Red State Culture of Fear

26 08 2008

North Carolina, though rather progressive in terms of the South, is what they call a “Red State.” It has conservative leanings and also has a rather large Evangelical population like much of the South. It is a culture that is steeped in religion and spirituality, and in many ways, a totally different world that what we experience in large cities or in the North East USA or the West Coast.

One thing I think that is wonderful is how North Carolina has tried to publicly come to grips with its history of slavery. This I think it has done better than many if not most Southern States. For example, there are pictures in the State Capitol of the first black senators and representatives to the State Legislature, standing alongside their white counterparts. There are signposts all around Raleigh pointing to where this or that local Freedman’s bureau once stood, or where certain notable events happened. There is an exhibit in the Museum of History dedicated to the Civil Right’s movement and how life was under Jim Crow. I have to say that I found the parts talking about segregation neither condemning or nostalgic … it was simply saying “this is how it was.”

Interesting side note: In those areas where there was a sizeable Native American population, the Jim Crow laws called for three sets of facilities … “White,” “Colored,” and “Indian.”

Of course, religion and particularly Christianity plays a large part in the life of the South. On this trip, I found myself very aware of how different things are, especially when it came to matters of faith. I was very fortunate to have been raised in a home where the point of being a Christian was, in addition to it being very much a part of the culture (I didn’t meet a non-Christian, or even a Roman Catholic for that matter until I was 16!), being a Christian meant wanting to following Jesus and the bit about escaping the fires of hell was a fringe benefit and not really the means to an end or the primary focus of our walk with Christ. That being said, the fear of going to hell or not being saved or not making the cut is very much part of the bone body and soul of many Christians in the South. This in turn creates a culture that is susceptible to fear.

Case in point … I took it upon myself to wander through the mall and there were signs talking about protecting your children and keeping them safe. What really caught my attention was a notice under “upcoming events” talking about “Tag Your Children Day” where you can get a photo ID of your child w/ name, address, who to contact, and other vital statistics. I also found a radio station which broadcasted continuously from Focus on the Family. I made myself listen through that stuff for almost a good hour or so. I did not hear any hate speech, which was good, but what I did hear was very sad and disturbing on some level. There was a great deal of emphasis on the importance of homeschooling, keeping children away from the pollution of the world, and I would almost say blind obedience and how “your elders know what’s good for you so just don’t question it.” There was a segment dedicated about the Christian walk of women, particularly mothers, but the conversations that were had focused on women being caretakers of the children and the home.

I do not doubt these folks sincerity in their faith. But, as I said, I can’t help but come away but a little sad and disturbed about a way of living which promotes patriarchy, emphasizes obedience and control … If I didn’t know better, I would almost say that particular brand of fundamentalism turns women and children into property and diminishes them in some way. And then on Sunday, I read an article (part of the front page, top of the fold, and then two full pages inside!) on how a school teacher in Florida was trying to explain the theory of evolution to his students and the struggles he faced with the students! The parents, apparently had armed some of their students with books, pamphlets and questions to try and trip up their teacher.

And people wonder why the United States is not turning out as many scientists and engineers …

I can’t help but wonder where is the Good News in a type of faith that promotes a culture that has a constant vein of fear running through it ….

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4 responses

26 08 2008
FranIAm

Your reflection, delivered through the lens of someone from there, but who is part of another place and time now, is moving.

The culture of fear.

I have to ponder this- you have said a lot with this post. Thank you- as always.

26 08 2008
Reverend boy

Thanks, Fran. You know, my mother would say say things like “oh, you’re WALKING from the train station to the hotel? Are you sure it’s safe?” and making comments like that throughout most of the trip, saying how dangerous things can be. I thought it was a typical mother thing, and my family has their fair share of worriers. But, I have to think that it was comments like that which can reflect the culture of fear.

It’s not everywhere, but that element is present, and it comes mostly from the Fundamentalist quarters. The interesting thing about North Carolina there are also very moderate evangelicals and progressive Christians there, too. But still, it’s a totally different world.

26 08 2008
FranIAm

I so hear you. Today I was taking a walk in my very, quiet peaceful suburban neighborhood up here north of Albany. My two neighbors – one my age and one about 20 years older were consumed with how safe we were versus those poor bastids a few miles down the road in Albany.

The endless cry for safety. In the case of the south – and many other places as well, it gets fused with some crazy Christianity.

Did Jesus ever promise safety? Did I miss that?

In any event, I thought of you and your post when we were walking and I remained silent. I have thought of this post many times all day as it says a lot about our nation at large.

And about you specifically.

Pax my brother.

27 08 2008
scott

Seconding Fran’s comments heartily!

i am so frequently saddened by the culture of fear, and puzzled when it abides among Christians. How many times in the Gospels does Christ say “Fear not!”

Great post, rb!

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