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FW: H-South Review: Wyatt-Brown Responds to Gudmestad

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  • A.J. Wright
    And here is Dr. Wyatt-Brown s response to the review..aj ... From: H-South Review Editor Ian Binnington [mailto:binningt@uiuc.edu] Sent: Tuesday, December 04,
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 7, 2001
      And here is Dr. Wyatt-Brown's response to the review..aj

      -----Original Message-----
      From: H-South Review Editor Ian Binnington [mailto:binningt@...]
      Sent: Tuesday, December 04, 2001 9:29 AM
      To: H-SOUTH@...
      Subject: H-South Review: Wyatt-Brown Responds to Gudmestad

      I am very honored to have such a perceptive and substantive review from a
      scholar as gifted as Dr. Gudmestad. One ordinarily expects to have an
      American historian of considerable secular-mindedness to undertake the
      task, but he brings a capacity to deal with and criticize persuasively both
      the secular and religious aspects of the book -- that's rare. Professor
      Gudmestad knows his subject thoroughly, writes with enviable style, and has
      a keen eye for strengths and weaknesses in the topics under his scrutiny.

      The reviewer does so fine a job that it leaves me with not a great deal to
      say by way of self-defense. I think, however, I might expand a little on
      the religious section which, in some ways, was the most complicated and
      difficult for me to tackle, even though I had the advantage of chapters
      already published. Looking them over in their pristine state, I realized
      that those parts under the heading of "Grace" simply would not do, if left
      untouched. Recently interest in Southern religious history has grown quite
      remarkably, and their datedness would have been all too obvious.

      Besides, the relation of honor and religion had to be examined thoroughly,
      no matter how disparate the two elements might appear to be. Clearly
      religious faith and practice were gradually built into the Southern psyche.
      By the time of the Civil War, a substantial percentage of white
      Southerners, as well as blacks, slave and free, were churched. That aspect
      of Southern cultural and religious life, so glaringly absent in _Southern
      Honor_ (1982), had to be a top priority in this work, which might be called
      _Southern Honor II_. Professor Gudmestad notes that I have "most difficulty
      reconciling two seemingly contradictory ideologies."

      Although I made the best case I could for an interconnection between the
      morality of honor and religious faith, I might have made a stronger
      argument in light of recent events, had they occurred in time for
      publication and further reflection. Perhaps with events in the world today,
      we can more easily appreciate the relation of honor and religion. It
      strikes me as all too apparent that the fanatical ideals of Osama bin Laden
      are not an amalgamation of honor and faith, but a domination of honor and
      dread of shame over Allah, even if he and his followers would
      unhesitatingly and passionately deny it. Notice how he speaks of the
      disgrace and humiliation of the Arab peoples, suffering for eighty years
      under western colonial hegemony.

      The hatred that this volatile mix of honor, disgrace, evil, and intense
      faith was also brewing, I believe, in the post-Civil War South. There,
      whites felt with considerable pain the lash of defeat and surrender to
      superior forces. They retaliated in what psychologists would call actions
      of "displacement." Such folk -- by no means all white Southerners -- took
      out their angry reaction at times in terrorizing the race beneath them --
      lynchings, murders, beatings, rapes, and the rest, as Leon Litwack so
      brilliantly delineates. In any event, they held down the freed people by
      means scarcely Christian -- according to the usual understanding of that
      term. Yet, all the depredations were nevertheless undertaken in the name of
      a benevolent and all-powerful deity. To be sure, a contradiction exists in
      objective, detached, rational appraisal. Those immersed in the ethic of
      honor and in religious expression, however, cannot separate them. The
      intensity of feeling behind the boiling hatred that arises from that
      combination is something not to be explained simply in terms of wrongs
      committed and counter-blow by the arm of justice.

      How could that be? The fact is that, as the reviewer points out, the
      message of Jesus and the Gospels stresses the anti-honor ideals of meekness
      and egalitarian brotherly love. In the Old Testament as well as the New
      (particularly in the letters of Paul), concepts of honor--that is, the
      hierarchies of age over youth, wealth over poverty, master over slave, man
      over woman, and other asciptives distinctions--are very
      evident. Reexamining these texts, Bruce Malina, John H. Elliott, David A.
      DeSilva, Paul Friedrich, Halvor Moxnes, David Gilmore, Douglas Cairns,
      Jerome H. Neyrey, are demonstrating the ubiquity of rules governing the
      possession of honor and the imposition of shame in the ancient world,
      especially the Middle East. J. G. Peristiany, Julian Pitt-Rivers, Pierre
      Bourdieu, and others have delineated what role these antinomies play in the
      modern Mediterranean society.

      I touched on this scholarship only in part in the text and notes, but it
      seems to me to be very clear that the antebellum Southern lay or clerical
      Christian could find in the Biblical sources, not just the precedent and
      even God's blessing for slavery but also for the Southern notion of the
      twin ethical schemes of honor and shame. (See Chapter Four in the book and
      elsewhere in the section on "Grace.")

      To say that Christians cannot practice the rituals and duties of honor and
      remain true to the scriptures is simply not so -- in their eyes. As always
      in such matters of principle, it is a question of degree and priority. We
      find that moderate Arabs, while faithful to their version of the code of
      honor, note the incompatibility of terrorism and Muslim belief just as we
      in the western Judeo-Christian tradition do in our very modest adherence to
      the antique ethical system. They are aware that a distortion of that faith
      has been promulgated. Nonetheless, those of pure ideological conviction
      justify revenge in the name of a supreme being. The Southern lynch mob, or
      in fact any group with an intense loyalty to the conventions and ideals of
      honor, would, if called upon, justify unrighteous acts in the name of a
      righteous, vindicating God. To enter the minds of such ideologically driven
      people as those with whom we are now at war is no easy task. But I think
      the polarities of honor and shame, when elevated to sacred principle in one
      case and profane stigma in the other, help to unveil the confusion.

      Does that make any sense? It is a matter of power and powerlessness. Those
      who feel unmanned, feminized, and helpless in the face of overwhelming
      force react with pure hatred and fury. That, I think, helped to prompt the
      defeated white South's response to Union occupation, black advance (against
      all odds), and a poverty that reminded them every day of their impotence
      and inferiority to Northern . So too in the modern Middle East. This
      truculent, unrealistic, and intense emotion of hostility is so alien to our
      way of thinking that we wonder about the sanity of those so caught up in
      violence as a rightful deed. Yet, somehow it also a religious feeling which
      gives justification for passions otherwise deemed unacceptable in ordinary

      The other parts of the work and the review need no further explication, but
      I look forward to any comments from readers of the book, the review or both.

      Bertram Wyatt-Brown
      University of Florida
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