Fall, 2015 SCoR Seminar - entrance-to-uahrd

Fall, 2015 SCoR Meeting at the University of Alabama in Huntsville Rhetoric, Christianity and War
The Department of Communication Arts at the University of Alabama in Huntsville hosted its first SCoR Colloquium on October 16, 2015. The Colloquium featured a special guest scholar, Dr. Jouni Tilli of University of Jyväskylä (Finland), author of The Continuation War 1941-1944 as a Metanoic Moment: A Burkean Reading of Finnish Clerical Rhetoric (Peter Lang, 2013).

The colloquium explored how Christian leaders and countries at war have grappled with the problem that peace and nonaggression are central tenets of Christianity. Specifically, the participants looked at how such leaders construct the “Civilized Christian” as unlike “Uncivilized/UnChristian Others” and how they construct God’s purposes as supportive of war efforts.
The participants looked at a range of rhetorical artifacts on the subject, including Albert Beveridge’s “March of the Flag,” FDR’s 17
th Fireside Chat, Reagan’s “Evil Empire,” Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, and a largely unexamined speech by Isaac Taylor Tichenor, a clergyman who gave a “Fast Day Sermon” to the Alabama assembly in 1863.

On the “Uncivilized Other,” the group considered several issues: Regarding Beveridge, we wondered: Is it inherent in Christianity/Protestantism to demonize the enemy and to patronize the other (e.g., based on the theological emphasis of children's obedience to parents)? Does this apply to domestic political opponents? How effectively are US economic interests in war made to merge with Christian virtues and God’s plans? We noted that FDR uses a "rhetoric of proximization" to argue for the necessity of US participation to WWII, to attack Hitler and his nest of evil before it extends to our shores. FDR charges both Nazis and (surprisingly) the Communists with their "ruthless denial of God." Reagan's Evil Empire speech essentialized the enemy in spiritual terms, establishing a moral conflict. Demonization of the evil Other in religious rhetoric generally appears to involve the personalization of evil AND the spiritualization of evil, constructing the evil as potentially omnipresent. In these examples there is a distinction of these Others between the evil and the merely ignorant "infantiles" who have been deceived by the evil Others.

The second session on "War and God's Purposes" grappled with some fascinating rhetorical artifacts. Tichener warned that the poor treatment of slaves had been one of the reasons why the South was losing the Civil War; the suffering God allows for “the other” includes “us” in this reframing of the war. Material goods are set against spiritual goods, as Tichenor rejects the “worshipping” of King Cotton as a false god and “as our national deliverer."
Generally, success in war seems to “prove” that God’s purposes are being fulfilled, while misfortune in war moves the blame to those (perhaps the South) who ruin God’s purposes.

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural was quite different from Reagan and Beveridge in not constructing God as taking sides. Lincoln does exactly what Reagan considers a terrible sin, that is, succumbing to "the temptation of pride - - the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault." On the other hand, since Lincoln’s side was winning, perhaps it was easier for him to be magnanimous.

Moderator/Chair: Clarke Rountree, University of Alabama in Huntsville  Panelists:  Matthew Boedy, University of North Georgia; Caroline Parsons, University of Alabama; Paul Stob, Vanderbilt University; Jouni Tilli of University of Jyväskylä (Finland); and Diana Bell, Gaines Hubbell, and Ryan Weber, all of the University of Alabama in Huntsville

Click here for complete details on the readings and agenda for this seminar.