David Goldfield’s article “Avoid the Carnage of War” (June 29 Viewpoint) may be provocative reading, but it is bad religious history. Goldfield does not like war, and he thinks the American Civil War could and should have been avoided. He labels the Civil War a “war of choice brought on by the insidious mixture of politics and religion.” In this thinly veiled screed, summarizing some basic ideas from his recent book “America Aflame,” Goldfield thus interprets the Civil War as a cautionary tale for America today.
Who was essentially to blame for the war? Goldfield demonizes Northern evangelicals and the group he sees as their political arm, the Republican Party. Driven by their need to expiate America’s sins, in particular slavery and the presence of the Roman Catholic Church, Northern evangelicals wrote the script for the Republicans and a “messianic” Abraham Lincoln.
Moralistic passion overrode rational thought, Goldfield argues, making political compromise impossible and war the result. Republicans “deployed evangelical dogma to raise the stakes of political discourse.” One does not have to read far between the lines to find the views of a politically motivated, anti-religious critic, and also – ironically – an effort to let the “Slave Power” off the hook.
It is quite a trick to throw bones to both the Lost Cause crowd and to those today who see “evangelicals” as a political bogey-man.
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