History scholar shares views on the Bible, Civil War

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The Bible had a significant influence on the American Civil War and the years following it, a religious history scholar told a UM audience recently.

Mark Noll from the University of Notre Dame said the Bible gave many people hope when they had none. His lecture on Jan. 30 was titled, “The Bible in the Civil War: Controversy, Combatants, Consequences”.

“Essentially, Noll highlighted the centrality of the Bible as a religious and cultural touchstone for 19th century Americans before the Civil War and its subsequent decline after it,” UM history professor Michael Bernath said afterward.  “I thought the lecture was well suited to the audience, and I found little to disagree with.”

Before and during the war, Northerners and Southerners had different ideas about what the Bible had to say about slavery. Some people interpreted it as saying slavery was justifiably acceptable, while others thought the use of slaves was wrong and needed to be stopped immediately.

Noll, a guest speaker in the Department of History Speaker Series, said during the Civil War, soldiers and their families needed something to believe in, something that could get them through the violence and crises.

He said the American Bible Society supplied more than 400,000 copies of the New Testament from the widely used King James version of the Bible. As time went on, the society also started to deliver copies down to the South as well. But the Union leaders did not want them supplying the southern forces with Bibles because it could have been seen as an advantage.

“Industrialization was more developed in the North than in the South,” Noll said.

People in both regions put the same amount of emphasis on religion and the Bible, but the North had the upper hand due to their progress on industrialization.

“After the war, the Bible was used less for public life, but about the same in personal life,” Noll said.

Another UM faculty member, history professor Karl Gunther, said he was pleased about the size of the audience for Noll’s lecture.

“It was a really good turnout,” he said. “It’s good to have speakers come out and speak to bigger audiences.”

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