Liveblogging “God in America,” Day 2

Okay, day 2, hours 3 and 4, of PBS’s new special, “God in America.” See yesterday’s liveblogging here. Please join the conversation live in the comments!

(Also, check out Patheos’ discussions with the directors each day.)

Hour 3: “A Nation Reborn”

:00. It just began. Our friend and expert-extraordinaire Stephen Prothero promised a green shirt for today, but it looks brownish to me. Okay. No more talk about Proth’s attire. Or hair. Tonight, we’ll focus on substantive things. Roommates #1 and #2 of yesterday aren’t here anymore. So it’s just me, a pint of Yuengling, and the telly. And Twitter.

:05. Slavery. There have been lots of calls for “diversity” after last night, so here’s it. Abe Lincoln was suspicious of people who wear religion on their sleeve.

:08. Many of the characters they choose to focus on aren’t necessarily the usual suspects. No Jonathan Edwards, for instance. I suppose variety is a good thing. A sub-canon.

:09. Good line: “It will stink in God’s nostrils, and all will pay for it.”

:10. Again, abolitionism connected to “evangelicals.” True, but how is this being heard by contemporary Evangelicals? Is this all an effort to inscribe social justice (Glenn Beck, watch out) back into the history and repertoire of Evangelicals today? On Twitter:

sprothero Stephen Prothero
#godinamerica showing how 19th c US evangelicals were in PROGRESSIVES, in forefront of social reform movements

:13. Slavery. Oh goodness, images. What is the slavery of today? Animal treatment? Abortion? Homophobia?

:15. Jury still out on reenactments. They seem more promising tonight. Proth, in the comments: “Different style of filmmaking by Sarah Colt, no? She did the two hours tonight. More close up out of focus images. And not as much running water.” Glad to be done with the water.

:16. Thomas Jefferson, FYI, part of which is inscribed in his memorial:

“For in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make
another labour for him. This is so true, that of the proprietors of
slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labor. And
can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed
their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that
these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be
violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I
reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for
ever . . . .”
— Notes on the State of Virginia

“When I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.” Amen. Is it beautiful or horrible that he knew how wrong he, a slaveholder, was?

A friend (a Catholic priest) recently quoted it to me in a discussion about abortion.

:18. How accurately do we know how accents sounded 150 years ago?

:19. Lincoln’s freethinking. A deist? A determinist? The watch-making universe. My friend the historian Adam Shapiro has an amazing unpublished paper about British watchmaking in the 19th century and its theological implications. Also, an essay of mine about the watchmaking imagination in warfare.

:23. Mark Noll just came on, the great Evangelical historian.

:23. Anthea Butler, U Penn historian and pal, in the comments:

I know this is terrible, but just keep thinking about Lincoln on the geico commercial with Martha asking does my backside look big in this?

:25. The Civil War: Where is the politics? Where is the economics? Is this the secret history? Where specifically religious causes were the REAL cause behind everything?

HARRY S. STOUT: Maybe the single most important question people are asking is, “What must I do to be saved?”

:30. Twitter:

jkameroncarter J. Kameron Carter
PBS #GodinAmerica special. interestingly connects relg, nationalism, race. are we not still here? #BCS265


NARRATOR: Lincoln toured hospitals and sat with the sick and wounded.

Please will we see Walt Whitman visiting hospitals? I know it doesn’t have anything to do with Evangelicalism. But W. James, in the Varieties, does talk about how there was a religion of people who treated Leaves of Grass as scripture. And his accounts of the Civil War hospitals are unbelievably beautiful. A piece of them was recently included in a AIDS memorial in D.C. at Dupont Circle.

:31. Twitter:

“Where is the politics? Where is the economics? Is this the secret history?” from@killingthebuddha. I was wondering the same. #godinamerica

:34. Lincoln reexamines his relationship with God in writing. “This was something Lincoln never expected any of us to see.” I sometimes wonder why I ever risk writing anything. And why Nixon ever thought it was a good idea to record himself. (Hear some of that in The Most Dangerous Man in America, awesome, and free this month on PBS’s website.)

:35. Anthea:

From Twitter

Wishing Cornell West had been tapped to play Frederick Douglass in the #godinamerica doc.

Totally. On KtB, see Jeff’s great profile and an interview by Astra Taylor.

:39. If God wanted to free the slaves, why not in the non-rebel states (which were excluded from the Emancipation Proclamation)? Oh yeah, politics.

:40. Prothero in comments:

Here’s some revisionism in this series: TJefferson and ALincoln as two of our most deeply theological presidents

Yes! That’s a powerful agenda. The heroes are freethinking statesmen and socially-conscious evangelicals.

:42. Twitter, by a friend:

jon_fitzgerald Jonathan Fitzgerald
Was the name “Emancipation Proclamation” chosen because of or despite the internal rhyme? #godinamerica

:44. Lincoln’s reading Job. Proth: “A story about a man with a special relationship with God.” And, more progressive ideology (of which I completely approve): “It’s our job to fix the world in the direction that we believe God is pushing it.”

:47. Lincoln’s second inaugural address: the war is God’s punishment for slavery, according to his covenant with America. I guess the Native Americans’ genocide was just strike one.

:49. Hearing Lincoln’s speeches makes one think that the only reason we think Obama is a decent orator is that he doesn’t constantly make grammatical mistakes. Lincoln’s are miraculous.

:50. “Lincoln was shot on Good Friday.”

NARRATOR: “The grave cannot hold him, and he is risen!” a Boston minister declared. “He was the well beloved Son of God.”

STEPHEN PROTHERO: … We deserve more punishment than we got, but Lincoln, like Christ, took the sin of slavery onto his own body and onto his own person.

:52. Once again, all the characters appear in solitude. As if religion is great men prancing around in big empty houses thinking really, really hard about stuff.

:53. Wow. When Proth says “the freedoms we should be manifesting” is he talking about The Secret-type manifesting? Ha! Cool! Magic!

Hour 4: “A New Light”

:53. A Jew praying. Shuckling.

:56. Shema. Isaac Mayer Wise. Reform. Narrator: “traditional laws governing everyday life were negotiable.” Negotiable? (Insert anti-Semitic crack here, which I’m allowed to imply because I’m half Jewish.)

Again, we’re seeing the liberal-centrist thread.

1:00. Proth in comments: “I have seen the upcoming Trefa Banquet and it is BEAUTIFULLY shot. GREAT SCENE!” Looking forward.

1:01. R. Wise is walking through a field, just like in the Great Awakening last night.

Rabbi LANCE J. SUSSMAN: Wise believed that the direction in which Judaism was going and the direction that America was going in would ultimately converge, and that Reform Judaism would not only be the vanguard of Judaism, but it would be the religious vanguard of the United States itself.

He’s walking, again, alone, just him and the sky and the natural world. His black-hatted, suited attire seems impractical for the wilderness.

1:04. There need to be more Jewish studies scholars who aren’t Jews. It’ll be good for Jewish studies. But the only way to make it happen: have to start teaching gentile kids Hebrew and Aramaic and Yiddish, etc., while they’re young so they can compete.

1:05. Ah, the famous anti-kosher meal at Wise’s Cincinnati meeting. Trefa dinner. Oops. “An observant Jew’s nightmare.”

1:07. Proth in comments:

My award thus far for Twitter commentary on #godinamerica goes to jkameroncarter. His latest:

#GodinAmerica #BCS265 even if indirectly, the show is suggesting a connection between Jewish existence/black existence in Amer history.

Connection? There was that connection in Civil Rights movement. There are black-only, self-converted Jewish communities in U.S. cities. But no: so far, Jews have had agency. African-Americans, not quite yet. We might have to wait till MLK.

1:09. The Origin of Species. (Proth reminds us on Twitter: “on ice.” It is, literally, shown on ice.) Charles Augustus Briggs in Berlin. Another liberal, and an evangelical. Embraces evolution and German Higher Criticism. Again, its are telling today’s Evangelicals: look, this could be you. Listen!

1:14. Comments:

  1. Stephen Prothero
    October 12th, 2010 at 10:10 pm what do you think of the out-of-focus strategy here?
  2. Abutler
    October 12th, 2010 at 10:13 pm the out of focus with the chalkboard is a little weird

Last night it was a steady, narrow depth of field. Tonight it’s a frenetic hand on the focus dial.

1:15. Tweet:

jon_fitzgerald Jonathan Fitzgerald
Scholars always ruining things with their scholarhooding. #godinamerica

And @thesongsofapoet is right that Scopes is coming up! But how will they swing it? WJ Bryan’s progressive populism, I bet. Or maybe we’ll just bypass it because we’re that progressive.

1:19. Briggs convicted of heresy. “Briggs lost his job. But he had started a revolution among American Protestants.”

1:21. William Jennings Bryan! He loves Protestantism and thinks it will solve everything.

1:27. World War I. No mention of Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Christian pacifist organization founded in 1914, as the war broke out. That would be a good thing to note on the subject of progressives. Instead, we get The Fundamentals. Probably for good reason… sigh.

1:29. Bryan: This lonely man writing in the dark by a lamp is wearing a wifebeater.

1:30. Ooh! A nice piece of American religious folk art. There should be more of that. There’s so much good stuff.

1:31. Scopes trial. Scopes never taught evolution. Local businessmen put him up to saying he did. Will the ACLU be mentioned? Or that Darrow defended the most evil of criminals (as well as noble anarchists and labor activists)? No, “Darrow had the support of many liberal Christians, who saw nothing incompatible between Darwinism and religion.”

1:33. Tweet:

sprothero Stephen Prothero
who is the hero so far of #godinamerica? Anne Hutchinson? Charles Briggs? Abe Lincoln? Rabbi Wise? Thomas Jefferson? Frederick Douglass?

Definitely Stephen Prothero. Abe Lincoln is #2.

1:38. Even the trial scene between Darrow and Bryan is just one on one! Solitary men! No budget for extras after all those fancy lenses.

1:39. Tweet:

philosopher1906 Deven D. Anderson
RT @jkameroncarter: #GodinAmerica PBS show gives us some of the backstory on the religious right of the 1980s and even the TeaParty of today

Does it? Yet? Perhaps in The Fundamentals. But much more its powerfully showing that American Christianity has other options than those.

1:39. Bryan is revealed as a closet—liberal! He doesn’t think the “days” of Genesis have to be 24 hours!

1:44. Read WJ Bryan’s powerful (and powerfully and sophisticatedly creationist) never-delivered final speech at Skeptic.

1:45. The birth of Fundamentalist quietism and subculture after Scopes:

NARRATOR: The divide between liberals and conservatives, between modernists and traditionalists, would come to dominate American religious life.

And that’s where it ends. Thank you all for the conversation about this important piece!

10:46.P.S.  Ooh! Buddha-killer Frank Schaeffer is going to be on in tomorrow’s conclusion! Be sure to tune in.

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.