The Birth of America’s “Religion of Violence”

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Laurence Vance has coined the word “warvangelical” to describe so-called evangelical Christians who are obsessed with supporting all of the state’s wars and all of the death, destruction, and mayhem that they entail.  They ignore the ancient just war tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas, among others, and simply support all war and all military aggression – as long as the U.S. government is the aggressor.

These are the people who booed at Ron Paul when he reminded them at one of their conventions that Jesus is known as “the Prince of Peace.”  These are the people who became quite hysterical (and hateful) when Ron Paul quoted the Biblical admonition, “live by the sword, die by the sword” in response to a question about a U.S. Army sniper who had written a book boasting of murdering hundreds of Iraqis after he was murdered after returning to civilian life.

These are the people whose churches are littered with gigantic American flags that dwarf any Christian icons; who routinely ask anyone who owns a military uniform to wear it to church; who sing the state’s war anthems at their services; who divert their Sunday offerings away from the poor and needy in their communities so that the money can be sent to grossly-overpaid military bureaucrats; and who can never stop thanking, thanking, thanking, and thanking “soldiers” for their “service” in murdering foreigners and bombing and destroying their cities – if not their entire societies – in the state’s aggressive, non-defensive, foreign wars.

Where did this very un-Christian “religion” of violence come from?  The answer to this question is that it first developed as a part of New England’s neo-Puritanical “Yankees” in the early and mid-nineteenth century.  It reached its zenith in the 1860s when, finally in control of the entire federal government, the New England Yankees waged total war on the civilian population of a large part of their own country, mass murdering fellow Americans by the hundreds of thousands, and then singing a “religious” song that described it all as “the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

As Murray Rothbard described them in his essay, “Just War”:

The North’s driving force, the ‘Yankees’ – that ethnocultural group who either lived in New England or migrated from there to upstate New York, northern and eastern Ohio, northern Indiana, and northern Illinois – had been swept by . . . a fanatical and emotional neo-Puritanism driven by a fervent ‘postmillenialism’ which held that as a precondition of the Second Advent of Jesus Christ, man must set up a thousand-year-Kingdom of God on Earth.  The Kingdom is to be a perfect society.  In order to be perfect, of course, this Kingdom must be free of sin . . . .  If you didn’t stamp out sin by force you yourself would not be saved.

This is why “the Northern war against slavery partook of a fanatical millenialist fervor, of a cheerful willingness to uproot institutions, to commit mayhem and mass murder, to plunder and loot and destroy, all in the name of high moral principle,” wrote Rothbard.  They were “humanitarians with the guillotine,” the “Jacobins, the Bolsheviks of their era.”

Clyde Wilson described these neo-Puritanical zealots in a similar manner in his essay, “The Yankee Problem in America”:

Abolitionism, despite what has been said later, was not based on sympathy for the black people nor on an ideal of natural rights.  It was based on the hysterical conviction that Southern slaveholders were evil sinners who stood in the way of fulfillment of America’s driving mission to establish Heaven on Earth . . . .  [M]any abolitionists expected that evil Southern whites and Blacks would disappear and the land repopulated by virtuous Yankees” (emphasis added).

Indeed, the New England Yankee literary icon Ralph Waldo Emerson once predicted that black people, being an “inferior” race, would soon die off and “go the way of the Dodo bird.”

The renowned historian and novelist Thomas Fleming, the author of more than fifty books, supports Rothbard and Wilson in his latest book, A Disease in the Public Mind.  The main reason why there was a “Civil War,” and why America was the only country to NOT end slavery peacefully in the nineteenth century, writes Fleming, is twofold:  First, there was an extreme “malevolent envy” of Southerners on the part of the New England Yankees, who had always believed that they were God’s chosen people and should therefore dominate the U.S. government, if not the world.  Second, several dozen of the wealthiest and most influential abolitionists had abandoned Christianity, condemned Jesus Christ, and adopted a bizarre “religion” of violence based on the words and deeds of their idol and mentor, the mentally-deranged, self-described communist and mass murderer, John Brown, whom they claimed was their real “savior.”

John Brown “descended from Puritans,” writes Fleming, and was “the personification of a Puritan.”  He became a “god” to influential New England Yankees like Ralph Waldo Emerson, who called Brown “that new saint” who “would make the gallows as glorious as the cross.”  Emerson praised Brown for having murdered a man and his two sons in front of their mother in Kansas.  The men were not slave owners; Brown said he wanted to “strike terror into the hearts of the proslavery people” by committing the murders.  He went to Harper’s Ferry intending to repeat the crime in spades.

Henry David Thoreau wrote that “Brown was Jesus” and “the bravest and humanist man in the country” (in language that would earn any middle school English student a grade of F).   William Lloyd Garrison was another John Brown idolater, as was his abolitionist compatriot Henry C. Wright, who declared Jesus Christ to be a “dead failure” and that “John Brown would be a power far more efficient than Christ.”

These literary “giants,” and many other New England Yankee pamphleteers, waged a decades-long campaign of hatred against all Southerners that were so outrageous that Fleming compares them to the previous New England Puritanical crusades such as  the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials (and murders).   It is little wonder, then, that Southerners in 1861 no longer desired to be in a union of states with the likes of Massachusetts and its “witch”-burning, violence-worshipping, Christ-condemning, neo-Puritanical nuts who, to boot, were hell-bent on plundering them with high protective tariffs.

The glorification of war, violence, and mass killing in the name of “religion” was very prevalent in New England’s newspapers on the eve and on the beginning of the War to Prevent Southern Independence.  It is all eerily similar to today’s worshipping of all things military by the warvangelicals (and the neocon connivers who use the warvangelicals’ sons and daughters as cannon fodder in their aggressive, non-defensive wars).

For example, on April 26, 1861, the Providence (Rhode Island) Daily Journal  editorialized that “At no period in this country’s history, save in the revolution . . . has it been so glorious and joyful to have a life to give.”  The editorial referred to the invasion of the Southern states “the solemn but glorious duty to which Heaven now calls.”  Young men should be “proud” to “die in the holy cause that asks for your services,” wrote the old men at the Rhode Island newspaper, demonstrating that Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and William Kristol were not the first “chickenhawks” in America.  No mention at all was made of slavery being any part of the reason for the invasion of the Southern states.

On April 27, 1861 the Buffalo Daily Courier wrote that “We do not believe there can be a man . . . who does not thank God that he has lived to see this day.”  The war, said the Buffalo, New York newspaper, was being waged for the purpose of preserving “the sacredness of government” (emphasis added)   And, “the Christianity of the land is vitalized in the prayer that rises from a common altar to the God of battles . . .”  Again, there was no pretense that the war had anything to do with freeing any slaves.

On April 29, 1861, the New York Herald intoned that “without war society would become stagnant and corrupt.”  The paper lamented the fact that “For half a century there has been no war on this soil” and praised “the statesmen of Europe” for instigating wars more frequently than Americans had done.  The chief cause of the war, said the New York Herald, was too much prosperity. “The chief cause of the present war is excessive prosperity.”  Americans were “too happy and too well off,” said the neo-Puritanical, happiness-hating New Yorkers.  War would hopefully reverse that situation, they said.

The Philadelphia North American and United States Gazette chimed in on May 6, 1861, that war supposedly “raises the standard of national character, purifies the moral atmosphere, and dispels the gathering corruption, meanness, and want of principle which long peace and prosperity are apt to engender.”  The war will finally establish the superiority of the Yankee over the Southerner, declared the paper in the City of Brotherly Love:  “When this war terminates the northern man will be recognized for what he is – the true founder of our national glory and greatness.”  (Again, no mention of slaves or slavery, only of empire and “national greatness”).

The pulpit of the Northern states “has almost unanimously been in favor of a vigorous prosecution of the present war,” the Boston Evening Transcript declared on May 10, 1861. Pretending to speak for the Northern “pulpit,” the Boston editorialists proclaimed that “there is not a word in the New Testament which forbids” the formation of an army of a hundred thousand men “to annihilate Jefferson Davis and his rascal crew.”

Such a campaign of mass murder would be justified, said the Bostonians, by the Biblical admonition, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” the modern-day warvangelicals’ rallying cry.    “This necessarily implies the use of force,” they said.  And, moreover, “by rendering unto Abraham Lincoln, who is our Caesar, the things that are Abraham Lincoln’s, we obey a Divine Command” (emphasis added).  No mention of slavery here either.

The Springfield (Mass.) Daily Republican was just as bloodthirsty when it wrote on May 27, 1861, that “We can imagine nothing more sublime than a great people moving unitedly to war.”  The paper denounced the peace movement led by the Quakers as “dumb,” and declared the motivation for the invasion of the South to be “this spirit of noble Christian devotion to the country’s flag,” which the paper called “the sacred national flag” (emphasis added).  No mention of slavery, only the “sacredness” of the state’s symbols as the cause of the war.

The Dubuque (Iowa) Daily Times informed its readers on May 28, 1861 that Southerners were not a religious people (“We suspect that the traitors have precious few religious meetings”) and warned Southerners of the perils of opposing “an army of men full of christian (sic) courage, with God and the Right as their watchwords . . .”  No mention of slavery there, either.

The real purpose of the war, the Albany (New York) Evening Journal announced on June 1, 1861, was to warn the rest of “Christendom” of the coming dominance of the American empire.  “If we shall succeed in convincing the world that we have a Government strong enough, vigorous enough, determined enough, to overcome all combinations and attacks, whether from conspiracies within or invasions from without; if we shall be able to impress Christendom with the conviction that our Western Empire is built upon a rock, which no convulsion can shake, and no tempests undermine – if we shall be able to do this, and do it effectively, the war, no matter how long or how desperately waged, will be the cheapest enterprise upon which the nation has ever embarked.”  Moroever, “every drop of blood that has been shed” and “every dollar that has been expended” will “fructify into future blessings.”  No mention of slavery.  (All of these editorials can be found in Howard Cecil Perkins, editor, Northern Editorials on Secession (Glouchester, Mass: Peter Smith, 1964), pp. 1063-1097).

Lincoln himself never became a Christian according to the two people who were closest to him – his wife and his long-time law partner William Herndon.  But the old Illinois machine politician who H.L. Mencken likened to a Tammany pol nevertheless was very slick, if not masterful, in his use of religious rhetoric in his political speeches.  As Charles Adams wrote in When in the Course of Human Events, “Lincoln’s Jehovah complex gave the war a psychopathic Calvanistic fatalism, with God [supposedly] directing the whole affair and punishing both North and South for tolerating slavery.”  (Lincoln never attempted to explain why God did not also punish the British, French, Spanish, Danes, Dutch, Portuguese, and Swedes for slavery.  Or free black slave owners in the U.S. for that matter).  The slaughter of hundreds of thousands of young men, the gruesome killing of civilian women, children, and old men, the massive theft of private property in the South, and the bombing and burning of entire cities and towns would continue, said Lincoln, until God decided otherwise.  “Not even the maddest of religious fanatics ever uttered words to equal Lincoln’s second inaugural address,” wrote Adams.  (Lincoln’s second inaugural address is where he exonerated himself from all responsibility for the war and pinned the blame on God.  The war just “came,” he said, out of nowhere and without his knowledge or participation).

It is worth mentioning that all of this editorializing about the war being waged over the “sacredness” of “the flag” is consistent with what Lincoln cultist James McPherson wrote in his book, What They Fought For: 1861-1865.   After reading hundreds of letters home and diaries of “Civil War” soldiers on both sides of the conflict, McPherson concluded that the average Yankee soldier believe he was fighting for “the flag,” whereas the average Confederate grunt believed that he was fighting against a tyrannical government that had invaded his country, bombed his town, and threatened to harm his family.

Having conquered the “sins” of secessionism, federalism, states’ rights, and Jeffersonianism, the early-twentieth-century generation of American humanitarians with a guillotine set about to use the coercive powers of government to (supposedly) stamp out even more “sin”in the world, especially Catholicism and alcohol consumption.  They viewed American participation in World War I as a grand demonstration project of how Heaven on Earth can be achieved through Big Government.  As Murray Rothbard wrote in his essay, “World War I as Fulfillment: Power and the Intellectuals,” the “religious” warmongers of the World War I generation were animated by “a postmillennial pietist Protestantism that had conquered ‘Yankee’ areas of Northern Protestantism by the 1830s and had impelled the pietists to use local, state, and finally federal governments to stamp out “sin,” to make America and eventually the world holy, and thereby to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth.”  They were “dedicated, messianic postmillennial pietists or else former pietists, born in a deeply pietist home, who . . . possessed an intense messianic believe in national and world salvation through Big Government.”

An illustration of this crazed, murderous philosophy that is offered by Rothbard is a congratulatory letter to Woodrow Wilson from his son-in-law, fellow pietist “progressive” William Gibbs McAdoo, the Secretary of the Treasury, for having plunged America into the European War.  “You have done a great job nobly!“, wrote McAdoo. I firmly believe that it is God’s will that America should do this transcendent service for humanity throughout the world and that you are His chosen instrument.” There were more than sixteen million deaths in World War I, including some 7 million civilians.

Such “religious” fanaticism provided a moral cover of sorts for the armaments industry and others who supported (and support) war for monetary reasons only.  Some things never change.

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