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Is the South the Last Bastion Against “the Howl of Existentialism”?

Image by James DeMers via Pixabay. Image by James DeMers via Pixabay.

I have noticed over the course of my lifetime that there are some generally bad perceptions about the Southern regions of the United States. We Southerners are often criticized for being too religious, too prideful, and for moving too slowly, following the old aphorism, “everything moves a little bit slower in the South.” Yet, I think we need to be given more credit for our apparent “failures,” because they contain traces of a culture that modern American society can learn from.

The most important lesson might be this: religion is more prevalent in the South, and that's a good thing.

The great Alexis de Tocqueville shows that restlessness is common to all American citizens, and that it usually derives from attempts to satisfy the soul with material things. However, he also points out that there is (or there at least used to be) a religious fervor which can provide us with the needed escape. Southerners generally don't have to cope with the pressures of high paced material life because of the prevalence of religion.

In the rest of the country however, religion is not as prevalent, and in terms of government, this would not seem to be a very pressing issue to deal with. In fact, many would probably think that the lack of religion is actually beneficial to the politics and operation of the modern American state. However, Tocqueville would have thought differently. He held that raw materialistic and existentialist life did not satisfy the soul, arguing that only madness ensued from living the purely Epicurean materialist life. Southerners generally have a higher standard than materialism which allows them to escape from madness.

The religiosity of the South explains a lot of our culture. Because we generally have a higher standard than materialism by which to live, we are not as often faced with what Solzhenitsyn referred to as “the howl of existentialism.” We live our lives in a different manner, not as concerned with money or time. It's a lesson worth noting.

That being said, I will admit that I have some genuine fears about the future of the South. The longer I live here, the more that I see that the Southern culture I described is slowly fading. Southern cities, like Atlanta, are losing their old Southern charms, and becoming more and more like the rest of the world. I see the breakdown of this culture as being extremely dangerous, exposing millions to a state of existential madness as higher standards are taken away.

I can only hope that we Southerners can preserve the religiousness of our culture before it fades completely.



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