April 19, 2008

"Thou Shalt Not Follow a Multitude to Do Evil"

From William R. Cross, The Burned-Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800--1850 (reprint; New York: Harper, 1965, pp. 81--82):

The whole tribe of Yorkers exhibited a trait which bears on the nature of Burned-Over District credulity. It ranks in importance with the canniness and moral intensity customarily attributed to Yankees and relates to both, but has been less noticed because it is difficult to define and isolate. Against the "holy enterprise of minding other people's business," which produced a marked community-mindedness, these folk balanced a stubborn intrspection in the fashioning of personal beliefs, which recognized no authority this side of Heaven. Frank curiosity, pride in independent thinking, a feeling that action should be motivated by sound logic and never by whimsy, a profound skepitcism of any rationalization looking to less than the supposed ultimate good of society, and, once arrived at, an overweening confidence in one's own judgment — all these attitudes differently demonstrate the same trait. The mores of the community must definitely be observed when established and agreed upon, but in practice they remained forever open to challenge and subject to revision. No apology was required for unorthodoxy dictated by conscience in conference with Scripture; rather, any difference from custom created a compelling obligation for the individual to press toward conformity with his own new light.
Cross goes on in a footnote to add that "Certain angles of [this trait] survive the generations of Yankee descendants, and my discussion of it is based in part upon observation of acquaintances, my family, and myself".

The Beloved Republic; Psychoceramica

Posted at April 19, 2008 18:11 | permanent link

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