August 6, 2018

A quotation regarding history that people are likely to see is a quote from Spanish philosopher George Santayana: “Those who do not remember the past are bound to repeat it.” As a historian, I prefer a another quote attributed to Mark Twain, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”I suppose I’m a little late to suggest a book for summer reading for those who might want to explore the wisdom of Twain’s reputed statement, but I offer it anyway: Mark Noll’s The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (University of North Carolina Press, 2015). What seems to me to rhyme about current events and Noll’s account of how religious people understood their time in the run-up to the Civil War concerns how both Southerners and Northerners included God in their anger. Unfortunately, Noll concludes, the Civil War offered no settlement to their theological dispute beyond the battlefield, where “it was left to those consummate theologians, the Reverend Doctors Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, to decide in fact what the Bible really meant.” People in that era and in ours might well consult Abraham Lincoln for an alternative explanation: “The will of God prevails…. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party” (from Lincoln’s “Meditation on Divine Will”).

Ron Hatzenbuehler,


Update hourly