I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

A collection of stories SAGLRROILYBYGTH might have missed this past week from around the interwebs:

From our great neighbor to the north: Alberta’s provincial government stands accused of funneling public money to a school that taught Scientology.  HT: DK

John Fea collected historians’ comments about President Trump’s latest foray into wacky history.

READING goofy washington

Words, words, words…

What’s the real black/white “achievement gap” in public schools? Maybe the problem is that white teachers are not as good as African American ones.

Lots of progressive teachers hate the way the federal government imposed tons of high-stakes standardized tests. Could the Trump administration become their anti-testing friend? California is testing the testing waters.

A new trend? Or a go-nowhere stunt? To alleviate the shortage of STEM teachers, North Carolina’s legislature is mooting a bill to allow college professors to teach in K12 schools without certification or licensure.

Check your calendar: What year is this? A NYC school official is accused of communism, as the New York Times reports.

Senator Mark Green is out. Trump’s creationist pick for Secretary of the Army has withdrawn his nomination, due to criticism over his anti-LGBTQ statements.

Campus protest as a “know-nothing” performance: John McWhorter makes his case at the Daily Beast.

Thanks to all the SAGLRROILYBYGTH who sent in tips and stories.

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Jesus Yes, Honey Boo Boo No

Southern Cross, Bible Belt, Hillbilly Heaven…you’ve heard the stereotypes of the American Deep South.

Thanks to the National Center for Science Education’s blog, we see some confirmation of the old chestnuts in a recent poll from Georgia.  On a second look, however, we also see some surprises.

A poll of 520 Georgia voters from the Public Policy Polling group finds strong support for creationism.  As the NCSE notes, 53% of respondents said they believed more in creationism than in evolution.  Among the (self-identified) “very conservative,” the number skyrocketed to 77%.

That is strong support for creationism.

For some folks, this might serve as just more proof that there’s nothing really “new” about the “New South.”  Folks in Georgia love their Bibles.

For us here at ILYBYGTH, two things jump out.

First, it demonstrates the stubbornness of region as a category for understanding culture and religion.  Since even before the Civil War, the Deep South has been accused of retrograde politics, reactionary culture.  When “fundamentalism” reared its head as an influential movement in the 1920s, both opponents and supporters used ideas about “Southernness” to either bolster or discredit it, as I argue in my 1920s book.

Other historians, too, have skewered the overly simple notion that conservative Christianity is somehow simply a Southern thing.  George Marsden and William V. Trollinger, for example, demonstrated the power of early fundamentalism in places such as Chicago and Minneapolis.

Nevertheless, as this poll suggests, there is yet stronger creationist support in a state like Georgia than there might be elsewhere.  No matter what the nerds might say about the complexity of religion, region still plays a hugely influential role in conservative Christianity.

Also, beyond the question of creation and evolution, this poll shows some surprising cultural changes among the Georgians polled.  First off, support for creationism did not vary much between white and black respondents, 54% of whites preferred it, 52% of African Americans.

Second, some Georgia notions that once seemed eternal now seem less so.  For instance, from the nineteenth century, only 28% of respondents said they had an “unfavorable” idea of William Tecumseh Sherman.  Even only among white respondents, only 34% reported an unfavorable opinion of the General credited with the rape, burning, and looting of Georgia.  Apparently, this sea change in Georgians’ public memories mostly represents ignorance.  A significant majority of respondents did not seem to know who Sherman was.

But more recent history also finds some surprises for those who cherish old stereotypes of the Deep South.  An overwhelming majority (73%) reported a favorable opinion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., including 65% of white respondents and 67% of the “very conservative.”

Another possible surprise for those of us outside the South: No one likes Honey Boo Boo.  Well, not exactly no one, but only 8% of respondents reported a favorable opinion of her.  The cartoonish reality show, filmed in rural Georgia, likely angers people who actually live there.

What do we know about Georgians?  They like creationism.  In large numbers.

Significantly, especially for those science pundits who like to frame the creation/evolution debate as a matter of scientific knowledge vs. bullheaded religious ignorance, this poll suggests that support for creationism is firmly grounded in a complex conservative cultural identity.

Among those who called themselves “very conservative,” over three quarters preferred creationism.  Among the “very liberal,” just over one third did.  The poll results show a strong correlation between ideology and preference for creationism.  The more conservative one is, the more likely one is to prefer creationism.

Assuming that those creationist beliefs are somehow simply a product of isolation or ignorance ignores the important truth that creationism is part of a coherent and powerful way of understanding the world.

 

Does Loving the Bible Make Americans Racist?

Yesterday on GetReligion Terry Mattingly asked a hard question: “does anyone have any hard evidence that moral conservatives are more likely to be racists?”

Mattingly critiqued a pre-election story on NPR, in which David Cohen, a University of Akron political scientist, opined that President Obama’s race was a factor for many conservative voters.

Mattingly suggests issues such as abortion weigh more heavily on the decisions of “moral conservatives” than do issues of race.

The connection between white religious conservatives and racism is one I’ve been wrestling with lately in a book chapter I’m working on.  In the 1974 school controversy in Kanawha County, West Virginia, white conservative protesters (usually) insisted they were not racist.  Yet their liberal/progressive opponents, including an investigating committee from the National Education Association, usually assumed that they were.

It was a generation ago, to be sure, but in the 1974 controversy, some book protesters did indeed seem to be motivated largely by anti-African American racism.  For instance, the local Ku Klux Klan held sympathy rallies for the conservative protesters.

But other conservative protesters presented what seems to me to be solid evidence for their anti-racist conservatism.  Many religious protesters, such as Karl Priest, Avis Hill, and Ezra Graley, noted the racial balance of their church communities, including African Americans in leadership roles.

More secular protesters such as Elmer Fike noted that conservatives voted in large numbers for a conservative African American candidate for the state legislature, while liberals did not.*

Many liberals dismiss all such conservative claims of anti-racism as mere window dressing.  As we’ve discussed here recently, there is a long tradition among conservatives of using coded language to express racist sentiments in an apparently non-racist way.

What would it take for conservative anti-racism to be taken seriously?  One comment on Mattingly’s essay noted a 2007 PhD dissertation by Inna Burdein at SUNY-Stony Brook, “Principled Conservatives or Covert Racists.”  In her study, Burdein concluded that social conservatives tend to privilege racial considerations, while economic conservatives did not.  In other words, Burdein found that white “moral conservatives”–what we’re calling Fundamentalist America–would tend not to vote for African American candidates.

I don’t think Mattingly would insist that all white “moral conservatives” would vote for an African American President.  Some white conservatives are likely motivated by racism, to some degree.  But I think Mattingly’s question is still very important.  It does not seem that NPR’s story consulted work such as Burdein’s.  Commentators such as David Cohen simply take for granted the preeminence of white racism in conservative politics.

*This claim is reproduced in James Hefley, Textbooks on Trial (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1976), pg. 171.

Governor Haley and the Changing Face of Fundamentalist America

Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina has a new book out.  The cutely titled Can’t Is Not an Option may be a bald-faced bid for the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nomination, but it can also tell us something about the ways Fundamentalist America is changing.  The book itself sounds sugary, but Haley’s personal story is compelling.

Haley is an Indian-American child of immigrants.  The fact that a dark-skinned female politician whose father wears a turban can succeed as a conservative Republican politician in a state known for racism and evangelical Protestantism means a lot. 

Haley joins a small but growing list of non-white conservative heavy hitters: businessman/politician Herman Cainwriter Dinesh D’Souza, politicians Bobby Jindall and Allen West, and jurist Clarence Thomas, among others.  Such a showing, especially among African Americans, makes a good deal of sense from a fundamentalist perspective.

Conservative intellectuals, notably those at the Heritage Foundation, have made a concerted strategic effort to overcome fundamentalism’s traditional connection to white supremacist ideology.

But although it may make strategic sense, it is a tall order politically.  African Americans have been tightly linked to the Democratic Party since the 1930s.  Before that, African American voters stuck just as close to the Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln.  For most of American history, the vortex of race and race consciousness has overwhelmed all other identity issues, pushing most African Americans to vote first as African Americans, and only second as conservatives, liberals, secularists, religious, etc.

But beyond party politics, African Americans tend toward a deep fundamentalism.  Gallup polls consistently demonstrate this.  For example, one 2005 poll showed that about seven in ten African Americans called themselves “evangelical” or “born again” Christians.  African Americans, according to a 1999 Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll are significantly more likely (85%) to support school prayer than are whites (69%).  This conservative religiosity among African Americans has influenced cultural attitudes among African American young people as well.  A 2002 poll found that only 8% of African American teens say they drink alcohol, compared to 25% of white teens, likely due to higher rates of conservative religiosity.  Among non-whites in general, according to a 2003 poll, only 52% think that premarital sex is morally acceptable, compared to 59% of whites.

Race is a tough issue for fundamentalists.  There are plenty of fundamentalist whites who seem to cling to traditionalism in their white supremacist ideology, just as they cling to traditionalism in religion, education, and culture.  But non-whites, in large majorities, are fundamentalists in everything except party politics.  If more non-whites like Nikki Haley continue to emphasize their cultural conservatism, and if they tie that cultural conservatism to political conservatism, then more and more non-whites may continue to embrace all the meanings of Fundamentalism.