Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Irony of History, Part 1 Revisited

So, I pulled the draft of this post from its original place on September 2006, thinking I'd just re-run it for some current content ... but of course, reading over it, I'm a little concerned that with our country's current political and social climate, my readers might see this as an attempt to spin history in a direction it was never meant to go. But even so, many of my original observations as I plunged into serious study of the American Revolution (aka American War for Independence) still stand.

I normally try to stay away from issue-driven posts. But some recurring themes—political, moral, spiritual—kept surfacing in my research, and I had so many thoughts swirling in my head, it was hard to separate them into coherent threads.

Warning, then—the posts in this series might be long and rambly as I tried to sort things out ... and they aren't always a good representation of my political or doctrinal beliefs, so nobody jump to any conclusions. :-) (It's bad enough that my husband, a member of the military, staunch conservative, and all around very sensible man, teased me about being a liberal and a Tory sympathizer. I'm neither. Well, maybe a little the latter, after years of studying the loyalist mindset!)

Let’s start with the spiritual. I had an interesting little discussion at a Charleston-area RevWar event with one of the reenactors—a woman about my age who was dressed in mostly historically accurate garb, gown and petticoats over a shift, minus the stays (the 18th century version of the corset), because she was going to be doubling as a man during the actual battle and needed to be able to change quickly. Speaking of stays: I've addressed this elsewhere, but this highly restrictive undergarment was popular for the best part of at least two centuries, if not more. Babies and young children wore them, as well as girls and women of all ages—and no woman who cared the least bit for her figure or reputation would be caught in public without her stays. So that little subplot in Pirates of the Caribbean involving Elizabeth and the corset? It’s rendered ridiculous by the simple historical fact that Elizabeth would have been wearing stays all her life. ;-)

Anyway, this lady and I fell into a very comfortable conversation about matters historical, so later I braved a question about “the spiritual life of the camp and troops.” She looked at me and said, “What spiritual life?” For a split second I was taken aback, then I understood—on one hand, war is not at all conducive to a spiritual mindset. But on the other—and she grinned and nodded when I said this—it can be very conducive indeed, from the standpoint of “scaring the h--- out of you.” (Okay, I didn't say it out loud. I mouthed it—my children were present, after all.) She then referred me to another lady in the camp, who commented on the scarcity of writings about spirituality in specific regard to the war, unlike the Civil War, when spirituality was not only more talked about, but openly encouraged in a soldier’s daily life. It had a lot to do with the interest of the commander, too, she said, and I can see that—many of the leaders of the Southern forces in the Civil War were devout Christians. From what I’ve read so far of the biographies of the military leaders on the British side, however, I would say there’s a distinct lack of concern about spiritual matters.

Oh, the irony. I’ve heard for years, through Christian school curriculums and in evangelical circles, how devout and godly the “founding fathers” of America were, and how our nation was founded on Biblical principles—and thus, God blessed them with victory in the Revolutionary War. I would not argue that our nation has enjoyed many blessings over the years, or that a strong spiritual focus is not a good thing, or even that there may be some correlation with the fervent prayers of George Washington and others and the eventual surrender of the British. But what about the strong faith of many Confederate leaders (and I believe Abraham Lincoln was also a man of deep faith and conviction, despite his seeming faults, and did the best he could), that God allowed the South to be defeated, while men like Grant (by some accounts a drunkard) and Sherman (also by many accounts a butcher), led the North to victory? If it was all about the faith of the leaders, and the strength of their faith, why did the Confederacy fail?

“Righteousness exalts a nation.” It’s often told to Christian schoolchildren that the North won because of the superior nobility of their cause—ending slavery. Truth is, slavery wasn’t made an end
of for several years into the war. Many scholars and analysts feel that the real issue was the autonomy of state governments--and I think many of those arguments have merit, despite recent debates to the contrary. But, I'm not here to debate that.

The early Americans hadn’t behaved with unqualified righteousness, either. Most of the tales I’ve heard of truly hair-curling atrocities were perpetrated between colonials of opposing sides (tarring and feathering was a practice supposedly invented by rebels for use on their loyalist neighbors), or against Indian tribes. I’ve heard stories of an American officer who moved up the frontier, destroying every Indian tribe in his path, down to the last woman and child. I do know that the British were not the ones guilty of burning civilians inside their church, contrary to The Patriot, but there was at least one incident where the colonials burned a tribe of Christian Indians inside a church, the stoutest defensive structure they possessed.

I feel it’s misleading to teach history with the view that “XYZ occurred because ABC did what was Right,” because real life is not that cut and dry. Yes, those of us who subscribe to the Christian faith believe that ultimately, evil will be vanquished and good will prevail, but the end has not come yet, and prosperity on this side of the veil has the unfortunate tendency to make us think that we somehow deserve our blessings, or to blur the fact that much of what we do will not have its ultimate reward until all things come to an end. As the apostle Paul wrote, “If there is no resurrection, then we of all people are most miserable”—for the simple fact that our investments should be tied up in eternity and not the here-and-now.

The more I read, the less I think our hopes should be in temporal government of any kind. It does all come down to “God Allowed”—through the choices of flawed, fallen men, for sure, but His hand is clearly over all.

Later ... thoughts on the Declaration of Independence, and God-ordained authority.

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