In The Atlantic Allen Guelzo argues that “the Civil War made it impossible for religious absolutism to address problems in American life—especially economic and racial ones—where religious absolutism would in fact have done a very large measure of good.” This is an intriguing but deeply flawed argument. Leaving aside the dubious assumption that moral absolutes are good, I want to challenge only one aspect of his argument: his claim that
“From the Civil War onward, American Protestantism would be locked deeper and deeper into a state of cultural imprisonment, and in many cases, retreating to a world of private experience in which Christianity remained of little more significance to public life than stamp-collecting or bridge parties. Appeals to divine authority at the beginning of the Civil War fragmented in deadlock and contradiction, and ever since then, it has been difficult for deeply rooted religious conviction to assert a genuinely shaping influence over American public life.”
Guelzo provides very little evidence for this claim, as well as failing to connect the moral angst created by the Civil War to the retreat of religion in public life.