More on Rable, God's Almost Chosen Peoples



2 comments
The outstanding Civil War Book Review, which has been a bellwether of scholarship on the topic for more than a decade, just posted their new issue for Winter 2011. Readers of this blog will be especially interested to read (or listen to) an interview conducted by editor Nathan Buman with George Rable about his new book, God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War.

Following Paul and Ed, who have already given the book some attention here on the blog—and in good RiAH self-promotional style—I'll also draw reader's attention to my own review of Rable's book, just published in Civil War Book Review.

Here is an excerpt:


One of Rable’s major themes concerns the overwhelming significance of civil-religious providential understandings of the course of conflict. For his subjects the hand God was seemingly everywhere, guiding and shaping events in accordance with his will. All too frequently, that providential outlook was conflated—in ways consistent with patterns throughout American religious history to that time—with southern and northern nationalist aspirations. Perhaps this idea was stated most clearly in language approved by one northern Methodist conference in 1862: “Patriotism is a Christian virtue” (153).

Because of deep commitments to providentialism in the Civil War era, “religious faith could be both wind and weathervane,” where success or failure in battles showed adherents the ways in which they had met or fallen short of divine expectations, thus incurring God’s favor or wrath (7). Throughout the war, Union and Confederate officials, as well as local leaders and ministers, called routinely for days of fasting and thanksgiving in an attempt to make sure the public properly aligned itself with God’s will. Furthermore, despite innumerable difficulties, Rable contends that belief in providence maintained a remarkable resiliency. Not only did the religious “line between ‘loyalty’ and ‘disloyalty’” grow “ever-sharper” as the war dragged on, but after Appomattox, believers in the Union continued to understand their cause sanctioned by God (354). In the same way, defeated Confederates did not give up the belief in the righteousness of the cause lost.

Given the impressive amount of research displayed, the single most curious thing about God’s Almost Chosen Peoples is its self-professed lack of an overarching argument—in Rable’s words, it “is not a thesis-driven work” (6). Instead, he opts for a “broad narrative” that shows the centrality of religious belief for nineteenth-century Americans who needed to make sense out of the warring world they found themselves in (6). Rable’s choice will no doubt leave some readers grasping to impose coherence on an unwieldy and intimidating subject. However, because religious values were by no means uniform or monolithic in the Civil War era, and because Rable intends to cover the sweep of religious engagement with the myriad dilemmas that the sectional conflict raised, his broad narrative approach leads to a remarkable inclusivity with regard to topics and subjects.

2 comments:

Tom Van Dyke at: February 11, 2011 at 2:29 AM said...

"One of Rable’s major themes concerns the overwhelming significance of civil-religious providential understandings of the course of conflict. For his subjects the hand God was seemingly everywhere, guiding and shaping events in accordance with his will. All too frequently, that providential outlook was conflated—etc."

Of course even the most evil of men appealed to God for the rectitude of his intentions. But i think the majority of the Confederate army fought for kith, kin, and their state/tribe.

Mr. Lincoln rightly and righteously stuck it up the South's---and America's---bum in his 2nd Inaugural:

"Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

Heh. As if we wasn't judging there.

"The prayers of both could not be answered."

Well, yeah, OK.

...

"If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

We're still working on that part. But the pendulum hath swung.

Hiram at: March 11, 2011 at 6:12 PM said...

I have written a book that includes an interesting look at religion in the Civil War. See http://www.amazon.com/Hirams-Honor-Reliving-Private-Termans/dp/0615278124/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1239221935&sr=8-1 or http://www.booksonboard.com/index.php?BODY=viewbook&BOOK=1011426&v=widget for an ebook link. Thanks for this interesting blog and my compliments.

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