Archive for the ‘ American Character ’ Category

Booker T. Washington: Model Christian & American

Up from SlaveryDuring this Independence Week, I think it highly appropriate to mention I recently finished reading Booker T. Washington’ s fascinating autobiography Up From Slavery. As with the Coolidge biography I noted on Monday, I had given a thumbs-up to Washington’s personal reflections in an earlier blog. Now, having completed reading his thoughts on life and how God wants us to live it, I can enthusiastically endorse it unconditionally.

Washington was an impressive man. His devotion to the principle of self-government and his emphasis on character building permeate his philosophy of life. He rejoiced that he and his students at the Tuskegee Institute Booker T. Washington Quotehad to endure hard times. He noted repeatedly that it is in those hard times when we learn the greatest lessons. Rather than an easy road, he preferred to tackle problems, knowing the struggle itself would make him a better man.

His Christian faith also comes across clearly. Another historian has commented that Washington was not a devout Christian. One of the reasons I read his autobiography was to get some inkling of whether that assessment was accurate. In his own words, Washington declares,

While a great deal of stress is laid upon the industrial side of the work at Tuskegee, we do not neglect or overlook in any degree the religious and spiritual side. The school is strictly undenominational, but it is thoroughly Christian, and the spiritual training of the students is not neglected. Our preaching service, prayer-meetings, Sunday-school, Christian Endeavour Society, Young Men’s Christian Association, and various missionary organizations, testify to this.

He also had good words to say about his fellow Christians:

In my efforts to get money I have often been surprised at the patience and deep interest of the ministers, who are besieged on every hand and at all hours of the day for help. If no other consideration had convinced me of the value of the Christian life, the Christlike work which the Church of all denominations in America has done during the last thirty-five years for the elevation of the black man would have made me a Christian.

Then there’s the testimony of his attitude toward those who might be considered enemies:

Booker T. Washington Quote 2It is now long ago that I . . . resolved that I would permit no man, no matter what his colour might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him. With God’s help, I believe that I have completely rid myself of any ill feeling toward the Southern white man for any wrong that he may have inflicted upon my race. . . . I pity from the bottom of my heart any individual who is so unfortunate as to get into the habit of holding race prejudice.

He explained how he was led to conduct himself:

When I first came to Tuskegee, I determined that I would make it my home, that I would take as much pride in the right actions of the people of the town as any white man could do, and that I would, at the same time, deplore the wrong-doing of the people as much as any white man. I determined never to say anything in a public address in the North that I would not be willing to say in the South. I early learned that it is a hard matter to convert an individual by abusing him, and that this is more often accomplished by giving credit for all the praiseworthy actions performed than by calling attention alone to all the evil done.

If you were to read Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, I think you might come to the same conclusion I did: here is a model of a Christian man whose attitude and principles should be emphasized in our society once again. Booker T. Washington is one of the true heroes of American history.

 

Today Is Independence Day

John AdamsSome might be confused by the title of my blog today, but it’s true that independence for the fledgling United States was declared on July 2, 1776. That’s the day the Continental Congress voted decisively to separate from Great Britain. John Adams, in writing to his wife Abigail, exulted that July 2 would be the great day of liberty celebrated by future generations. He was correct as to the day we ought to celebrate, but July 4 became the focal point of remembrance due to the Congress’s approval of the wording of the Declaration of Independence on that day. No problem: we can honor both days.

One story about July 2 stands out above the rest—the trek made by Delaware delegate Caesar Rodney to arrive in Philadelphia in time to cast his vote for independence. Rodney had returned to Dover to help put down a Loyalist riot, obliged by his rank as a brigadier general of the Delaware militia. Back in Philadelphia, meanwhile, the remaining two Delaware delegates were split on the matter of independence. Thomas McKean, the delegate favoring independence, got word to Rodney that he needed to be at the Congress by the next day to break the tie.

Caesar RodneyRodney saddled up and rode the 80 miles throughout the night in a thunderstorm, arriving on the 2nd in time to cast the deciding vote for his state. That’s dramatic enough, yet the full story is that Rodney suffered from a face cancer that made him very ill. His exploit was not just remarkable because of the fact that it was an overnight ride, but astonishing as well, considering his physical condition at the time. I think what we can take away from this historical account is the depth of commitment the majority of these delegates had to the weighty issue of independence.

Although Rodney’s vote lost him his seat in the Delware legislature shortly afterward, once his constituents realized the significance of the war effort, he was elected president of Delaware, serving in that capacity for three years during the independence struggle. Rodney died in 1784, only a year after the Treaty of Paris officially recognized the new United States. He had done his part and should be remembered and honored on this day.

Coolidge: Humor, Humility, & Faith

CoolidgeA few weeks ago, I gave an endorsement to Amity Shlaes’s biography of Calvin Coolidge, even though I had only read half the book at that time. I’ve now completed it, and my endorsement not only holds but is greater than before. She presents Coolidge from all angles, inspecting both strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and disappointments.

Along the way, she gives many insights into the character of the man himself. He took office as president upon the death of Warren Harding. While waiting to make the White House his home, he was staying at the Willard Hotel in Washington. One incident during that interregnum showcases not only Coolidge’s character, but also how different security was for a president in the 1920s. Shlaes recounts,

Calvin CoolidgeOne early morning in the Willard bedroom, a sound woke Coolidge. A strange young man had broken in and was going through his clothing. In the morning light, Coolidge could see that the burglar had taken a wallet, a chain, and a charm. “I wish you wouldn’t take that,” Coolidge said. “I don’t mean the watch and chain, only the charm. Read what is engraved on the back of it.” The burglar read the back: “Presented to Calvin Coolidge . . . by the Massachusetts General Court.”—and stopped in dead shock. He was robbing the president. It emerged that the burglar was a hotel guest who had found himself short of cash to return home. Coolidge gave the burglar $32, what he called a “loan,” and helped him to navigate around the Secret Service as he departed.

I love that story, hard as it is to believe it could actually have happened. Certainly nowadays it couldn’t. But it reveals a soft side to Coolidge and a willingness to reach out to someone in need, even someone who was in the process of robbing him.

Tragedy hit the Coolidge family about a year after he ascended to the presidency. His son, Calvin Jr., died suddenly from a blister he had gotten from playing tennis. It was a bewildering episode, since no one suspected a blister could lead to death. The Coolidges were devastated. Yet God uses the trials in our lives to get our attention. As Shlaes relates,

Protecting the space that faith enjoyed in American culture, the realm of the spiritual, seemed to him [Coolidge] especially important. In those early days after Calvin’s death he had refused many appointments, but had agreed to talk to a group of Boy Scouts in a telephone hookup. “It is hard to see how a great man can be an atheist,” Coolidge had told the boys. “We need to feel that behind us is intelligence and love.” Now he was preparing a speech for the dedication of a statue of a Methodist bishop, Francis Asbury. In that speech he wanted to make clear his conviction that government’s power, since the days of Jonathan Edwards, had derived from religion, and not the other way around.

Those are just two snippets from the book. It abounds with others. I highly recommend it.

Pro-Abortion Lawlessness

Late last night—actually, early this morning—abortion supporters “won” a “victory” in Texas.  Yes, I put quotation marks around those two words for a reason. Any victory for those who favor abortion is an abomination before God. A win, for them, is by any means possible, even at the cost of disrupting a legislature and overturning the rule of law.

Here’s what happened.

Unborn ChildThe Texas legislature was on the verge of passing a bill that would protect the lives of unborn children, disallowing abortions after the twentieth week of pregnancy. This bill would save hundreds of lives in that state and move us closer to being a nation with a conscience once more. Those without a conscience, however—or rather, those with a seared conscience—decided to stage a combination of legislative chicanery and outright riot to forestall the possibility.

One Democrat woman legislator held a filibuster on the bill, seeking to keep the chamber from voting before midnight, when the legislative session would legally end. She had help from a raucous crowd, both inside and outside the building, attempting to create an atmosphere of chaos. Republicans were finally able to end the filibuster at 11:45 p.m., but then were kept from voting on time by the mob that made it impossible to conduct business.

I’m reminded of the same strategy in Wisconsin a couple of years ago, when protesters occupied the state capitol and even made death threats against Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators there. What we are witnessing is an ongoing tactic of trying to get one’s way by intimidation and lawlessness.

Is this where we have come as a society? Well, that’s really a rhetorical question. You can see it plainly. We celebrate the murder of innocent children, all in the name of reproductive rights. There’s a translation of that phrase I can give you: utter selfishness and depravity.

By the way, that unlawful mob yesterday received direct written support from Barack Obama, who may be perhaps the most lawless person ever to hold the office of the presidency. It’s time to stop acting as if he’s just a nice guy who simply holds an uninformed opinion on abortion. No, he’s the foremost proponent of killing innocent children. How often do I and others have to remind an uncaring people that he’s one of the few legislators on record as opposing a bill that would have required medical attention from doctors for any child born alive during an abortion? Who else has pronounced God’s blessing on an organization—Planned Parenthood—whose primary purpose is to carry out as many abortions as possible?

Barack Obama fits the description offered by C. S. Lewis in his Screwtape Letters, when he has the senior devil gloat over how wickedness is no longer found primarily in the dark corners of society, the sordid dens of iniquity, but rather in the corporate offices and government bureaucracies of the land run by people who are well-manicured and respectable.

This is the face of evil in our day. It’s time to stop mincing words. It’s time to speak the truth more boldly than ever.

The Pillars of Christianity

When I was working on my master’s and doctoral degrees in history, I distinctly recall an attitude that some of my professors had toward the American colonial and revolutionary eras—they conveyed to us, their students, the idea that the leaders of those eras were just so backward when compared to the more enlightened age we live in now. I didn’t accept that attitude then; I don’t accept it now.

Yes, we have progressed technologically in ways our Founders would find astonishing. Technology, though, is hardly a substitute for principle. Neither can we be considered more advanced if we have dismissed the Biblical framework that gives us a proper understanding of the place of man in God’s creation. That Biblical framework offers us, as well, a greater comprehension of the role civil government should play in the overall society. Personally, I believe a lot of those early Americans have a lot to teach us still.

When I was writing my master’s thesis, I researched the lives and writings of two prominent Americans of the Founding Era: Timothy Dwight and Jedidiah Morse. Most people today have no idea who they were. Dwight served ably for many years as president of Yale, ensuring it retained its Christian foundations. Morse, a pastor, also was famous as the Father of American Geography; he wrote the first American textbook on the subject, which was the first to include key geographical features of North America. His fame was eventually superseded by that of his son, Samuel F. B. Morse, who invented the telegraph.

Jedidiah MorseJedidiah Morse gave a sermon in 1799 that includes one of the best quotes I’ve ever read on the relationship of Christianity and civil government. A lot of quotes from this era, both genuine and spurious, have made their way to the internet, but I’ve never seen this one make the rounds. I’d like to offer it now for your consideration. Here’s what Morse would have us remember:

Our dangers are of two kinds, those which affect our religion, and those which affect our government. They are, however, so closely allied that they cannot, with propriety, be separated. The foundations which support the interests of Christianity, are also necessary to support a free and equal government like our own. . . .

To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoy. In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief, or the corruption of its doctrines, or the neglect of its institutions; in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom, and approximate the miseries of complete despotism. . . .

Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.

When I read those words, I am impressed by the wisdom behind them. Religious beliefs always provide the context of what a people accept as appropriate in society. Christianity, in particular, lends itself to genuine liberty. When Christianity recedes into the background, liberty recedes also. Morse’s words are a warning to a people who, in their pride, abandon Biblical principles and replace them with man-centered, humanistic ideas. If the blessings of our republican forms of government seem to be disappearing, we would do well to ponder what Morse says—the reason is that we are attempting to overthrow the “pillars of Christianity.”

We have a lot to learn from those who have preceded us. It’s not too late to take their warnings seriously and make a course correction. It will take humility on our part, however. Are we up to the challenge?

Up from Slavery: The Character of Booker T. Washington

Up from SlaveryI’ve been reading the autobiography of Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery. The story of his childhood in slavery, the privations he suffered both under slavery and in the years after its abolition, would have made many men bitter. Washington, though, never lost the vision planted in him by God that someday he would be able to rise above it. He learned, along the way, that one’s goal was not to be selfishly motivated but to become the best for the benefit of others.

Although he experienced racism, he also saw models of true Christian devotion and love in white people who came into the South to help after the Civil War. His time at the Hampton Institute, getting a college education, was the most formative time in his life. The man who established Hampton made a lifelong impression on Washington, as he explains,

I have spoken of the impression that was made upon me by the buildings and general appearance of the Hampton Institute, but I have not spoken of that which made the greatest and most lasting impression on me, and that was a great man—the noblest, rarest human being that it has ever been my privilege to meet. I refer to the late General Samuel C. Armstrong.

It has been my fortune to meet personally many of what are called great characters, both in Europe and America, but I do not hesitate to say that I never met any man who, in my estimation, was the equal of General Armstrong. . . . It was my privilege to know the General personally from the time I entered Hampton till he died, and the more I saw of him the greater he grew in my estimation. One might have removed from Hampton all the buildings, class-rooms, teachers, and industries, and given the men and women there the opportunity of coming into daily contact with General Armstrong, and that alone would have been a liberal education.

Washington learned at Hampton that head knowledge, by itself, was not enough. The emphasis was on character-building and hard work rather than looking to others to provide for oneself. He saw a basic flaw in some of the expectations of his newly freed race:

The ambition to secure an education was most praiseworthy and encouraging. The idea, however, was too prevalent that, as soon as one secured a little education, in some unexplainable way he would be free from most of the hardships of the world, and, at any rate, could live without manual labor. There was a further feeling that a knowledge, however little, of the Greek and Latin languages would make one a very superior human being, something bordering almost on the supernatural.

That’s why, when he started the Tuskegee Institute after he left Hampton, he required all students to take part in manual labor. He was just as concerned for the development of their character as their minds. The two had to go together.

98f/42/hgmp/12704/tep038Unfortunately, Washington is not held up today as a role model. Instead, the image of W.E.B. DuBois is the current hero from this era because he stressed the political side. Yet, interestingly, DuBois never had been a slave, had grown up in the northeast where he was largely accepted as part of the community, enjoyed the privilege of a Harvard education and a stint overseas to learn the ways of Europe. He was hardly the typical black man of the period. Despite all these advantages, DuBois became a bitter man, criticizing Washington’s character-centered approach. He instead focused on the top 10% of his race, believing that progress would be made via higher education alone, without the manual labor aspect of Washington’s regimen. DuBois rejected Christian faith, became increasingly bitter over time, and eventually joined the Communist party.

What a shame that DuBois gets more attention nowadays than Booker T. Washington. We need an army of Washingtons in our time, dedicated to humility, gratitude, integrity, and hard work. The victimization mentality must disappear from all races if we are to make genuine progress.

Memorial Day 2013

Memorial Day 2As I reflect on Memorial Day, I try to make it as personal as I can. That’s not easy because I never served in the military. My dad was in the newly formed Army Air Force after WWII, so he didn’t see combat. His brother—my uncle—was in the service during the Korean War, but I don’t recall any particular information about that; I don’t think he actually went to Korea. If he had seen combat, I assume I would have heard about it.

When I reached the age where I could possibly become part of the armed forces, Vietnam was in full bloom. I went to college right after high school, thereby earning a deferment. The draft was on, but protests against it, and Vietnam in particular, led to a new system—kind of a lottery—where dates of the year were pulled out of a drum, and each draftable guy was assigned a number according to his birthday. I remember watching the news that evening, waiting to see the number for my birthday. It turned out to be #254, meaning I didn’t have to worry about being drafted. My college roommate, however, came up #16, so he voluntarily signed up for the Air Force, headed to officer training.

So I went on with my life, got married, and never even considered joining the military. I believed God had other plans, and He did. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate those who have served. Those post-Vietnam years were bad for the armed forces: returning GIs being called baby-killers; Congress cutting back on national defense to the point that spare parts for airplanes, etc., were unavailable; an honorable service turned into dishonor by the prevailing post-Vietnam syndrome.

Ronald Reagan restored our national defense and brought the proper kind of pride back to the military. Once again, it is honorable to serve. Yes, we’ve done our best to turn each branch of the armed forces into a social engineering project with the outright acceptance of homosexuality, thereby damaging the luster of military service. But I’m going to continue to honor those who serve and recognize those who have died in an attempt to rid the world of the evils of taxation without representation and attacks on liberty of conscience (American Revolution), naval impressment and national disrespect (War of 1812), slavery and illegal rebellion against lawful authority (Civil War), despotic colonialism (Spanish-American War), German militarism (WWI), Nazism and other forms of fascism (WWII), communism (Korea and Vietnam), Middle East dictators (Gulf War), and radical Islam (War on Terror).

On the whole, the United States military has been used to carry out noble objectives, even in wars that brought protests and disunity at home. The soldiers who served, and particularly those who died in their service, deserve to be acknowledged and honored on this day.

Korean War Memorial