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Posted February 25, 2011
At the time of the Civil War America was a Christian Protestant nation. Public religion is both accepted and expected at all levels. While religious freedom is the law, religious tolerance is not public policy. Catholics suffer from the idea that their allegiance is to the Pope not to America. There are very few Jews but they are subject to the standard discrimination against them. The physical attacks Mormons suffered drove them out of the United States. Westward expansion brought America and the Saints back into contact creating a series of problems for both sides. If you were not a religious person privately, publicly you accepted religion and were respectful of it. This was not a problem for the majority. If you were not a church member, you were a believer. God was a participant in the life of people and of the nation. The public request His guidance and seeks His blessing on all undertakings. While people might fail to be good Christians, the majority is aware of their failings and worry about their soul. These attitudes are common to both sides and carried by both sides into the war.
This is not "Church History" although the actions of churches are very important to the story. This is not a history of the revivals that swept the armies and the nation, although these revivals are important to the story. This is a comprehensive look at American's religious feelings. This book looks at how these feelings impact people's views on slavery, secession and the war's causalities. Religion sustained the both sides. They see victory as evidence of God's favor and defeat as a reason to pray for victory. Death is God's will and the dead are martyrs to the cause residing with God in Haven. National days of pray are common and the churches support the cause and war to the bitter end. Most of have never been involved in a nation fight for survival, this book looks at the role of religion in this type of war.
I have read several books on religion during the Civil War. This is without a doubt the most comprehensive. While well written and readable, this is not an easy read. The subject can be dry and controversial. I suspect that many people will find reasons to be upset with the author's presentation and conclusions. The religious may find an undercurrent of skepticism while others will feel the author excuses the churches. I feel the author made a real effort to present a fair balanced inclusive presentation. This is a very informative book and needs to be read by everyone interest in the subject.
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