Robert P. George has already noted the sad passing of Eugene Genovese earlier this week. Genovese played a large role in the life of the magazine, with his wife, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, serving on our advisory council. Here’s Richard John Neuhaus writing in his “Public Square” column on Eugene Genovese, Martin Luther King, Jr., and liberal theology:
In a generally favorable review of the first volume of the papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Eugene D. Genovese offers a number of intriguing asides on liberal theology. In the review, Genovese suggests that Dr. King was more theologically conservative than many have assumed, and therefore he was politically radical. That is to say, King recognized that original sin sharply limited the human capacity to respond to moral appeals, and therefore more forceful (although not violent) measures were required to advance justice. Along the way of his review, Genovese notes that the Southern Agrarian poet John Crowe Ransom published in 1931 a stinging rebuke of liberalism titled God Without Thunder . Ransom’s point was that a God who does not thunder can hardly command our reasonable worship. Genovese reflects: When years ago, I finished reading God Without Thunder , I threw it aside, muttering that I would rather burn eternally in hell than submit to the will of such an arbitrary, not to say monstrous, God. But then, as an atheist, I am at liberty to indulge in such grandstanding. Were I in grace and in fear of the wrath of a God who proclaims himself a jealous God,’ I would think again. Liberal (and liberationist) theology, in white or black, should warm every atheist’s heart. For if God is a socially conscious political being whose view invariably corresponds to our own prejudices on every essential point of doctrine, he demands of us no more than our politics require. Besides, if God is finite, progressive, and Pure Love, we may as well skip church next Sunday and go to the movies. For if we have nothing to fear from this all-loving, all-forbearing, all-forgiving God, how would our worship of him constitute more than self-congratulation for our own moral standards? As an atheist, I like this God. It is good to see him every morning while I am shaving.
Here’s Genovese writing in our pages:
In general, the South held fast to religious orthodoxy, especially on the doctrines of original sin and human depravity, while the North slid toward theological liberalism. During the nineteenth century the proslavery divines celebrated the superiority of their social system as one that, being based on organic social relations, rejected the siren calls of marketplace ideology, whether in religion or in social and political theory. They cried out that the advance of bourgeois social relations in the North was promoting the radical individualism that northern conservatives were lamenting—-that Christian values could not be sustained without organic social relations. Their solution—-slavery in principle, not merely racial slavery—-went down hard even among the most conservative northern Christians and properly goes down even harder today. But their critique of the marketplace and its values retains its force.
And here are reviews of his books that have appeared in FT: