Saturday, February 24, 2007

A House Divided

I've had the fortunate opportunity of late to be involved in two short survey courses focusing upon Catholicism in the United States. One a history of the Catholic Church in the United Stated and the other the history of antiCatholicism in the United States. Both, when taken together gave a very interesting picture of the Catholic experience in America. particularly in the United States during the early colonial through the Civil War period. As with all history, economic, social, political, and geographical reasons could be seen clearly. The height of Catholic migration to the United States and subsequently the height of antiCatholicism both can be traced to the Irish migration during the 1800s. If you've seen Gangs of New York, the Irish/Nativist (read White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants) clashed throughout the country. Yet what piqued my interest was the Irish immigaration. All I could recall was a scene from the film, Gods and Generals, where the Southern Irish Brigade is firing upon the Union Irish brigade at Fredicksburg and the sadness they have of firing on their Irish brothers.

I think if one takes a step back, the Civil War can be viewed as more than a fight about slavery, more than states right, more than a country. I think a case can be made at it's core that the Civil War can be seen as a theological battle that found itself a battlefield. Quite simply, ministers disagreed about how to read the Bible—and as much as it was a result of fierce disagreements about slavery or Union, Noll says, the Civil War was a crisis over biblical interpretation. The Bible's apparent acceptance of slavery led Christians into bitter debates, with Southern proslavery theologians detailing an elaborate defense of the "peculiar institution" and Northern antislavery clerics arguing that the slavery found in the Old Testament bore no resemblance to the chattel slavery of Southern plantations. Toss into the mix the nativist mind set on both sides of the line, we find Catholics in the North and South having very different struggles to overcome. Despite being antislavery, very few Catholics are seen today as being prominent abolitionists because many of the Protestant abolitionists where also antiCatholic, to the point of not considering Catholics to be Christian. It's a very interesting time period

Still, we flash forward to today and look at the religious breakdown of this country in the realms of Christianity. By and large we see the major Catholic population centers (save for areas that were major Spanish and French colonial holdings) tend to be seen in states and territories that were loyal to the Union. The major Protestant population centers are seen in those states and territories that were aligned with the Confederacy. I find it fascinating that this breakdown exists. I wonder how much is fall out from the Civil War and how much is due to other factors. If any one out there has read anything on this subject that has some good detail. Feel free to let me know, I'd be interested in adding to my reading list.

2 comments:

Timothy said...

Greetings! I was cruising Google and saw your post.

Interesting timing on your part to ask for comments as I am just finishing a book on the history of Catholicism in America and am a big demographics fan.

Looking at the maps at Valparaiso University, the clustering is clear when examing just Baptists:

http://www.valpo.edu/geomet/pics/geo200/religion/baptist.gif

However, the clustering is less clear when examining just Catholics.

http://www.valpo.edu/geomet/pics/geo200/religion/catholic.gif

Slavery and the civil war don't explain the gaps in Ohio and Indiana. The geographic difference is really and truely related to immigration patterns of our Catholic ancestors.

What really peaks my interest is what these maps will look like in the next decade after the mass immigration of fertile Hispanic Catholics into the rural South, the recent rise in Catholic apologetics and evangelism, and the rift growing in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Should SBC baptists split their denomination, Catholics would become the largest religion in many Southern counties and the maps would take on entirely different hues.

You'll find more maps at:

http://www.valpo.edu/geomet/geo/courses/geo200/religion.html

(Bookmark this page, as its difficult to find, even with Google!)

God bless...

- Timothy

Ed said...

Immigration patterns definitely play a role. I just found it interesting that some maps I've seen do closely resemble the Civil War split. It may just be an anomaly, but it piqued my curiosity if perhaps some of the roots of what we see today may have some reach to that period of our history.