On April 9, 1865, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee handed his sword to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ending the bloodiest conflict in American history. The roots of the war were substantially more complex than many wish to believe; however, one cause that is often overlooked is the regional religious differences that were important then and still are.
Southerners held traditional spiritual views that were ingrained by their forefathers. Freedom and individual responsibility were precious blessings that was denied to them in Ireland, Scotland and Germany.
In the rural and independent South, an individual's personal relationship with his maker was just that: a personal relationship. Self-righteous New England Puritans like those in Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" were anathema to the Southerner's mindset. Regardless of denomination, their faith was deeply founded in acknowledging the sinful nature of man who is rescued from damnation only by the unmerited and forgiving love of a Heavenly Father.
On the contrary, the religious movement in the North was strongly interwoven with society and politics. The Great Awakening, a religious revival that swept through the young United States in the early 1800s, was played out among social groups of writers and activists meeting in well-organized northern villages.
The result was a movement that many times progressed quickly from righteousness to self-righteousness. Northern politics and religion were often indistinguishable. They were the intelligentsia, and since the unenlightened South stood in the way of their politics, it had to be destroyed by their God of vengeance. Witness how God's redeeming angel was trampling out the grapes of wrath in the Union anthem "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," an analogy referencing the holy Union Army spilling contemptible Confederate blood.
This righteous mix of social and religious ideals has run unabated since the War Between the States with the continuum of a progressive income tax, Social Security, Medicare, Medi-
caid, ever-expanding welfare programs, and the corresponding accumulation of crushing debt for our children. All of these well-intended programs serve to extend the tentacles of unlimited federal authority.
Consider two recent examples close to home. First, in March workers voted down UAW representation at a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss. (much like the vote by Chattanooga VW workers). A Baptist minister, Isiac Jackson, who heads the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, a group trying to build support for the United Auto Workers, stated afterwards, "Union foes are winning, but they haven't won the war." Seriously? Does God's spokesperson have any business leading his flock in a political "war" when there are so many spiritual needs to be met?
Conservatives are also guilty. Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, and Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, two conservative think tanks, published a joint statement recently to try to persuade Congress to follow their prescribed solution for immigration reform. They wrote in the Wall Street Journal, March 31, 2014, "As Christians and conservatives, we have had to ask ourselves how to move forward." How about, "As Americans, how do we move forward to do what's best for America?"
If we focused more on our own righteous relationship with our Creator and less about our self-righteous social agenda, we might heal some of the political wounds still festering in the 149 years since Gen. Lee handed over his sword.
Roger Smith is from Soddy Daisy and author of "American Spirit."