Many people think "good ole boy" is an insult. Pundits on television denounce the "good ole boy system" in the United States Congress. A gossip in your workplace might say another employee is "just a good ole boy," meaning a buffoon. But in a southern rural context, "good ole boy" means none of those things. It typically means a salt-of-the-earth man who's trying to do right by his family, his work, and his community.
I think at the root of Williams's song is both an appreciation and a fear of southern folk religion, a folk religion that is Christ-haunted but not quite Christian. As Walker Percy put it, in his monumental work Signposts in a Strange Land, the religion of the South is more Stoic than Christian. Percy noted how "curiously foreign" the Decalogue, the Sermon on the Mount, the doctrine of the Body of Christ sound to the southern culture he knew.
"The South's virtues were the broadsword virtues of the clan as were her vices, too—the hubris of noblesse gone arrogant," Percy wrote. "The Southern gentleman did live in a Christian edifice, but he lived there in the strange fashion Chesterton spoke of, that of a man who will neither go inside nor put it entirely behind him but stands forever grumbling on the porch."
Listen to "Good Ole Boys" and then join me for a discussion of why it's so hard, for all of us, to see past our Stoicism to the gospel that addresses sinners like those Williams Boys (Hank and Tennessee) and us.
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