As a native born Southerner of British origins I am culturally what I call a 500-Year-Protestant. I can say that my people have been Protestant since their-lord Henry VIII decided that he needed to get in front of the Protestant Reformation, crown himself head of the church in England, and divorce and remarry whomever he wished. And confiscate church property while he was at it.
Prior to that of course my people in Britain were Catholic and doubtless accepted the commonly held worldview of that time.
The Reformation would see a new religious division added to the ordinary dynastic and resource struggles of that age. The 16th century would give my people Bloody Mary, Good Queen Bess, and a hatred of the Spanish.
Times were a’changing and my people changed with them, and then eventually they began crossing the Atlantic in wooden sailing ships, bringing the entirety of who they were as Englishmen, or Scotsmen, or Scotch-Irish to a New World, coming, in time, to identify themselves as Virginians or Carolinians, and then eventually as regular Americans, i.e. Southerners.
All along the way they would become Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, or church of Christ, and be deeply animated by these faiths.
By the passage of time, these and other divisions would emerge, as would unifying moments.
But at all times my people were being shaped by the times, as were your people, and this process continues today. Our ancestors carried the baton where they would, which they passed to us who are bobbing and weaving through woods as best we can or know how, and we will pass it on to our offspring who will continue the race more or less kind of in the general direction that we’ve been sort of heading.
It has been a long time since the memory of the times of Queen Elizabeth I animated us collectively, to say nothing of Edward III, or Harold II, or Alfred the Great. Didn’t he conquer Persia or something? And then who were Hengist and Horsa? That we do not remember them does not mean that what they were and did does not live on through us. Yes the water is flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, but only because it snowed in the Rockies.
But we do remember George Washington. He is on the dollar bill and the quarter, and has something to do with the 4th of July, which has something to do with America. A state was named after him and he was a pretty good feller. Something about a cherry tree too. Likewise Abraham Lincoln was honest and freed the slaves. Robert E. Lee was noble and the South’s finest. And Martin Luther King led his people to freedom against the South’s worst.
However, there is a new division today that makes the Reformation look like a misunderstanding. A new history maker that sees things very differently; that is insisting that we forget what we think we know and remember; insisting instead that we know and remember what it knows and remembers. A New American who has almost no tie with the land and no sense of our founding traditions, much less what pre-dated and produced them.
It is commonly known today as Woke-ism, the most recent radical manifestation of Progressivism.
The differences between Catholic and Protestant were grave and have been consequential. Enormously so at the macro level. But that is nothing compared to what Progressivism had already achieved prior to 2020, and heaven forbid, what it appears bent on doing now.
Sadly the division that Progressivism has created, and that its offspring Wokism is creating in our culture is likely to be permanent and enduring. But the great difference between it and Protestantism is that the latter held fast to the Book and never abandoned a common sense understanding of basic human nature, and this has allowed Protestants and Catholics to, more or less, sorta, kinda get along.
And almost to unite in the face of an enemy that appears to want to redefine the answer to two plus two.
This piece was published on Look Away on October 6, 2022.
Mark Atkins has six wee bairns who are all seventh-generation Henry County, Tennessee, and all from the same doe. It is the people of Henry County that he most wants to reach but writes to Southerners generally. He is without credentials but rather dares to speak by the same authority as the little boy who cried 'The king has no clothes!' His core belief and starting point is that like everything, we humans have a nature, it is not so hard to understand, and to pretend that it is other than it is, is to jump off a cliff. Which is what we Americans have in fact done.