I got a kick out of reading Richard Williams’s response to my post. I’m not going to respond to the content other than to say that my “policing” of the blogosphere extends no further than his own. Sometimes I wonder whether he reads his own blog.
What I do want to comment on is a point made by Williams early on concerning the role of God in bringing about the Civil War:
I believe that God allowed the Civil War to occur due to the SIN OF SLAVERY and punished both sections of the Nation for their involvement in that evil.
The problem with any analysis of such a view hinges on how we interpret the word, “allowed”. It could mean that God caused the Civil War as a way to punish the nation or it could suggest that God failed to intervene and allowed Americans on both sides to butcher one another as punishment. Either way on this view African Americans were expendable as white America worked out its moral kinks with the full understanding and blessing of God. That seems to be just a bit problematic.
If we stick to the second reading of ‘allowed’ we ought to be able to ask why God failed to intervene earlier in human affairs. In other words, why did God allow the situation to spiral out of control to a point where Americans were willing to kill one another? Why not intervene on the smallest of scales to prevent the introduction of slavery in the early 17th century? [Come to think of it has God ever intervened in American history?] It clearly would have lowered the overall suffering of scores of Africans and African Americans and it may have prevented the forming of a slave nation in 1787 and a civil war in 1861. On this second reading it also looks like we must acknowledge the centrality of slavery to the Civil War. In fact, it looks like we must indeed view the goals of the Confederacy as a Lost Cause given that God must have known that the war would end slavery since it was allowed to take place and God certainly would not have permitted bloodshed on such a scale to end with slavery intact. So much for all those prayers from Confederates pleading for God to deliver a victory. It was never going to happen.
We can also interpret ‘allowed’ along causal lines as described above. Questions persist for this interpretation as well. First, why did it take God so long to punish the nation for slavery? Couldn’t such an act have been carried out before so many Africans had been kidnapped and brought to the United States, not to mention the rest of the western hemisphere? And where does this leave African Americans? I suspect that some in the black community may be wondering why so many of their ancestors had to be sacrificed just to teach white America a lesson between 1861 and 1865. It also seems problematic that God waited to punish the nation after one entire section had abolished the institution. Of course, we could focus on the extent to which the North was involved in this hideous practice as late as 1861, but there was plenty of time for God to punish the nation at a time when every state included the practice.
Of course, I could go on and on, but what’s the point. Actually, I agree on a certain level with Williams that the war was punishment; however, we don’t need to bring in the mysterious workings of divine intervention or contemplate the moral profile of God to make the point. The Civil War was the result of Americans’ inability to work through very difficult problems that plagued the nation from the beginning. Americans at different times and places made decisions and these decisions had consequences. By 1861 the nation was split regionally between slave and non-slave states. “And then the war came.”