Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Problem of Solving Theological Problems with Military and Industrial Force

From Mark Noll's
"The Civil War as a Theological Crisis"

The University of North Carolina Press
Chapel Hill, 2006

Pg 50:

The country had a problem because of its most trusted religious authority, the Bible, was sounding an uncertain note. The evangelical Protestant churches had a problem because the mere fact of trusting implicitly in the Bible was not solving disagreements about what the Bible taught concerning slavery. The country and the churches were both in trouble because the remedy that finally solved the question of how to interpret the Bible was recourse to arms. The supreme crisis over the Bible was that there existed no apparent biblical resolution to the crisis. As I have written elsewhere, it was left to those consummate theologians, the Reverend Doctors Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman to decide what in fact the Bible actually meant.

Pgs 159 -160:

The theological crisis of the Civil War was that while voluntary reliance on the Bible had contributed greatly to the creation of American national culture, that same voluntary reliance on Scripture led only to deadlock over what should be done about slavery.

After the shooting stopped, two great problems in practical theology confronted the United States. One was the enduring reality of racism, which displayed its continuing force almost as virulently through the mob and the rope as it had in the chain and the lash. The other was the expansion of consumer captialism, in which unprecedented opportunities to create wealth were matched by large-scale alienation and considerable poverty in both urban and rural America...

But the Civil War was won and slavery was abolished not by theological orthodoxy but my military might and a hitherto unimaginable degree of industrial mobilization. Although the war freed the slaves and gave African Americans a constitutional claim to citizenship, it did not provide the moral energy required for rooting equal rights in the subsoil of American society or for planting equal opportunity throughout the land. Although the war showed what could be accomplished through massive industrial mobilization , it did not offer clear moral guidance as to how that mobilization could be put to use for the good of all citizens.

Pg 162:

From the historical record it is clear that the American Civil War generated a first-order theological crisis over how to interpret the Bible, how to understand the work of God in the world, and how to exercise the authority of theology in a democratic society.

Critics of Noll would say that the War was won by the North. (stop) The slaves were liberated. (stop) It is improper to say that "slavery ended because the North won the war." The two events did not result directly from cause-and-effect and it's wrong to reinterpret history to suggest that the freeing of slaves motivated the war. They would also assert that Lincoln realized that he could liberate the slaves, not so much because he opposed slavery itself, but he realized that it was an attainable way of finally crushing the South economically and ideologically. Emancipation was a war tactic, a war that was not fought over ideology but over economics and states rights.

It is also naive to suggest that the war was a theological war. All societies rally sentiment to inspire citizens from their religious pulpits during times of war which does not make those wars ideological. Some would insist that the war was about economics and economics only.