The Myth of Robert E. Lee


Over at The Atlantic, Adam Serwer exposes what he calls “The Myth of the Kindly General Lee.” It’s well worth reading. Here’s a sample:

The myth of Lee goes something like this: He was a brilliant strategist and devoted Christian man who abhorred slavery and labored tirelessly after the war to bring the country back together.

There is little truth in this. Lee was a devout Christian, and historians regard him as an accomplished tactician. But despite his ability to win individual battles, his decision to fight a conventional war against the more densely populated and industrialized North is considered by many historians to have been a fatal strategic error.

But even if one conceded Lee’s military prowess, he would still be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in defense of the South’s authority to own millions of human beings as property because they are black. Lee’s elevation is a key part of a 150-year-old propaganda campaign designed to erase slavery as the cause of the war and whitewash the Confederate cause as a noble one. That ideology is known as the Lost Cause, and as historian David Blight writes, it provided a “foundation on which Southerners built the Jim Crow system.”

And…

Lee is a pivotal figure in American history worthy of study. Neither the man who really existed, nor the fictionalized tragic hero of the Lost Cause, are heroes worthy of a statue in a place of honor. As one Union veteran angrily put it in 1903 when Pennsylvania was considering placing a statute to Lee at Gettysburg, “If you want historical accuracy as your excuse, then place upon this field a statue of Lee holding in his hand the banner under which he fought, bearing the legend: ‘We wage this war against a government conceived in liberty and dedicated to humanity.’” The most fitting monument to Lee is the national military cemetery the federal government placed on the grounds of his former home in Arlington.

To describe this man as an American hero requires ignoring the immense suffering for which he was personally responsible, both on and off the battlefield. It requires ignoring his participation in the industry of human bondage, his betrayal of his country in defense of that institution, the battlefields scattered with the lifeless bodies of men who followed his orders and those they killed, his hostility toward the rights of the freedmen and his indifference to his own students waging a campaign of terror against the newly emancipated. It requires reducing the sum of human virtue to a sense of decorum and the ability to convey gravitas in a gray uniform.

Read the whole thing!

Advertisements

Review of ‘The Pilgrim’s Regress: The Wade Annotated Edition’ by C. S. Lewis


The-Pilgrims-Regress-WadeC. S. Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress: The Wade Annotated Edition, ed. David C. Downing (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014). Hardcover

First published in 1933, The Pilgrim’s Regress by C. S. Lewis is “an allegorical apology for Christianity, reason, and romanticism” (in the words of the subtitle). It was Lewis’s first Christian book, written over the course of two weeks (August 15–29, 1932) while Lewis stayed in Belfast with his lifelong friend, Arthur Greeves. Lewis had converted—or perhaps, reconverted—to Christianity in either 1929 or 1930 (the date is disputed by Lewis scholars) after a long intellectual sojourn through various intellectual points of view. Elements of that sojourn find their way into the book, though readers should not assume that the book is strictly autobiographical.

The Pilgrim’s Regress is an allegory, self-consciously modeled after The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. In broad outline, it traces the journey of John from Puritania to the Grand Canyon, along the canyon to the North and the South, and then across the canyon with the help of Mother Kirk so that, after he retraces his earlier steps, he comes to the Landlord’s Castle at long last. Puritania is a legalistic and judgmental form of Christianity. The Grand Canyon is Peccatum Adae, the “sin of Adam,” which separates humans from God. The North symbolized arid rationalism, while the South symbolized undisciplined emotionalism. Mother Kirk is what Lewis would later call “mere Christianity”—as opposed to the doctrine of a specific denomination, the Landlord is God, and the castle is union with God.

As in Bunyan’s work, much of the action in The Pilgrim’s Regress revolves around John’s conversations with the proponents of various worldviews. In an Afterword to book’s third edition, Lewis wrote, “my own progress had been from ‘popular realism’ [i.e., naturalistic materialism] to Philosophical Idealism; from Idealism to Pantheism; from Pantheism to Theism; and from Theism to Christianity.” Broadly speaking, these isms mark John’s conversation partners throughout the book.

In that same Afterword, Lewis owned that the book’s “chief faults” were “needless obscurity” and “an uncharitable temper.” (Lewis wrote less of this latter fault than the former, so I’ll pass over his remarks about it here.) The obscurity arises, in part, from the intellectual currents of the early twentieth century that Lewis interacted with, many of which—such as Idealism—had already ebbed within a few years of the book’s publication. (By contrast, Lewis’s critiques of Nazism and Marxism were timely and prophetic.) It also arises in part from the way Lewis defined the word romanticism. For Lewis, the word referred to the experience of “intense longing,” where the “the sense of want is acute and even painful, yet the mere wanting is felt to be somehow a delight.” Further, he adds, “there is a peculiar mystery about the object of this Desire.”

In later works, Lewis would use the German term Sehnsucht and the English word joy to describe this longing. (Hence, he titled his memoir, Surprised by Joy). He spelled out the logic of this longing in a famous sentence from Mere Christianity: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” It is this desire that propels John along the journey and which sustains him as the various worldviews attempt to explain away or subvert it. For Lewis, we should not oppose “desire” (romanticism) and “explanation” (reason) to one another, for they work together to bring the pilgrim to God. That is the whole point of his “allegorical apology” for them both.

Despite the clarity of Lewis’s basic insight regarding desire and reason, the obscurity of his references makes The Pilgrim’s Regress one of his most difficult books to read. That is why the Wade Annotated Edition of the book is such a boon to Lewis scholars and fans alike. Lewis himself annotated a 1935 printing of the book for a student named Richard Thornton Hewitt. That copy is one of the holdings of the Marion E. Wade Center of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and the basis for this edition of the book. In addition to Lewis’s own annotations, David C. Downing has added “nearly five hundred page notes, including definition of unusual terms, translations from a half-dozen foreign languages, identifications of key characters, and cross-references to other works by C. S. Lewis,” as well as selected bibliographies of works by and about Lewis. I would not recommend reading any other edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress than this one, so helpful is it. Indeed, as I read the Wade Annotated Edition, I was astonished to see the many ways in which Lewis’s Christian rational romanticism was already formed at such an early stage. Downing consistently points out how Lewis expanded on themes first mentioned here.

Who, then, should read this book? As noted above, certainly Lewis scholars and fans. If you have read widely in Lewis but have not read this book, it repays careful study. It is Lewis in seed-form. Ideas present here will come to flower in his later books, whether apologetic, fictional, or biographical. The one group I would not recommend to read The Pilgrim’s Regress is people who have not read, or have not read widely in Lewis already. For them, it is better to start with the flower than the seed. Only after they see the full bloom will they have appreciation for the potential of the early germ.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Best. Conspiracy. Ever.

Make sure to watch it all the way through. And read the credits; they’re hilarious.

_____

“Egypt in crisis talks after Muslim mobs attack Christian churches” or “12 dead in Egypt as Christians and Muslims clash”? GetReligion.org tries to sort out the facts.

_____

Is a bad marriage better than a good divorce? “Social scientists are concealing the harm that divorce, single parenting and stepfamilies do to children. Not only that, they are also hiding the benefits which even unhappy marriages bestow, not just on children, but on the couples involved.”

_____

Is a national curriculum a good idea? “National control over curriculum creates a single lever you can pull to move every school in America. Would conservatives trust progressives, and would progressives trust conservatives, not to try to seize control of that lever to inculcate their religious and moral views among the nation’s youth? And if you don’t trust the other side not to try to seize the lever, is there any reasonable alternative to trying to seize it first?”

_____

In “Europe’s Concerned, Worried, and Doubting,” David Mills reflects on the differences between European and American reactions to the death of Osama bin Laden.

_____

California college adds major in secularism. Of course, on many college campuses today, students get a minor in it already, though without knowing it.

_____

“How Christianity and capitalism can ‘heal’ the world.” An interesting article about “social investing.” Theologically, however, I’d prefer to delete –ity and capitalism from the title.

_____

“LGBT ‘Welcome’ Ad Rejected by Sojourners, Nation’s Premier Progressive Christian Org.” I’m on the opposite side of the issues from Rev. Robert Chase, but I too wonder how a Christian magazine can avoid taking sides on this issue.

_____

In “Judas,” Lady Gaga goes clubbing with Jesus, who’s a Latin biker, and… Oh, who cares! There’s no “shock value” in this video, only “shlock value.”

  _____

In closing, and a bit more reverentially, Carrie Underwood and Vince Gil shine on this country rendition of “How Great Thou Art”:

I totally want to go to whatever church these two provide “special music” for.

 _____

 P.S. Shameless self-promotion: Check out my article in Enrichment: “Up There, Down Here, Among Us, In Me.” It’s about praying for God’s kingdom.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Psychologists discover “a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music. As they hypothesized, the words ‘I’ and ‘me’ appear more frequently along with anger-related words, while there’s been a corresponding decline in ‘we’ and ‘us’ and the expression of positive emotions.” I am personally outraged at popular music’s narcissism and anger. Just kidding! Although I wonder what level of narcissism is present in contemporary worship songs.

Al Mohler offers insights about why conservative churches are growing. Sure, evangelical churches are growing and the mainline churches aren’t. But what if the country as a whole is growing at a faster rate than evangelical churches are? That’s the relevant missional problem, it seems to me. I don’t particularly care if evangelical churches are growing because of transfer growth from mainline churches.

How do you contextualize Christianity in majority Muslim countries? One answer is the so-called “insider movement,” which encourages converts to continue to self-identify as Muslims and to attend prayer meetings at the mosque. Is that a good idea?

“What is the key spiritual issue of our time?” Jesus offered a two-fold answer: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Eboo Patel gets the second half right.

Joe Carter asks, “What Would Jesus Drink?” I get the feeling this one’s going to be controversial.

Francis Chan asks, “What would the church look like today if we really stopped taking control of it and let the Holy Spirit lead?” That’s a good question, especially for Pentecostals.

Over at AGTV, my dad explores “Life’s Greatest Question” from Mark 8:29–30.

The Welcome Rise of the Pastor-Scholar. Well, I certainly welcome its rise.

Christ Alone is the first book-length response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. Extensive excerpts are available online. (My own review of Bell’s book is here.)

The 20th Annual Wheaton Theology Conference looked at the topic, “Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective.” You watch or listen to each of the lectures at the link.

Timothy Dalrymple begins a series on abortion over at Patheos.com. Part 1 looks at Kermit Gosnell and the climate of disregard for life created by the abortion industry.

If you’re into this kind of thing: the religious aspects of the upcoming royal wedding in the United Kingdom.

P.S. This is not really a religious story, but the White House has released President Obama’s certificate of live birth. This should put to rest all conspiracy theories about the president’s birth. Now if someone would just get Andrew Sullivan to shut up about Trig Palin.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: