November 11, 2004
I spent the last two weeks before the election in Florida. Never before have I been as aware of the differences between where I used to live and where I live now. To say that they are frightening would be an understatement.
I grew up in the South and I have now spent a goodly part of my adult life in Vermont. Consequently, I have been, almost by necessity, a student of regional contrasts. I have also been a defender of the South against northern liberal bias. Many of my northern friends, when they think about the South, are so wrapped up in coarse stereotypes they get silly. One aspect of their silliness is the easy assumption that the people of the South are homogenous and all think the same way. There's also, among my northern friends, the notion that the South is more resistant to change than other sections of the country. Both these thoughts are dead wrong, and the one about change is even more wrong than the one about sameness. Over the past thirty years, the South has changed more radically than any other part of the nation. And, believe or not, despite a decline in racist expression, it has not changed for the better.
When I was growing up, in Georgia and Florida, I seldom heard anybody say anything about politics. Most people accepted things as they were and went about their lives concentrated on the commonsense features of making a living and having a little fun.. Southerners didn't have theories of politics. Government and politics were to them things like the weather. They just happened. And since they were bearable, few people thought much about them.
That has all changed. Southerners are now the strongest ideologues in the nation. And their dominant ideology involves not just lowering the barriers between church and state. Rather, it's a program for transforming the state into a church. In the South, among a majority, one is expected to worship the nation uncritically. Many people call this Christianity but, of course, it has nothing to do with Christianity. There has never been a more radical transformation in American history than the mutation of Southern Baptism from a Christian Church into a Republican Church.
The consequences of this transmogrification are dramatic and we see them in the policies of the Bush administration. America is the only nation guided by God. All the other people of the world are degenerate. Their opinions don't count. And their lives don't really count much either. We have the right to sacrifice their lives in the interest of making them like us, because that's the only way they can be saved.
The South, of course, is not the only place where this ideology has taken hold. But it is the heartland of the new ideology. It is resisted, in the South, by about 35 to 40% of the people. They are, to my mind, the bravest people in the country right now and they deserve all the help we can give them in rescuing their region from the mania of religious nationalism.
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