Sam Harrelson

Thoughts on Redneck Liberation Theology



Media_httpwwwsamharrelsoncomwpcontentuploads200705goldenleafjpg_abiogqhcbeyjuwb

Earlier this week, Rion sent over an article on the concept of “Redneck Liberation Theology.” I was and continue to be floored by the piece. It reminds me of the first time I heard Thelonious Monk in a beer stained dorm room in Spartanburg, SC.  “Fiery little apocalypses.” Stuff that grabs you by the kidney or some other random but needed interior organ and won’t let you go. A gnawing realization that something is different after having read it, and no matter what you do, you can’t undo what has happened.

Perhaps that what life and fate really mean. Instead of living in the present, our minds are constantly focusing on what just happened or what happened hours, days, weeks, months or years ago. That’s what seperates us from the other animals, right? We can remember back beyond just a few seconds and form decisions based on those experiences. I doubt some of that theory, but in this case, that fiery little artice really did influence all sorts of future decisions in my head.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been re-reading WJ Cash’s The Mind of the South at the behest of my friend and mentor, Larry McGehee of Wofford College. The themes and clever positions Cash takes are echoed very much in Joe Bageant’s piece referenced abov. Cash was indeed a tortured soul with a troublesome spirit, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t share more in common with him than I’d prefer. The constant self-doubt, the stubborn inability to find a suitable profession… the constant gnawing to speak out about the virtues and vices of the people that you love and identify with in a grand meta-context like “Southernor.”

After all, Cash wrote THE Mind of the South, not A Mind of the South. There’s a huge epistemological difference that goes beyond semantics there. He was speaking on behalf and against all of us in very much a country lawyer meets hellfire preacher fashion.

Bageant picks up Cash’s alter call and reverberates it through our (my?) ribcage. It’s downright scary because it makes so much sense. Redneck liberation theology. What a goddamn blessing and a curse all at the same time because that is the essence of where my academic career has been heading up to this point. All the Old Testament infatuation with the prophets, all the wonderments over the reception theory behind ancient Assyrian artifacts in the context of a evangelistic 19th century call to the ministry… and the Golden Leaf of tobacco that still hangs on my wall to help me not forget Mullins, SC.  It was all pointed there. A Rose Line in the Asheville clay.  Wonderment.

It’s a curse because I’ve got to go out and develop this now. You can’t sit on something like redneck liberation theology and study it from a left wing academic point of view or from a country pulpit.



Posted: 05.25.2007

Email Sam