of worshipping the color (or lack of color) of another race."

Burroughs advocated natural color and natural hair, long before that became a trend.  However, she was also against interracial marriage and jazz music.  She thought that the latter would demoralize people and lure them away from holy living.

Like many black leaders of her era, she was a Republican.  She was also a sharp critic of the New Deal.  Dorrien writes, "The Democratic Party, to her, became a perfect nightmare under Roosevelt, still dedicated to racist barriers in the South, but now committed to coddling an underclass of dependents."  She equated the welfare programs with "moral slavery."

But she also understood the need for revolution.  When Harlem explored in 1935 she wrote "They have been goaded, hounded, driven around, herded, held down, kicked around and roasted alive.  In Harlem the cornered rats fought back."

I enjoyed this point--"She waved off the 'great noise about the race problem,' countering that there was no such thing.  There was only the fact that white Americans treated black Americans despicably."  A nice, straightforward cutting to the point.

She was also not naive, writing "Yes, we are living in a dark period and it is going to be worse for a while, but I believe that God will lead his people through."

I definitely want to learn more about Nannie Burroughs.

Another conservative criticizes Trump's lack of moral character

Conservative Jennifer Rubin writes about how embarrassing Trump's tweets were after the London attack and how they reveal his complete lack of moral character.  Here are the choice excerpts:

One is prompted to ask if he is off his rocker. But this is vintage Trump — impulsive and cruel, without an ounce of class or human decency. His behavior no longer surprises us, but it should offend and disturb us, first, that he remains the face and voice of America in the world and, second, that his fans hoot and holler, seeing this as inconsequential or acceptable conduct. We wound up with this president because millions of Republicans could not prioritize character, decency and overall fitness to serve over their mundane and frankly petty partisan wish list (28 percent top marginal tax rate!).


Sure, Trump’s policies and rhetoric are incoherent and based on a tower of lies. Far worse, however, is his appalling character, which accelerates the erosion of democratic norms and social cohesion a diverse democracy requires. In instances like this, those who would lecture us on President Obama’s under-appreciation of America’s unique place in human history or proclaim that they simply had to vote for Trump because Hillary Clinton was some sort of monster are exposed as fools or hypocrites or both.