For a particuarly noble example of unbelieving, conservative American respect for religion, let me remind you of the neglected tradition of Southern Stoicism, kept alive in our time by the novelist Tom Wolfe in A MAN IN FULL and I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS. But my favorite southern stoic actually appears in Walker Percy’s "The Last Phil Donahue Show" in LOST IN THE COSMOS. The character is "Colonel John Pelham, C.S.A., commander of the horse artillery under General Stuart."
How the colonel shows up on Phil’s final show need not bother us here. But he thinks that most of the people are on the show are "white trash." By contrast: "A gentleman knows how to treat women. He knows because he knows himself, who he is, what his obligations are. And he discharges them."
On the religion of John Calvin, who also appears on the show (don’t ask!), the colonel says: "Well, I respect his religious beliefs. But I have never thought much about religion one way or another. In fact, I don’t think religion has much to do with whether a man does right. A West Point man is an officer and a gentleman, religion or no religion. I have nothing against religion. In fact, when we studied medieval history at West Point, I remember admiring Richard Coeur de Lion and his recapturing Acre and the holy places. I remember thinking: I would have fought for him, just as I fought for Lee and the South."
Obviously, as Percy shows us, there are problems, especially when it comes to justice, with the southern stoic or any stoic position. But there is some American greatness there. If only our atheists were gentlemen!