Noogacentrism and finding the nerve of the Scots-Irish

Are you a Chattanooga resident who traces your blood to the Scotch-Irish immigrants who came into the Tennessee frontier in the 1700s? Even if you are not, you and I have an intellectual and religious heritage in these people about whom local columnist Mark Kennedy notes, “Scots-Irish roots run deep in the South.” His recent weekly essay introduces us to Irish author, Karen McCarthy, who visited Chattanooga last week researching a book.

We mention Mr. Kennedy’s column to repeat some of his points about the independency-minded Scots and to bring up a fact about their Christian outlook that he leaves aside but which reveals the purpose of our labors at Nooganomics.

The Scottish influence in Tennessee and the South brought a ferocity of spirit and character that is visible in few other people. The Scot Christian is distinct from his weaker modern descendants because he relied heavily on the most vital claim of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s.

That claim is about the sovereignty of God and the efficacy of sovereign grace.

The biblical teaching of the magisterial authority of God is not just highfalutin theology from the academic ivory tower. It is a matter of great practical import we have long thought about, and that we would like Chattanoogans and our other friends to consider.

Mr. Kennedy alludes to the doctrine of the sovereignty of God obliquely, by bringing up the presbyterianism of the Scot. Of all the sects that arose from the European revolt against the brooding innovations of Roman Catholic papacy, the presbyterians held most faithfully to the truths of Scripture restored to the common man in that era by the likes of John Knox.

From the Scot and his claims about God’s sovereignty we inherited:

• The concept of federal government, or the magistrate bound by covenant

• The division of power in the political authority

* The power of the rule of law over the whim of the ruler

* The authority of lawful resistance to tyranny under the auspices of a lesser magistrate

From the Scot, America received her nerve to seize back rights lost against King George and the parliament. From the Scot, whose bony sons populated the army of the Southern confederacy, came rows of muzzle blasts against bluecoats sent to swarm the South and eat out its lands, its agrarian ways and the soulful antithesis that is the substance of Christianity.

“Eventually,” Mr. Kennedy notes, “these so-called Ulster-Scots tired of Anglican Church influence and their own flagging linen trade. Some of them sailed aboard squalid ships to America seeking religious freedom and economic opportunities. *** [T]hose who made it to America were pushed to the undeveloped border regions. From their ranks came such towering American personalities as Davy Crockett, Andrew Jackson, Mark Twain, William Faulkner and George S. Patton.” The author Mr. Kennedy interviewed came to find descendants of the “proud, independent-minded, self-reliant” Scot.

The histories about the persecuted Scottish Covenanters get no echo in Mr. Kennedy’s sketch of their arrival in Tennessee. Still, these Christians helped create our state and the federal republic of which it remains a member.

WE GLANCE NOW after a second dim swath of light cast across our website’s first steps, a wire story in the same edition of the newspaper headlined, “Health care law foes fear ballooning big government.”

“ When asked what matters most to them this election year ***, Republican voters often respond with answers that have nothing to do with the economy or jobs or housing or, even, debt and deficits. Rather, they begin talking about a loss of independence, a sense of powerlessness and mistrust, a feeling that government is simply too much in [their] business.”

The report says there is widespread a resentment toward the federal master in the heart of many Americans. We wonder if these hearts contain a set of principles beyond that sense of bitterness.

We hope to explore why modern Christianity in Chattanooga lacks the wherewithal to fight state absolutism as did that of the Scots. The weakness of the Christian church is long in the making, being evidently part of God’s sovereign decree. It will be long in the reversal. We’d like to think that as Americans and their culture grow to look more and more like a government welfare program, as social dysfunction spreads and economic collapse widens like sludge spreading from a broken sewage main, we might be helpful as journalists to other ordinary Christians like ourselves.

We don’t expect to change anybody’s mind on fundamental points or to be influential with crowds. We’re not liable to win many clicks of the “like” button.

RATHER, NOOGANOMICS will content itself to be a minority report, an alternate view, the revisionist’s scuffling across the shiny and close-fitting pieces of shell that is the official narrative. In tiny chinks we find foot- and handholds. Whether delving into the Hamilton County school zoning dispute or the city gang problem, we hope to take seriously the content of people’s religious commitment — and then, with our free hand, to point out how these beliefs really are world changing, for better or worse, as Richard Weaver argues in his book about ideas and consequences.

We suspect you are wary of the official storyline, exhausted by myriad placeless voices telling you what to think, of Fifth Avenue and White House propaganda extolling new plans, of remote talking heads luring us toward sleek gadgets of glowing screen or to long-entombed heresies.

Nooganomics is a privately capitalized full-time endeavor and a means of our making a living. But we hope to make it not about us, but about you.

We work as journalists and offer this website as the fruit of an act of imagination. In a daily process we try to live out life where you are and in terms with which you are familiar, then offer a point of friendly banter in which a very slight divergence in our views bring you — and us, too — something fresh, self-revelatory, perhaps actionable.


[Sources: Mark Kennedy, “Scots-Irish roots run deep in the South,” “Health care law foes fear ballooning big government,” Times Free Press, March 18, 2012; see The Scots-Irish in the Hills of Tennessee, Billy Kennedy, 1995.]