28 March 2013

Kevin Levin Gets It Wrong - Again

Update: Kevin responds to my response - kinda. His criticism is that I didn't respond to the content of his post. Guilty - what's the point? Of course, he didn't respond to the fact he was wrong about what I wrote. He leaves others to be the judge. Gee, thanks. Absolutely surreal. I feel like I'm reading the thoughts of a 3rd grader.

First of all, I must admit that I am flattered and honored beyond words that Kevin Levin criticized me in the same sentence with Bud Robertson. It is a badge of honor I don't deserve, but one which I enthusiastically embrace. Thank you Kevin - you've bestowed an honor upon me which I will cherish all my life.

Levin's recent post isn't the first time he criticized my book. He wrote similar comments when the book was published in 2006. I believe he originally criticized it, later admitting he hadn't read it, then saying he'd read part of it. (I saved those posts, maybe I'll share them.) Whatever. I expect such treatment from those who hold perspectives and advance agendas like Levin, but now he's writing utter falsehoods. In his recent post he makes the following comment:

The whole premise of Williams’s book is fundamentally flawed as it is weighed down by example after example of presentism. The most obvious example is Jackson’s Sunday School for slaves, which Williams interprets without any understanding of how religious education following Nat Turner’s Rebellion was intended to stabilize race relations and reinforce in the African American community that slavery was their natural position.  [Emphasis mine.]

My Lord, talk about projecting! That is quite amazing. But beyond Kevin's fantasy world regarding my presentism, here's what I actually wrote, in part, about Nat Turner's impact on the education of slaves and free blacks in the South:

When reflecting on the efforts of Jackson and other Southern Christians to reach slaves and free blacks with the good news of the gospel, it is necessary to understand that many modern scholars view their motives with cynicism. A superficial study of the subject could easily conclude that teaching the slaves simple gospel messages was nothing more than an effort to make them more obedient and submissive. Admittedly, there are ample Bible verses that admonish obedience to authority that the spiritually shallow used to accomplish this task while at the same time ignoring the slaves’ spiritual needs.

Yet a serious and objective look at the facts shows that, although this element was present in the motives of some, most sincere Southern Christians had a heartfelt desire to see blacks turn to Christ and embrace the eternal truths of the Bible. The Presbyterian Synod of Texas issued a statement that reflected the attitude of many Southern Christians: “We recognize the hand of God in placing this benighted race in our midst, and heartily accept the duty of pointing them to Christ.” Stonewall Jackson House graduate fellow E. Lynn Pearson’s observation confirms this attitude: “The religious world-view of Stonewall Jackson and his antebellum peers was greatly influenced by the contemporary evangelical vision to build Christ’s kingdom on earth, and the Southern belief that bringing salvation to slaves was part and parcel of that mission. Lexington’s Christians took great pride in their acceptance of Christ’s call to stewardship.”
Historians often look to a single pivotal event when analyzing antebellum efforts to evangelize Southern blacks: Nat Turner’s slave insurrection . . . 
Edward D. Smith noted the impact of the Nat Turner rebellion on Southern Christian attitudes in Climbing Jacob’s Ladder: The Rise of Black Churches in Eastern American Cities:

"As the reaction against Christianized blacks developed [after Nat Turner’s rebellion], a number of southern churchmen began a quiet campaign to bring about the Christianization of even more blacks. This campaign was begun partially as a reaction to the growing abolitionist movement in the North, which denounced slave-owners as anti-Christian. . . . Some churchmen hoped to prove that when placed solely under white control, religious instruction could be used to make slaves more obedient, docile, and well behaved."
It is with this sentiment of making slaves “more obedient, docile, and well behaved” with the influence of Christianity that many cynics charge Jackson and others. While this attitude indeed existed among some Southern believers and unbelievers alike, it is incorrect to interpret such control as Jackson’s motive.
Of course, I believe additional evidence pointed out in the book supports that last statement. One can explore that evidence and come to their own conclusion. (I'm not quite sure how Jackson's teaching slaves to read in defiance of Virginia law could be construed as reinforcing "in the African American community that slavery was their natural position", but I suppose that's what happens to your analysis when you let your biases get in the way.)

Beyond that, Levin's statement about my understanding of Nat Turner's impact is simply false. It would appear to me that he either knows this and intentionally distorted my views or, he was so busy looking for a "gotcha" excerpt, that he overlooked the whole context of what I wrote. How's that for scholarship?

This proves, once again, that Levin is the one who actually "lacks understanding." It is Levin who ignores facts in promoting his "analysis" and perspective while falling prey to "presentism." The other comments about the topic are so full of red herrings and straw men that they're not worth addressing.

13 comments:

Jubilo said...

Dear Old Dom.,
You two certainly add spice to blog reading! Apparently one can take the carpetbagger out of the Old Dominion but he's still a cyber-carpetbagger -ha-ha!!!

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Jub my man, what's happenin'? Kevin's a nice fella, he's just a lost soul when it comes to American history. As I commented to someone else, and to borrow a line from John Randolph, this time he's managed to outdo his previous outdoings.

Our Yin/Yang exchanges are, to me, simultaneously aggravating and stimulating. (BTW, I'm the Yang.)

Happy Easter!

13thBama said...

If the example at Harpers Ferry is to be believed, then the left are seeing Nat Turner as a hero. I was shocked to see the current display of John Brown's exploits while visiting WV.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Well of course.

Simea mirans said...

I'm confused. Americans were being held in slavery - how could those who tried to gain their freedom, by whatever means necessary, be anything other than heroes? Is it the fact that they failed?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Simea - You must not be familiar with Nat Turner's rebellion - his acts went far beyond trying to gain freedom. Women and children were killed. Escaping slavery was heroic, but killing women and children is not.

In the same vain, would murdering people while trying to prevent an abortion be "heroic?"

Simea mirans said...

So in response to a brutal system Turner managed to sink to a level of brutality even worse than that of the slave-owners: he killed innocent children, while they only condemned innocent children to a lifetime of slavery. We can condemn him for what he did, even as we see the roots of his brutality in his situation; but I don't think that erases every trace of heroism from his actions. To take up arms at all in a just fight when the odds were so heavily stacked against him was as noble as it was rare. Certainly if it does disqualify him, there was never a heroic slave-owner, my ancestors included. And John Brown? You can certainly question his competence, but never his heroism.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Murder and anarchy are not heroic. I'm sorry, but I don't accept your definition. And to remain consistent, you'd have to also call someone who killed another human to prevent an abortion heroic. It's a slippery slope, isn't it?

Simea mirans said...

The danger with that position is that it leaves us too comfortable with the slave-owners, with their constitutions and courts and common law and gentility. There's a slippery slope in that direction, too. There was lots of promise there, and in our time we've reaped the benefits of some sound constitutional judgements they made, but that shouldn't blind us to the barbarity they perpetuated and the twisting of the Christian message that allowed them to justify it all to themselves. If someone claimed the power over me that Turner's master claimed over him, and no law would protect me from him, I'd say I was living in anarchy that was not of my making. That imbalance of power implies that we should judge the masters doing business as usual more harshly than we judge a slave whose rebellion was too violent. (And that's all I've got; I'll leave the last word to you.)

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

You seem to embrace the ends justifies the means. I reject that. Condemning cruel slave owners and Nat Turner is not mutually exclusive.

I'm still waiting on an answer to my abortion question. Are you going to be consistent?

Simea mirans said...

(It's rude of me to come back in after saying I was done, but since you asked...) Just to be clear, I'm not defending the morality of Turner's murders. The question wasn't whether Turner's actions were all perfectly moral but whether he should be remembered as a hero, which the comments to which I initially responded dismissed. Heroes can be flawed, and we can condemn some of their actions while appreciating the heroism of others. In Turner I think the decision not just to escape from slavery but to attack it was heroic, and that thinking about that gives us a better historical perspective on slavery itself. I won't be pointing him out to my kids as someone to model themselves on, but grown-ups can distinguish his heroism from his very serious flaws.

On the subject of abortion: I suspect that's going to add more heat than light to the discussion, but to answer your question: to be consistent, I'll have to say that if abortion were being forced on women against their will by a powerful organization which could not be challenged in other way, then yes, violence might be justified. Murder of innocent bystanders would not.

You haven't addressed John Brown as an example. Should we remember him as a hero? If not, why not?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I do not believe Turner was a hero. Regarding abortion, it's not being forced on the woman, it's being forced on the child who has no voice.

John Brown is no more a hero than is Nat Turner. Again, to be consistent, one would have to also say a person, without recognized authority, who organizes violence against an abortion provider would also be a hero. That person would be no more a hero than Brown or Turner. My position is consistent, yours changes depending on who the victim is. That is relativism, which I reject.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

The discussion has run its course. Thanks for your comments Simea.