A Jeremiad Over Religion in American History
by Ed Blum
I just finished reading Andrew Murphy’s terrific Prodigal Nation: Moral Decline and Divine Punishment from New England to 9/11 (also, see here for more and a "page 99" test). For those of us who’ve read our fair share on the Puritan Jeremiad or its use throughout American history, this is a refreshing book. Murphy focuses on three main historical moments: the seventeenth century when the American Jeremiad was created; the Civil War when the Jeremiad was tested; and modern America when the Jeremiad was “taken back” by the moral majority and their hopes to save the United States from its decline. This is an affordable, readable book that would be great for courses in American religious history that go from the Puritans to the present.
Murphy is a political scientist and what he does best is systematize and define. For the Jeremiad, he defines it with the following characteristics. First, Jeremiads identify problems that show a decline vis-à-vis the past; second, Jeremiads identify turning points (where society shifted from godly to sinful); and third, Jeremiads call for reform, repentance, and renewal (since, I’m guessing, we can only teach in groups of threes and in groups of three r’s). Most Jeremiads seem to share that structure.
So it got me thinking, what would a Jeremiad over this blog look like? How might I call this blog back to its beautiful and godly roots? Here’s what I came up with. First, I would laud the origins of the blog. It began simply with the vision of one pure man. Paul Harvey felt called in July 2007 “to foster discussion, sharing of links, and (I hope) eventually a group blog in American religious history.” The goal was for discussion and to share links. Perhaps a few others might join. Most pristine, Harvey began with a plug of my religious biography of W. E. B. Du Bois. It was a time of simplicity and harmony. And for a time, all went well. Paul and his co-editor Kelly Baker posted nice little links to various stories, to syllabi, and to new books and questions. All could read the blog in unity and be at peace with God.
But disaster struck in May 2008. It was then that a new contributing editor who seemed like an angel of light but was really a part of the antichrist’s plan to destroy the blog joined the crew. Dissension hit the blog almost instantly. When Dr. Harvey posted a picture of the new editor on the blog, he became angry. He demanded that the cover of his book be posted instead. It was the first time the genius of Harvey’s benevolent rule had been challenged. But it was only the beginning of the discord that this version of the antichrist would bring to the community. Attacking journal after journal, review after review, the enemy single-handedly transformed the blog from an arena of communal affirmation to one of strife and verbal tirades. Then he amassed a following of new editors and even connived me into his unholy attack on the community.
After May 2008, the blog went, figuratively, to hell. Stories emerged on new and bizarre topics. We could now read on the theology of George Carlin; even Paul Harvey posted about atheism in Phil Zuckerman’s book; evolution has been discussed on a blog about religion. What was happening? Liberal politicians like Barack Obama have been defended, and Phil Sinitiere and Jon Fea alerted us to too many books. All of it upsets the mind and has devastated the communal unity of our group. Peace has left us and now only discord and confusion.
What shall we do to be saved? Isn’t it clear, my fellow blog readers. We must return to the early time, the time when Paul posted short little snippets mostly about my books and material. The antichrist should be banished and hopefully slaughtered in the wilderness by Native Americans. Perhaps then and only then, we can reestablish this group as the last best blog on planet earth.