Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Does Michele Bachmann Think Slavery Was A Good, Christian Thing?

Now that Michele Bachman has won the Iowa Straw Poll and is officially a credible candidate for the nomination of the Republican party, I sincerely hope that someone will follow up on on the outstanding reporting done in the New Yorker digging into her intellectual background. For instance, in view of this:

While looking over Bachmann’s State Senate campaign Web site, I stumbled upon a list of book recommendations. The third book on the list, which appeared just before the Declaration of Independence and George Washington’s Farewell Address, is a 1997 biography of Robert E. Lee by J. Steven Wilkins.

Wilkins is the leading proponent of the theory that the South was an orthodox Christian nation unjustly attacked by the godless North. This revisionist take on the Civil War, known as the “theological war” thesis, had little resonance outside a small group of Southern historians until the mid-twentieth century, when Rushdoony and others began to popularize it in evangelical circles. In the book, Wilkins condemns “the radical abolitionists of New England” and writes that “most southerners strove to treat their slaves with respect and provide them with a sufficiency of goods for a comfortable, though—by modern standards—spare existence.”

African slaves brought to America, he argues, were essentially lucky: “Africa, like any other pagan country, was permeated by the cruelty and barbarism typical of unbelieving cultures.” Echoing Eidsmoe, Wilkins also approvingly cites Lee’s insistence that abolition could not come until “the sanctifying effects of Christianity” had time “to work in the black race and fit its people for freedom.”

In his chapter on race relations in the antebellum South, Wilkins writes:
"Slavery, as it operated in the pervasively Christian society which was the old South, was not an adversarial relationship founded upon racial animosity. In fact, it bred on the whole, not contempt, but, over time, mutual respect. This produced a mutual esteem of the sort that always results when men give themselves to a common cause. The credit for this startling reality must go to the Christian faith. . . . The unity and companionship that existed between the races in the South prior to the war was the fruit of a common faith.
For several years, the book, which Bachmann’s campaign declined to discuss with me, was listed on her Web site, under the heading “Michele’s Must Read List.”
This is clearly appalling. But the point here is not to just read that and say, I'm shocked, SHOCKED. The point is that this is so outside of the mainstream, so beyond what most people think is a reasonable interpretation of slavery and the Civil War era, that it requires an explanation before Bachmann should be heard on any other issues. So here are the questions I would like someone in the media to ask Michele before they give her a platform to expound on any of her other vaguely deranged talking points.

1) Does she agree with Wilkins that slavery was a largely benign, Christian institution? If not, what about his historical theories does she find so appealing?

2) Does she think that africans sold into slavery were fortunate to find themselves in this situation, as it afforded them a chance to convert to Christianity?

3) Does she agree that abolition could not have been brought to the deep south sooner because the slaves themselves had not yet been prepared by Christianity for the demands of freedom?

4) If no to all of the above, how WOULD she describe the institution of slavery? Can she understand what in Wilkins views would be considered offensive by African Americans?

5) How influential was this person, and the other extremist philosophers cited in the article, to her own intellectual development? She has hinted that they were very important to her, can she explain in detail how?

Obama answered similar questions about his own religious influences. If Michele Bachmann wants to be a mainstream candidate, she needs to explain, defend, or refute her extreme influences. And the media needs to ask her.

(PS: On a side note, can I say how much it pleases me that some of the most informative research done for the New Yorker Article was simple old fashioned desk based research? The reporter read her website, then he looked up the references - how about that? We used to call that reporting.)