OrthodoxyToday.org
Commentary on social and moral issues of the day


Hopeful Pessimism: The lessons of the civil rights movement turn out to be quite alien to liberal pieties

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

  • Print this page
  • Email this page
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Bookmark and Share

A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow
David L. Chappell
Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2004
344 pp., $34.95

Today, America's self-styled liberals, within the churches as well as without, are mounting a battle to the death to banish all traces of religion from the public square. Casting the dismemberment and murder of unborn babies as individual right--not the right of the baby to life, but the right of the mother to the "ownership" of her body--they angrily vilify those who oppose their campaigns as bigots bent on erasing the separation of church and state. Very much like those who defend same-sex marriage as another inalienable individual right, they promote their cause with a passion and anger quite uncharacteristic of dispassionate liberal rationality. True, the argument from individual rights constitutes the cornerstone of liberalism, but in these cases and others, it is being perversely distorted, primarily through demands that any opposition be condemned as oppression or discriminatory harassment.

These and other movements for a seemingly endless succession of new individual rights have explicitly adopted the model of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, tying their various causes to the moral righteousness of the struggle to abolish legal segregation. But they singularly fail to understand the dynamics of the movement they seek to emulate. In A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow, David L. Chappell of the University of Arkansas presents the struggle for civil rights in an arresting new perspective. And his illuminating account implicitly raises important questions about the struggles of our own time.

According to Chappell, the foot soldiers, mainly black southerners, who propelled this change were not motivated by modern liberal pieties about progress and the inevitable triumph of human reason over barbarism and bigotry. Their motivations derived from "older, seemingly more durable prejudices and superstitions that were rooted in Christian and Jewish myth," specifically, "a prophetic tradition that runs from David and Isaiah in the Old Testament through Augustine and Martin Luther to Reinhold Niebuhr in the twentieth century." This prophetic tradition, Chappell insists, was never exclusively Christian and can be extended, by another route, to include a descent from Muhammad to the mature thought of Malcolm X. It can even be extended to atheists, who may adopt a more prophetic mode than many self-consciously "modern" 20th-century Christians, who were often quick to subordinate outmoded injunctions of "thou shalt" or "thou shalt not" to "I want" or "I feel."

Read the entire article on the Christianity Today website.

Posted: 7/19/04



Copyright 2001-2014 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. Follow copyright link for details.
Copyright 2001-2014 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.


Article link: