African-Americans need a Great Awakening to repair their broken culture

Rather than demanding that politicians and white people fix a broken culture, American blacks need a Great Awakening that repairs them from the inside out.

Great Awakening African Americans broken cultureA year after requesting Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton from my local library, my copy arrived this morning, and I’ve been reading away. I’ve just reached the point at which Hamilton leaves the West Indies behind for America, so I don’t have any insights on the subject of Hamilton. The book got me thinking, though, about the plight of black Americans, too many of whom suffer from a spiritual sickness that sees them not only dependent on the government for aid but also crudely demanding that “white America” solve the black community’s dysfunction.

I don’t think I’m being racist when I point to problems plaguing American blacks. According to Nate Silver:

From 2010 through 2012, the annual rate of homicide deaths among non-Hispanic white Americans was 2.5 per 100,000 persons, meaning that about one in every 40,000 white Americans is a homicide victim each year. By comparison, the rate of homicide deaths among non-Hispanic black Americans is 19.4 per 100,000 persons, or about 1 in 5,000 people per year.

Black Americans are almost eight times as likely as white ones to be homicide victims, in other words.

Take away black homicides, and America’s homicide rate is in line with Western Europe’s (at least, in line with Western Europe’s before the refugee influx). Moreover, it’s not whites or police who are killing blacks. It’s blacks who are killing blacks.

If you want a real-time sense of these deeply troubling statistics, just look at a weekend in Chicago:

More people were shot in Chicago over the weekend than on any other this year, except for the long July Fourth holiday that stretched four days, according to police and data kept by the Chicago Tribune.

At least 63 people were shot and eight of them were killed, police said. More than half were wounded over 13 hours from Saturday to early Sunday. At least 16 more were shot through the day Sunday, including the four on Madison in South Austin.

While the shootings occurred across the city, two police districts bore the brunt: Calumet on the south, with 12 shootings, and Austin on the west with 11, according to police.

The level of violence exceeded the 52 shot during the three-day Memorial Day weekend, but it fell short of the 102 hit by gunfire over the Fourth of July weekend, according to Tribune data. Despite the bad weekend, fewer people have been shot in Chicago this year than at this time last year: 2,435 compared with 2,710.

Other black statistics in America are equally depressing. For example, in addition to homicide, blacks are committing violent crimes at a rate much higher than other people in America:

Blacks commit violent crimes at 7 to 10 times the rate that whites do. The fact that their victims tend to be of the same race suggests that young black men in the ghetto live in danger of being shot by each other, not cops. Nor is this a function of “over-policing” certain neighborhoods to juice black arrest rates. Research has long shown that the rate at which blacks are arrested is nearly identical to the rate at which crime victims identify blacks as their assailants.

Blacks in America’s inner cities make up a community in crisis, one that sees too many of its members disconnected from a necessary morality that allows communities to grow and thrive.

Reading Chernow’s description of life in the West Indies when Hamilton was a child made me think of these self-destructive black pathologies. My thoughts weren’t actually about the blacks themselves, but about the white behavior towards the blacks. Those Africans shipped into the West Indies were victims, pure and simple, and anything they did in response to the cruelty heaped upon them was justified. It was the whites, were products of our Western culture and living in the century and shadow of the Enlightenment, who committed unspeakable acts of brutality in order to maintain their dominance over blacks:

The Caribbean sugar economy was a system of inimitable savagery, making the tobacco and cotton plantations of the American south seem almost genteel by comparison. The mortality rate of slaves hacking away at sugarcane under a pitiless tropical sun was simply staggering: three out of five died within five years of arrival, and slave owners needed to replenish their fields constantly with fresh victims. One Nevis planter, Edward Huggins, set a sinister record when he administered 365 lashes to a male slave and 292 to a female. Evidently unfazed by this sadism, a local jury acquitted him of all wrongdoing. A decorous British lady who visited St. Kitts stared aghast at naked male and female slaves being driven along dusty roads by overseers who flogged them at regular intervals, as if they needed steady reminders of their servitude: “Every ten Negroes have a driver who walks behind them, holding in his hand a short whip and a long one . . . and you constantly observe where the application has been made.” [Fn. omitted.] Another British visitor said that “if a white man kills a black, he cannot be tried for his life for the murder. . . . If a negro strikes a white man, he is punished with the loss of his hand and, if he should draw blood, with death.” [Fn. omitted.] (p. 19)


On the slave ships, hundreds of Africans were chained and stuffed in fetid holds, where many suffocated. So vile were the conditions on these noisome ships that people onshore could smell their foul effluvia even miles away.

Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (pp. 19, 32). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

White people in the West Indies were inhuman savages. What changed?

One of the changes, of course, was the Enlightenment, which not only advanced science but began redefining Man’s relationship to government. I think, however, that there was something more spiritual and personal that dragged Westerners away from the casual, common cruelty that was an integral part of Western society, going back at least as far as the Romans.

You see, in addition to the scientific awakening of the Enlightenment, the 18th Century also saw the spiritual fervor of the First Great Awakening. This Great Awakening was unlike religious revivals that preceded it. In Florence, for example, Girolamo Savonarola ushered in a religious revival that savaged corrupt government and urged individuals to give up licentious lifestyles, but he quickly fell afoul of his own hubris and the Pope’s enmity, ending his life burned at the stake. His brief career effected no major changes in the religious psyche of either Florentines or others in Italy who believed in his prophecies.

The Great Awakening, however, was something quite different, because it remade Western European culture in ways lasting well into the early 20th century. The Great Awakening changed Westerners’ concept of what constituted moral behavior within a person and as that person related to others. Religion was no longer a Sunday thing. It was a lifestyle.

With this rejiggered morality, the Great Awakening paved the way for abolition, the end of child labor, the 40 hour work week, and even women’s suffrage. Nor was this merely a period of mass religious hysteria. Instead, it was a catalyst for a sharp turn to humanism, not just among the thinkers, but at all levels of society.

It’s been many years since I studied the First Great Awakening in any depth, so you’ll pardon me for simply quoting from an internet source to get us all up to speed about the Great Awakening’s origins and its immediate effects. Wikipedia has a decent summary:

The Great Awakening or First Great Awakening was a Protestant religious revival that swept Protestant Europe and British America in the 1730s and 1740s. An evangelical and revitalization movement, it left a permanent impact on American Protestantism. It resulted from powerful preaching that gave listeners a sense of deep personal revelation of their need of salvation by Jesus Christ. The Great Awakening pulled away from ritual, ceremony, sacramentalism, and hierarchy, and made Christianity intensely personal to the average person by fostering a deep sense of spiritual conviction and redemption, and by encouraging introspection and a commitment to a new standard of personal morality. (Emphasis mine.)

Once a person commits to “a new standard of personal morality,” it becomes remarkably difficult to contemplate with equanimity the notion of slavery, let alone the hideous, sadistic abuse of those poor souls locked into slavery. You also begin to see that skin color is an irrelevancy, because we are all God’s children. No wonder that William Wilberforce was able to campaign so effectively against the slave trade in the late 18th century. He had before him a population primed for morality.

Confederate slave man and a brother

As the history of John Newton’s Amazing Grace reveals, before you can take a stand against evil, you must first become (or try to become) good. So it was that first he came to God and wrote the classic hymn while he was still engaged in the slave trade. It was Grace that eventually lifted Newton’s blinders and made him a stalwart abolitionist.

We cannot change our bad habits until we first change our personal morality.

The preceding proposition applies to American blacks — and with the usual perfect timing that characterizes my light bulb moments, I just today saw a speech Malcolm X gave in which he made that same point. In the video, Malcolm X talks about the Nation of Islam’s unholy alliance with white supremacists and castigates it as a “criminal organization.” That’s historically interesting and worth watching, especially with the Leftist witch hunt we’re witnessing, but what really caught my attention was the fact that, in the first minute of the video, Malcolm X asserts that one needs a spiritual waking before one can truly abandon destructive behavior:

It [the Nation of Islam] was not a criminal organization at the outstart [sic]. It was an organization that had the power, the spiritual power, to reform the criminal. And this is what you have to understand. As long as that strong spiritual power was in the movement, it gave the moral strength to the believer that would enable him to rise above all his negative tendencies. I know because I went into the movement with more negative tendencies [skip in recording]….

Malcolm X’s fundamental error was his naive belief that Islam, whether classical Islam or the bastardized version that the Nation of Islam grabbed onto, could ever provide true spiritual purification. After all, as my cousin the prison chaplain told me many years ago,

It is not a contradiction to be a Muslim and a murderer, even a mass murderer. That is one reason why criminals “convert” to Islam in prison. They don’t convert at all; they remain the angry judgmental vicious beings they always have been. They simply add “religious” diatribes to their personal invective. Islam does not inspire a crisis of conscience, just inspirations to outrage.

If you want further empirical proof that, for most people, a spiritual awakening into a religion that makes moral demands on its believers is a prerequisite for fundamental changes away from dangerous, cruel, or self-destructive behavior, just start of famous people who credit resurgent belief with their ability to pull out of lifestyles devastated by substance abuse and a variety of different destructive behaviors that too often come with fame and fortune:

Based upon the above premises, I’ve concluded to my own satisfaction that whites cannot save blacks; that pulling down offensive statutes cannot save blacks; that castigating everyone in the world as the “root cause” of black suffering (even if we accept this as true for argument’s sake) cannot save blacks; that politicians cannot save blacks; and that Democrats cannot save blacks (and, indeed, will continue to inflict practical and spiritual damage on them). Only blacks can save blacks.

To have this cultural salvation, however, one that can relieve them of their self-inflicted woes, blacks must first have a Great Awakening that makes spiritual and moral demands upon them. This Great Awakening, I hasten to add, cannot be a black Muslim kind of awakening, one that sees blacks simply add the word “Allah” to their outer-directed anger and demands. Instead, they need to have a deep, inner, spiritual change that gives them a hand up in freeing themselves from the moral abyss in which too many of them are trapped.

Incidentally, I write all of the above as a person who, while suspecting there might be a God, but isn’t sure; as a pragmatist who doesn’t have a spiritual bone in her body; and as a Jew who has a deep respect for the humanist strain of Christianity that’s been a part of America since the First Great Awakening in the middle of the 18th Century.