This is utterly, completely wrong. All of America was strongly Christian in 1860, except those parts that were still mostly Indian. But the radical Christian movement of the 1850s was Abolition, which had the character of an evangelical cult. Abolition, of course, was centered in the north. Pre-war opposition to slavery was overwhelmingly Christian in nature. Some southerners used the Old Testament to defend slavery, but they also relied on other arguments, and many planters tried to trace their heritage back through medieval lords to noble Romans; that is, they saw themselves as the heirs of the pagan aristocratic culture of old Europe. There is absolutely no sense in which the South was more Christian than the North.
For a number of years, Michele Bachmann's personal website had a list of books she recommended people read. It was called 'Michelle's must-read list.' I was looking over the list and noticed this biography of Lee by Wilkins. [I had] never heard of Wilkins and started looking at who he was. And frankly couldn't believe that she was recommending this book.
Wilkins has combined a Christian conservatism with neo-confederate views and developed what is known as the theological war thesis. This is an idea that says the best way to understand the Civil War is to see it in religious terms, and [that] the South was an Orthodox Christian nation attacked by the godless North and that what was really lost after the Civil War was one of the pinnacles of Christian society. This insane view of the Civil War has been successfully injected into some of the Christian home-schooling movement curriculums with the help of [Wilkins]. My guess is this is how she encountered the guy at some point. . . . She recommended this book on her website for a number of years. It is an objectively pro-slavery book and one of the most startling things I learned about her in this piece.
This twisted association of "Christian liberty" with slaveholding and secession is both wicked and wrong. There was nothing noble about secession, which was treason in the defense of slavery. There was nothing Christian about it, either. It was a coup by slaveholders who wanted to keep their wealth, their power, and their slaves, absolutely the opposite of what Jesus taught.
But then we are talking about people who call themselves Christians and Constitutionalists but support torture. We need to push back, intellectually, against the false understanding of American history that helps to motivate Bachman and her allies. In the short term we may be shouting against the storm, but in the long term we can surely keep many people from falling under the sway of this twisted vision. These are the points I think we should push most strongly:
- Torture is un-American, opposed very strongly by George Washington and the rest of the Revolutionary leadership, who had a ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" written into the Constitution.
- The founders did not intend a "Christian Nation," which is why the phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution or any other important document of the period. The Founders were religiously diverse and included skeptics like Jefferson and Franklin, Puritans like John Adams, Quakers, Baptists, and many enlightened deists like George Washington, who spoke often of "Providence" or "the Creator" but never about Jesus.
- The Constitution was a compromise document that was not entirely to the liking of anyone who signed it, which is one reason why they included the mechanism for amendments. Among other things, the founders were divided about slavery (opposed vociferously by Franklin and John Jay), voting rights, whether people or states should be represented in the legislature, and what to call the chief executive. To oppose compromise and demonize our political opponents is the opposite of what the key Founders preached and practiced. George Washington, hero to many on the far right these days, especially hated faction.
- The Civil War was about slavery.
- American slavery was cruel, wicked, and wrong.