God's Country?

The Civil War as a Theological Crisis
Mark A. Noll
University of North Carolina Press, $29.95, 199 pp.

“I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels.”

-Frederick Douglass

Religious conservatives looking for the origins of “the war on Christianity” might do well to consult Frederick Douglass’s Narrative, with its resounding volley of scorn for American claims to godliness. Disdainful of his era’s Bible-toting bullies, Douglass reminded churchgoing readers that “the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master.” One such master was a certain Captain Auld, who had “experienced religion” at one of those revival meetings. Dissatisfied with the service of a young slave girl, Auld whipped her with a cowskin lash, quoting Scripture as he did: “He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.” Like other gentleman-tyrants, Auld had ample reason to claim, as Douglass noted, “religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty.” St. Paul had enjoined submission to masters; and had not God himself established and regulated slavery through the Mosaic Law, thereby providing the seal of divine approval?

Though Mark Noll doesn’t cite Douglass’s...

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About the Author

Eugene McCarraher is associate professor of humanities and history at Villanova University. He is completing The Enchantments of Mammon: Corporate Capitalism and the American Moral Imagination.