Everybody’s a populist

Just about everybody in politics is claiming to be a “populist” these days–leftwinger Elizabeth Warren, rightwinger Ted Cruz, establishment icon Hillary Clinton, the Christian right’s Mike Huckabee, Occupy Wallstreeters, Tea Partiers, and on and on.

Rutgers history professor David Greenberg points out that the term once had a very specific meaning, relating to the farmer/labor coalition against the railroads and bankers in the late 19th century,  as led by William Jennings Bryan.  The ideology combined a type of socialist economics (nationalize the railroads!) with respect for “ordinary” Americans (a man of the people! champion of the common man!).  Today liberals are seizing upon the economic part (while comprising the cultural elite that the old populists scorned), while conservatives are seizing upon the ordinary American part (a demographic that today tends not to like socialism).

But this reminds us that the left owes a big debt to William Jennings Bryan, today often mocked for his creationism at the Scopes Monkey Trial.  And that there was a time when evangelical Christians were often leftists. [Read more...]

How the KGB created Liberation Theology

Liberation Theology, which teaches that Christianity demands radical social and economic change, is a major movement in modern theology.  It has been especially influential in Latin America where it created alliances between Roman Catholics and Marxist revolutionaries.  Now a former Soviet intelligence agent says that Liberation Theology in its entirety, from its formulation to its promulgation, was a creation of the (atheist) KGB! [Read more...]

Christians as enemies of the human race

Michael Avramovich observes that “In the ancient Roman world, Christians were referred to as ‘hostis humani generis’ (enemies of the human race). This was a legal term of art and signified that Christians were undeserving of any legal protection.”

He sees this mindset returning.  He then quotes from Wallace Henley, who says that “prophetic voices” tend to be silenced in the following sequence:  “marginalization, caricaturization, vilification, criminalization, elimination.”  Right now, he says, we are at “vilification,” and that we need to get ready to be the Church of 1st century Rome.

[Read more...]

Thomas More vs. the Reformation

Now that Hilary Mantel’s superb novels about Thomas Cromwell have been made into a TV series, Wolf Hall, her points about the good guys and bad guys in Tudor England are attracting attention and controversy.  Conventionally, Cromwell has been considered a Machiavellian villain who helped Henry VIII  break from the Church of Rome because of his romance with Anne Boleyn, only to later frame her for unfaithfulness.  His foil was Thomas More–later, St. Thomas More–the humanist scholar who refused to go along with these schemes at the cost of his life.

But Mantel portrays Cromwell as a decent man, carefully navigating the whims of an unstable king, while deftly advancing the cause of reform and Reformation in a corrupt society and a corrupt church.  More, on the other hand, as Mantel tells it, is a reactionary bigot, who sought to stamp out the Reformation by burning the “heretics” at the stake (which would include William Tyndale, for translating the Bible into English).

Now many Catholics are outraged at this treatment of their Renaissance saint, who has lately been held up as the model of the Christian intellectual who puts the laws of God over the laws of the state.  Mark Movesian goes so far as to say that Wolf Hall is part of the attack on religious liberty.  The depiction of More, he says, is an example of today’s mindset that the demands of the state should trump the teachings  of the church.  But, of course, it finally comes down to whether you support the beliefs of More or his victims.

Anthony Sacramone has given a quite brilliant Lutheran reply to all of this.  He includes what More said about Luther (who also opposed Henry VIII and his shenanigans), More’s defense of heretic burning, and what Purgatory meant to the people of the time. [Read more...]

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s latest best-seller

Back in the 1930′s, an elderly woman wrote a memoir about her life on the American frontier.  But no one would publish it.  So she recast her memories as a series of children’s novels, giving the world the immortal Little House on the Prairie books.

Now that original manuscript, entitled Pioneer Girl has been published in an annotated edition that gives the complete historical context of this woman’s remarkable life.  The 472-page book has become a smash hit, to the point that its publisher, the 7-employee South Dakota Historical Society Press, can’t print enough copies to keep up with the demand.

When I was in the fifth grade, if we were good, our teacher, Mrs. Waldrop, would read us a chapter from the novels.  I will never forget the impact they had on my imagination in their portrayal of family, America, overcoming hardship, and growing up.  I have got to read this true-life adult version, if I can ever find a copy.  Read an account of the book after the jump. [Read more...]

U. S. History as oppression studies

The National Association of Scholars, an organization of conservative academics, has put out an FAQ page on what is wrong with the new Advanced Placement U. S. History exam.  It sums up well the problems also with the Common Core, contemporary text books, and the state of the history profession in general.

The point is not that America doesn’t have skeletons in its closet and that we need to study those bad parts of our history.  It’s that these have become the only emphasis, and that other important facets of our history (the concepts behind our constitution) and just facts in general (why we fought World War II) are left out. [Read more...]