National media discover we’re (gasp!) still fighting the Civil War — where have they been?

The dim, hazy past? Think again...

Certainly not in South Carolina, where a week hardly passes without new Nullification legislation passing through the State House.

A friend brought my attention today to this CNN item, which cites various “ways we’re still fighting the Civil War.” The most pertinent passage:

Nullification, states’ rights and secession. Those terms might sound like they’re lifted from a Civil War history book, but they’re actually making a comeback on the national stage today.

Since the rise of the Tea Party and debate over the new health care law, more Republican lawmakers have brandished those terms. Republican lawmakers in at least 11 states invoked nullification to thwart the new health care law, according to a recent USA Today article.

Well, duh.

Other parts of the piece were less impressive. For instance this standard-issue 2011 take on what a dangerous thing religion is:

If you think the culture wars are heated now, check out mid-19th century America. The Civil War took place during a period of pervasive piety when both North and South demonized one another with self-righteous, biblical language, one historian says.
The war erupted not long after the “Second Great Awakening” sparked a national religious revival. Reform movements spread across the country. Thousands of Americans repented of their sins at frontier campfire meetings and readied themselves for the Second Coming.
They got war instead. Their moral certitude helped make it happen, says David Goldfield, author of “America Aflame,” a new book that examines evangelical Christianity’s impact on the war.
Goldfield says evangelical Christianity “poisoned the political process” because the American system of government depends on compromise and moderation, and evangelical religion abhors both because “how do you compromise with sin.”

Which sort of prompts one to ask, So… what are you saying? That owning other people isn’t a sin? Just curious.

26 thoughts on “National media discover we’re (gasp!) still fighting the Civil War — where have they been?

  1. bud

    David Goldfield, author of “America Aflame,” a new book that examines evangelical Christianity’s impact on the war.
    Goldfield says evangelical Christianity “poisoned the political process” because the American system of government depends on compromise and moderation, and evangelical religion abhors both because “how do you compromise with sin.”

    Amen brother. Slavery was an abomination but southerners defended it with passages from the bible. The founding fathers were brilliant to keep church and state separate. Too bad they couldn’t moderate religious zealotry.

  2. Brad

    Which brings us back to the point — is owning other people a sin or not?

    And was the “religious zealotry” that caused people to establish and run the Underground Railroad and fight for abolition a good or bad force in our history?

  3. Brad

    Or to put it another way: was slavery as practiced before 1860 a definite, undeniable evil, or was it just a matter of personal choice, with everyone’s opinion being equally valid?

    For that matter, is there anything that is just plain evil, regardless of personal opinions?

  4. bud

    is there anything that is just plain evil, regardless of personal opinions?

    Probably not. Some people defend the invasion of harmless countries a reasonable personal choice.

  5. Rose

    Man, are you opening a can of worms!
    All I will say is that it is extremely difficult to view history through the thoughts and emotions OF THAT TIME. Slavery is evil. Now, then. But it was also normal THEN. Accepted and biblically justified THEN. For centuries. And it is pratically inconceivable for us, today, to understand that system. It is profoundly difficult to shake off a well-established culture. A few people are born from time to time who seem to have an innate sense of justice, of progressive ideas. But for white people who think, “If I had been alive back then, I wouldn’t have supported slavery” … well, odds are you would have. That would be your way of life. It would be all you knew.

    There is a Pulitzer Prize winning book called “Guns, Germs and Steel” that looks at reasons certain areas of the world, particularly of white ancestry, developed more quickly than other areas. I highly recommend it.

    Sorry for the rambling. Can’t have caffeine while on allergy meds.

  6. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    The Bible certainly doesn’t seem to have any problem with slavery–perhaps that’s just a cultural artifact, but there it is.

  7. Matt

    I guess your main problem is “this standard-issue 2011 take on what a dangerous thing religion is”, because you ignore Goldfield’s point, and jump straight to a suggestion that without religion people to fall into moral relativism.

    I think the point he was trying to make by saying “you can’t compromise with sin” is that you can’t reason a person out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into. Of course, I can see how this would offend someone who is religious, even if they didn’t agree with the opinion in question.

    For a non-religious person the issue isn’t sin or evil (which itself has too many disembodied alter-egos to be a useful secular concept) but morality. I personally base morality on limiting human suffering, so of course slavery would fall into the sphere of the “immoral.” I don’t know how else one could judge morality, except maybe by basing it on the bible. But then, the abolitionists would lose that argument.

  8. bud

    Matt, couldn’t slavery be defended as “moral” if it could be demonstrated that slave and slave owner alike would suffer if it ceased to exist? That argument was also made pre-1860.

  9. Brad

    I love Bud’s “invading harmless countries” shtick. Oh, yeah? Well, ya know what’s coming next, buster? Sweden! After a head fake toward Paraguay! I picture Saddam skipping along the path through the woods in a red riding hood, with a basket of goodies for Grandma…

    But seriously, folks…

    Rose, of course most white folks wouldn’t lift a finger to stop slavery had they lived in the South back then. And you know what? It doesn’t make them evil, in the sense of “There goes an evil person, no bones about it.” No, my question is whether, divorced from history, slavery is wrong.

    And my question, Matt, goes beyond whether I BELIEVE it’s wrong, or someone else believes it’s wrong. It’s whether there is such a thing as right and wrong independent of my opinion.

    I believe that there is (and if I’m WRONG, ironically enough, my believing as I do does not change reality). That, to a great extent, is what is meant by God. An objective reality outside ourselves, so that morality is not merely that which we manage to talk ourselves into (with the human being’s practically unlimited capacity for rationalization), but something that IS, regardless of what we think of it. That verb “to be” is key. Which is why the most profound passage in human literature is when God explains himself to Moses by saying, “I am.” Not, “I’m what you think I am,” but “I AM, whatever you may think.”

    This is essential to my position on the abortion issue, and something that is difficult to communicate across the lines. Because I believe that abortion is either wrong or it isn’t — regardless of what I or anyone else thinks (including the proverbial “woman” to whom the pro-choice folks would give godlike, life-and-death power) — I have to be opposed to it.

    NOT because I am the possessor of divine knowledge on the subject. This is where folks on the other side of the issue misunderstand completely. No, it’s because neither my knowledge nor theirs of the rightness of act can be perfect.

    And, like capital punishment, you can’t take it back. If you perform an abortion or cause one to be performed, and it is wrong (as I believe it to be, although I can’t objectively prove it to others who disagree, so let’s leave it at “IF it is wrong”), then you have done a completely wrong thing that cannot be redressed or ameliorated. If it is indeed evil, the evil done is permanent.

    That’s why the issue of whether there is such a thing as objective right and wrong — whether we KNOW whether something is right or wrong or not — is essential.

  10. Matt

    You lost me at “I am.” I mean, I get what you’re driving at, but every time you say it all I can think of is Popeye.

  11. Brad

    Actually, I love that about Popeye! He’s being way existential and theological, and he doesn’t even know it. (Popeye, you’re so money, and you don’t even know it!)

    I’m sure that’s part of what Olive Oyl appreciates about him.

  12. bud

    Brad, your whole argument requires a diety. For those who are either agnostic or atheist the argument is invalid and that person MUST fall back on deciding morality on the basis of reason. The reasoning may be flawed but nonetheless it’s all that person may have.

    As for someone who does believe in a deity how do they know whether a particular act is moral except for someone like a priest telling them it is. And given the shocking revelations of pedophilia (and other atrocities) among the clergy how much stock can someone place in statements made by flawed human beings?

    As for the question of “such a thing as objective right and wrong” I would say there isn’t such a thing. Everything about morality is ultimately subjective.

  13. Brad

    You know what? I got confused there for a moment, jumping back and forth between threads. I thought this was the same thread on which we discussing abortion, which is why I mentioned it the way I did above.

    For me, in a way, though, they ARE the same threads. So consider them as one, in terms of my comments…

  14. Brad

    Actually, bud, in this country we decide for ourselves which religion is right — whether by reason, or emotion, or whatever. It’s not decided for us by others. The idea that I think what I think because a priest — or a salesman, or a shaman or whatever — said that’s the way it is just bears little resemblance to the way my mind works.

    I became Catholic at the end of a long search. I had read about religions a great deal, and sampled different flavors. (I started out about as generic as you can get, attending military chapels and the like.) In the end, I decided that the thing that made most sense was the original church. (The original church for Westerners, anyway — orthodox folk make a pretty good claim on their own historical precedence.)

    Bottom line is, I’m going to think what I think. Anyone who believe otherwise hasn’t been reading my blog. I’m not opposed to abortion because I’m Catholic. I’m Catholic, in part, because the church has the guts to go toe-to-toe with the modern world on a fundamental question of human morality. That gains my respect.

    There’s something offensive-sounding about what I just said, as though I were the arbiter of truth and churches have to compete for my favor. Which is about as arrogant as you can get.

    But we all follow pathways to God that are meaningful to us.

    My own children have for the most part decided that’s not their path, which is to say the least disappointing. I mean, I went to all this trouble to find this pathway, and my wife (who is a cradle Catholic, but would have become something else if she had reached a different conclusion) and I are just handing it to them — they didn’t have to search for it the way I did. They should APPRECIATE that, right? But I think that’s one reason it doesn’t appeal to them (so far) the way it does to me: They didn’t work it out for themselves.

    Anyway, back to my point — in this country, religion doesn’t just get handed to you and become your fate, the way it would have in a pre-reformation Catholic country, or in England under the Tudors, or in a Moslem country under Sharia law. You have to make a decision. In other words, what the priest or whoever says to you has to make sense within the context of your overall perception of reality. If it doesn’t, you’ll look elsewhere.

  15. Mark Stewart

    The world is a place of shades of gray. However, in that spectrum is a black and a white bookend.

    My problem is how do we think we can imbue ourselves with the authority to choose a shade for a situation, or more accurately, what gives one the moral “authority” to override another’s perspective?

    That’s why I think a civil society is so important; it provides that weight to define norms (religion as opposed to spirituality fails miserably at this). But as we see over and over again, sometimes the outlier knows the truth that moves the world.

    So who knows? All I know is the more certain someone is in their rightness, the less I trust them.

  16. bud

    I became Catholic at the end of a long search.

    I came to my religious beliefs in a similar manner. I’m afraid Catholisism was among the first choices voted off the island. Only in America can 2 people see the same thing and reach such completely different conclusions.

  17. Jake

    Rose if you are still following this thread a good book along the lines of GG&S is The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by John Landes I think. Great read that looks at how regions developed but in a different way. You could also read Ecological Imperialism by Alfred Crosby which was written before GG&S and I am pretty sure gave Diamond many of his ideas. There is a chapter titled Ills.

  18. Brad

    Mark asks, “what gives one the moral “authority” to override another’s perspective”?

    Nothing gives ONE such authority — unless, of course, one is a duly appointed judge. Or a cop making a life-and-death decision under pressure. But in either case, the authority is not the personal possession of the one exercising it. It belongs to society as a whole.

    In a civilization, there will be rules that citizens must abide by. We may decide not to legislate something, but even that is a decision that determines what is licit and what is not. We will decide to allow, or not to allow, murder, robbing banks, insider trading, jaywalking, and so forth — and decide different degrees of allowing or not allowing those things. As long as the decisions are made via the legitimate processes of deliberation in a constitutional valid system, it has legitimacy.

    But no, one individual does not get to choose for one other, unless there is a caretaker/dependent relationship, as with a parent and child.

  19. Karen McLeod

    There are lots of evils in this world, including killing people either pre or post natally. Are there times when either of those is less evil than the alternatives? You, Brad, seem to think no for prenatal, and yes for postnatal. I tend reverse that stance, although I can think of situations where either could be the lesser evil, maybe. What I would like to work for is an earth where neither need be a “lesser evil.”

  20. Steve Gordy

    While slavery was accepted in Biblical times, in most of the civilized world, it was regarded as something that civilized people needed to get rid of. One of the things that made the antebellum South unique was that its leaders (and a lot of ordinary people) refused to come around to that position, refused to discuss among themselves whether to abolish slavery, and tried to stop outsiders from even talking about abolition.

  21. Rose

    Jake, thanks! I’ll find those books.

    Brad, you’re right, it doesn’t make them evil. But it’s hard to get some people today to understand that, especially students. Analytical thought is severely lacking in our schools (and the rest of society).

    And Brad, I respect your journey toward your faith. True faith has to be a result of personal searching and analysis, and unfortunately, we can’t just hand that over to our kids. I think too many people of too many faiths and denominations just sit in church for an hour every Sunday and don’t really THINK and don’t actively live what they profess to believe (and force on others, in many cases, but I won’t start listing the politicians,etc. who do that – far too many).

  22. bud

    As long as the decisions are made via the legitimate processes of deliberation in a constitutional valid system, it has legitimacy.

    Not necessarily so. At one time slavery was deliberated through the democratic process. And more recently so were blue laws. Neither is legitmate.

  23. Brad

    They were indeed legitimate, to one who respects the rule of law. Dred Scot was exactly as legitimate as is Roe v. Wade — no more, no less.

    Such things may be unjust. They may be abominable, an offense to God and man. Which is why a just person works to CHANGE the law thus made.

    Then, of course, if all attempts to change the law fail — and they did, for four score and seven years as someone said — one can resort to war. Because the constitutional system has condemned itself as lacking legitimacy for having failed to provide the way to right the wrong.

    But as I recall, I think you have said in the past that war never solved anything.

    Which leaves us in a bit of a quandary, Bud. Because in this case, tragically, war was indeed the answer.

  24. Doug Ross

    I wonder if war will be the answer to dealing with the rule of law issue related to illegal immigration? At the current birth rates, might we reach a point where revolucion will be unpreventable?

  25. bud

    Because in this case, tragically, war was indeed the answer.

    That depends on what the question was. The abolishinists certainly got their way and the slaves lot in life improved. But for thousands of others war brought only death, suffering and destruction. Had the war never been fought it’s likely that slavery would have ended within a couple of decades anyway. Only the hotheads viewed war as the “answer”. Sadly it was really not necessary at all.

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