Monday, October 06, 2008

The U.S. Civil War and the Holy Scriptures

I finished watching Ted Turner's Gods and Generals, based on the book by Jeff Shaara. My brother Jerm encouraged me to read the book several years ago - which I did. Someone let me borrow the movie a year or so ago - I just recently made time to watch it. The story bothered me. I'm bothered by how terrible the Civil War was for so many people. And I'm bothered by the use of Scriptures on both sides to justify actions.

Included on the DVD is an extra section where one can watch, amongst other things, several historians discuss the person of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. One of the side comments that made me think was this (paraphrase): the secular north was motivated to end slavery due to adherence to the Constitution and basic human rights; the religious south was motivated to keep slavery due to adherence to Biblical passages and support.

While this is admittedly a simplistic summary, there is enough truth in it to bother me: how is it that secularism seemed to lead the way in freeing slaves, and religion was a primary force in enforcing slavery?

Now I have another historical/religious issue to track down.


Jonathan & Jody said...

One of my all time favorite movies. I have not watched the extras but I would be curious to know which historians were on there. Most historians would not say the Civil War was even about slavery. Lincoln cared nothing about slaves and when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation(for political reasons) thousands of Union soldiers deserted.

The South left the Union legally. Every State in our Union historically has a right to leave as long as they maintain a republican government. The North raised an army and invaded the Confederacy not because of slavery, but because of money. The South did not leave because of slavery(almost 85 % of southerners did not even own slaves), they left because they felt their rights were being taken away by the Federal government.

As you probably already know, the good thing about war is it tends to change things. WWII was not about saving the Jewish people, but in the end for many it became about that. Our current war in Iraq was about WMD's(and probably oil, but today between Iraq and Afghanistan 35 million people are now free to live, work, or worship as they choose. The Civil War was not about slavery but for most people that is what it has become about. I think everyone(kkk excluded) would agree the freeing of the slaves was a necessary and good thing.
I could go on and on about the abolitionist in the North and especially about Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. He is my favorite historical figure to study, well you know, next to Jesus anyway.

Tim Hallman said...

I have to say, it is really helpful having a historian for a friend!

Interesting insights on Lincoln and the legality of the South's actions. I'll have to admit I've always been a bit confused about the motivations for the Civil War, why the North attacked, why the South rebelled. Your stated reasons are very, very interesting... Would explain some more background to the movie, some of the lines given to the characters of Lee and Jackson.

Now I'll have to watch the movie again. And you'll have to watch the extra stuff on the DVD about Jackson and the movie.

Jonathan & Jody said...

I am watching the extra features tonight. Most people just assume the Civil War was about slavery but historically it is just not true. Abraham Lincoln believed in a "perpetual Union". But when the Constitution was being debated the term "perpetual Union" was discussed and rejected. It was individual States that came together and agreed to form a Union with a limited Federal Government.

When the Southern States left the Union the Northern States realized the loss to the Federal treasury was a very real threat. Not to mention the possibility of Western States leaving the Union as well. While I am happy with the outcome of the Civil War because of the social justice for African Americans that resulted, I am very upset that State's rights essentially died at Appomattox. The idea that the Confederacy was forced back into the Union should concern anyone who believes in State sovereignty and individual liberty. It is ironic that the North believed there could be a true Union by forcing some to join.

As you can tell I can go on and on, and on, and on. The Civil War is so fascinating because the history of the world could have been so different if the South would have won. In many cases the change would not have been for the better. But when you think of the size and power of the Federal Government today, that is one outcome of the Civil War I wish didn't happen.

Tim Hallman said...

Fascinating. With a capital F.

As I read your original comment, my mind immediately drifted to the recent actions of the Federal government, as well actions of my lifetime... It only gets bigger - and 1862 was the turning point. Now, apparently, there is nothing we can do as citizens but watch it increasingly expand in power until it consumes itself.

It's interesting to note in the movie how one of the Southern soldier remarks that slavery was destined to end within a generation of seemed to him that the war was unnecessary to end slavery. The unjustness of slavery and other prevailing forces would bring about freedom.

What do you think?

Jonathan & Jody said...

I think it is true slavery would have ended without war. Of course that is not a very convincing argument for those who were slaves in 1861. Even though those in power in the North did not start the war to end slavery the fact remains slavery ended as a result of the Union victory. So while I see the good, I also see the bad.

When was the last time you heard someone talk about State's rights or individual liberty? Everyone looks to the Federal gov. for help. Even States take so much money from the Federal gov. they are not able to turn it down now. One thing I have learned from studying history is a crisis always increases the power of the State. The War on Terror and the current financial crisis are two present day examples.