Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Kentucky's Most Hated Man: Charles Chilton Moore and the Blue Grass Blade

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Kentucky's Most Hated Man: Charles Chilton Moore and the Blue Grass Blade

Article excerpt

Kentucky's Most Hated Man: Charles Chilton Moore and the Blue Grass Blade. By John Sparks. (Nicholasville, Ky.: Wind Publications, 2009. Pp. [xii], 332. Paper, $20.00, ISBN 978-1-893239-99-9.)

While southern religion has become a thriving topic of historical inquiry, southern irreligion is another story. With this biography of Kentucky's "'village atheist,'" Charles Chilton Moore, John Sparks helps to illuminate this scholarly dark corner (p. 161). The grandson of revivalist and reformer Barton Warren Stone, Moore was raised in a region defined by the Great Revival. Schooled at Alexander Campbell's Bethany College, Moore seemed destined for a distinguished career at the pulpit. In 1861 he began missionary work in the Kentucky backcountry, where a handful of freethinkers rebuffed his conversion attempts and posed questions that destabilized Moore's already wobbly faith. After a year, Moore returned to his plantation home, and, during the Civil War, he served as a nurse and part-time minister. As he witnessed the carnage, Moore also performed a critical study of the Bible and read Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859). In 1865 Moore, then a pastor in Versailles, resigned his post and publicly announced his abandonment of Christianity.

After a number of jobs, Moore began a career as a journalist in Lexington. Both popular and controversial, Moore deployed irreverence and satire when taking aim at Christians whom he deemed to be hypocrites. He was also an ardent Prohibitionist, assailing liquor just as vehemently as he did Christianity. Not surprisingly, Moore was often at odds with his editors. So, in 1884 he launched the Blue Grass Blade, modeled after the Truth Seeker, a nationally circulated freethinking periodical. Moore also attempted to emulate Robert Green Ingersoll--"the Great Agnostic"--whose lectures drew massive crowds of admirers and detractors alike (p. 248). In Lexington, however, when Moore denounced revivalist Samuel Porter Jones, Moore was met with verbal and physical hostility. As a result, the Blade ceased operations after only three issues. …

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