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The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee (Library of Religious Biography

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The first close examination of how Robert E. Lee's faith shaped his life Robert E. Lee was many things—accomplished soldier, military engineer, college president, family man, agent of reconciliation, polarizing figure. He was also a person of deep Christian conviction. In this biography of the famous Civil War general, R. David Cox shows how Lee's Christian faith shaped hi The first close examination of how Robert E. Lee's faith shaped his life Robert E. Lee was many things—accomplished soldier, military engineer, college president, family man, agent of reconciliation, polarizing figure. He was also a person of deep Christian conviction. In this biography of the famous Civil War general, R. David Cox shows how Lee's Christian faith shaped his crucial role in some of the most pivotal events in American history. Delving into family letters and other primary sources—some of them newly discovered—Cox traces the lifelong development of Lee's convictions and how they influenced his decisions to stand with Virginia over against the Union and later to support reconciliation and reconstruction in the years after the Civil War. Faith was central to Lee's character, Cox argues—so central that it directed and redirected his life, especially in the aftermath of defeat.


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The first close examination of how Robert E. Lee's faith shaped his life Robert E. Lee was many things—accomplished soldier, military engineer, college president, family man, agent of reconciliation, polarizing figure. He was also a person of deep Christian conviction. In this biography of the famous Civil War general, R. David Cox shows how Lee's Christian faith shaped hi The first close examination of how Robert E. Lee's faith shaped his life Robert E. Lee was many things—accomplished soldier, military engineer, college president, family man, agent of reconciliation, polarizing figure. He was also a person of deep Christian conviction. In this biography of the famous Civil War general, R. David Cox shows how Lee's Christian faith shaped his crucial role in some of the most pivotal events in American history. Delving into family letters and other primary sources—some of them newly discovered—Cox traces the lifelong development of Lee's convictions and how they influenced his decisions to stand with Virginia over against the Union and later to support reconciliation and reconstruction in the years after the Civil War. Faith was central to Lee's character, Cox argues—so central that it directed and redirected his life, especially in the aftermath of defeat.

51 review for The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee (Library of Religious Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Brent McCulley

    An excellent, judicious, and even-handed look at the progression of the old Virginian, Anglican faith of Robert E. Lee. Cox's account is nuanced and compelling enough to be read as a biography offering a new look to an understudied aspect of Lee's life: his faith. Cox's running thesis seems to be that Lee was an amalgamation of his mother's evangelicalism and his father's rationalist, latitudinarianist approach to faith. Thus Lee exhibits, throughout his life, an interesting mix of virtue, duty, An excellent, judicious, and even-handed look at the progression of the old Virginian, Anglican faith of Robert E. Lee. Cox's account is nuanced and compelling enough to be read as a biography offering a new look to an understudied aspect of Lee's life: his faith. Cox's running thesis seems to be that Lee was an amalgamation of his mother's evangelicalism and his father's rationalist, latitudinarianist approach to faith. Thus Lee exhibits, throughout his life, an interesting mix of virtue, duty, piety, and resignation to the absolute will of God. These helped Lee both decide to side with Virginia and the South as well as accept defeat and work towards restoration and reconciliation. Highlights of the book to me were Cox's discussion of Lee's views on race and slavery and how they were related to his faith, and how they developed through his life. The author's handling of the primary sources is impressive, as Lee's lifetime of letters supplied an abundant source. All in all, highly recommend to anyone interested in Theology, American History, and the relationship between them.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Skipr

    After reading R. David Cox’s outstanding biography, The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee, which examines Lee’s entire life with special attention to the role of the religious beliefs and practice of Lee and those around him, here’s what I think: 1. Lee was a man of profound Christian faith. His trust in God’s providence and goodness grew greater and stronger throughout his life. 2. Lee was a man a man of uncommon virtue. His Christian beliefs and practice were primary ingredients in the formation o After reading R. David Cox’s outstanding biography, The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee, which examines Lee’s entire life with special attention to the role of the religious beliefs and practice of Lee and those around him, here’s what I think: 1. Lee was a man of profound Christian faith. His trust in God’s providence and goodness grew greater and stronger throughout his life. 2. Lee was a man a man of uncommon virtue. His Christian beliefs and practice were primary ingredients in the formation of his character, but Lee also seemed to absorb and integrate the best attributes of the culture of which he was a part, especially a devotion to duty, honor, and the dignity of others. 3. No matter how good a person is, he is a product of, and to some degree a prisoner of, his culture. 4. Character, virtue, and faith do not render us immune from believing lies. Lee, like many of his white American contemporaries, both Northern and Southern, believed that African-Americans were inherently inferior to whites. 5. A godly Christian can make a decision that he firmly believes is the right, most ethical decision, only to discover later that his decision has placed him at cross-purposes with God’s overarching will. Lee was initially opposed to secession, and he believed that slavery was an evil that eventually should and would come to end. (Although he never offered a plan for how it should be ended.). Nevertheless, when Lee resigned his U.S. Army commission and accepted command in the Confederate Army, he, like many of his fellow Southerners, believed he was making the best moral choice possible given the circumstances. 6. Lee, like the overwhelming majority of his fellow Christians in the North and South—and for that matter, his fellow believers throughout Christian history—does not seem to have pondered very deeply the possibility that it might be against God’s will to continue to send tens of thousands of men to slaughter and be slaughtered even as Confederate defeat became increasingly likely. One of the criteria for a just war is a reasonable probability of success. 7. What set Lee apart from many of his fellow Confederates was what he discerned regarding God’s will in the defeat of the Confederacy. Soon after the end of the war, Lee met a friend, Marsena Patrick, who was a Union general. During an hour-long conversation, Lee reportedly said, “Patrick the only question on which we ever differed has been settled, and the Lord has decided against me.” At about the same time in 1865, Lee wrote to a friend: “God has thought fit to afflict us most deeply & his chastening hand is not yet stayed….How great must be our sins and unrelenting our obduracy….We have only to submit to his gracious will and pray for his healing mercy.” 8. This understanding of the South’s defeat as a judgment of God did not leave Lee despondent. Instead, it formed the foundation upon which Lee embarked on the most admirable and noble mission of his life. From 1865 until his death in 1870, Lee led Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) located in the small town of Lexington in western Virginia. Not only did Lee save the college from closing its doors, he set the example of leading young men to embrace their identity as Americans and promoting reconciliation with the North. He continued to espouse unity even as his disappointment grew that Reconstruction was unfolding in a harsher way than what had been initially planned by Lincoln and initiated by Grant at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. True to his Christian beliefs, Lee wanted the college to educate the young men under his charge, not only in a wide variety of practical and classical subjects, but also as followers of Christ: “I dread the thought of any student going away from the college without becoming a sincere Christian.”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Anson Cassel Mills

    I’ve read quite a bit about Robert E. Lee in the past 35 years, including making my way through Freeman’s classic four-volume biography twice; but Cox has sifted through all the primary sources looking for mentions of Lee’s religion and has produced this fine study of Lee’s rather unsystematic religion, approaching this great American in ways I had not previously considered. Almost by default, Cox provides the reader with a good grounding in southern Episcopalianism because Lee’s typical emphasi I’ve read quite a bit about Robert E. Lee in the past 35 years, including making my way through Freeman’s classic four-volume biography twice; but Cox has sifted through all the primary sources looking for mentions of Lee’s religion and has produced this fine study of Lee’s rather unsystematic religion, approaching this great American in ways I had not previously considered. Almost by default, Cox provides the reader with a good grounding in southern Episcopalianism because Lee’s typical emphasis on duty resulted in more surviving evidence about what he did for the church than what he was thinking about theology. Still, Lee’s reflections about slavery are helpfully handled. And there are surprises, such as Lee’s seeming disinterest in the doctrines of the Trinity and of hell (dead Confederates all seem to have been translated to heaven). I was also unaware that Lee never claimed to have prayed about his momentous decision to side with the Confederacy. Mysteries also remain. Lee’s religion seems to have deepened in a substantial way sometime between his participation in the Mexican War and the death of his devout mother-in-law in April 1853. That July he was confirmed into the Episcopal church with two of his daughters. But if Lee underwent a conversion experience, he never mentioned it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    A pretty fair look at a polarizing figure. Lee was clearly a moralist Episcopalian who strongly believed in the providence of God. Religious practice aside (he was active in church most of his life), was he an actual follower of Jesus? I tend to think so. Lee was a respectable man of high leadership skill and integrity. An area of his life where he failed to integrate his faith was the issue of slavery. His actions and comments in personal letters showed he viewed slaves, including his own, as h A pretty fair look at a polarizing figure. Lee was clearly a moralist Episcopalian who strongly believed in the providence of God. Religious practice aside (he was active in church most of his life), was he an actual follower of Jesus? I tend to think so. Lee was a respectable man of high leadership skill and integrity. An area of his life where he failed to integrate his faith was the issue of slavery. His actions and comments in personal letters showed he viewed slaves, including his own, as human beings. However, he also viewed black people, Mexicans, and Indians as inferior to white people. Lee had racial prejudices that he justified as God's providence. At times, his comments were also colored by class elitism.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bobby

    Excellent well written book on the faith of the hero of the south. Really enjoyed reading it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Andy T.

    I enjoyed this book immensely.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Hobart

    This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader. --- I feel always as safe in the wilderness as in a crowded city. I know in whose powerful hands I am, & in them rely, & I feel that in all our life we are upheld & sustained by Divine Providence. But that Providence requires us to use the means he has put under our control. He deigns no blessing to idle & inactive wishes, & the only miracle he now exhibits to us, is the power he gives to truth & justice, to work their way in this wicked world. This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader. --- I feel always as safe in the wilderness as in a crowded city. I know in whose powerful hands I am, & in them rely, & I feel that in all our life we are upheld & sustained by Divine Providence. But that Providence requires us to use the means he has put under our control. He deigns no blessing to idle & inactive wishes, & the only miracle he now exhibits to us, is the power he gives to truth & justice, to work their way in this wicked world.So wrote Robert E. Lee in a letter to his wife while serving in Texas, and according to R. David Cox it summarizes his theology. If you have to sum up a man's theology in 3 sentences, that's a decent one to have. Robert E. Lee was no theologian, he wasn't a pastor or preacher or religious scholar of any kind. He was a churchman, however. Seemingly a faithful one who served as he could -- and he was a believer in the middle of a tumultuous time for American Protestantism and American as a whole, as such what he thought about the tumult from his religious perspective is instructive and fascinating reading. Which is pretty much why anyone might want to read this (and probably why Cox wrote the thing). By and large, the book is a chronological look at Lee's life, what's going on in the national and ecclesiastical culture, and how Lee (and his family members -- particularly his wife) responded to it and how his faith grew throughout his life. It's not exactly a biography, but it is biographical. There were a couple of chapters that stepped back from the chronological look, and examined Lee's perspectives on specific topics (the above quotation about providence comes from one of those). I particularly enjoyed and appreciated those. I was surprised how little space was devoted to the years of The War Between the States, honestly. It may be that there wasn't that much material -- Lee was probably too busy to write a lot of things in letters that he might normally have (like: thoughts about sermons heard, theology, ecclesiastical concerns, etc.), that'd certain be understandable. Cox might be the one historian who doesn't like writing about that time period. It might just be that his pre- and post- War writings were better material for the book -- there are any number of good reasons for it, I was just surprised that the one thing the man is best known for is so little represented in the book. One of the drawbacks of this book is the author's perspective on Lee himself (at least what came across to me as his perspective, I could have read him wrong, he could have written it in such a way as to be easily misinterpreted, etc.). I'm not saying that I want a hagiography, nor do I want Cox to be some sort of Lee fanboy. A critical eye is essential. There's an element of Chronological Snobbery (to borrow Lewis' phrase) here when reflecting on Lee's racial and political views. I have no problem with Cox disagreeing with them (I disagree with many of them), but he came across as patronizing (at least on the border of it). To a lesser degree, I thought the same about some of Lee's religious views. But this didn't crop up often, and when it did, it was easy to gloss over or ignore. It's a drawback to the book, but not a reason to avoid it. If anything, Cox came across as detached and neutral when it came to the subject and his religion (it was impossible to tell if Cox shared any aspect of belief with Lee) 98% of the time. It's just that 2% or so . . . This is a part of Eerdman's Library of Religious Biography series -- which I hadn't heard of until now. I have one sitting at the top of my To Be Bought pile (talked about it last month in a Saturday Miscellany post), but I didn't realize it was part of a series. The books in the series are intended to "link the lives of their subjects - not always thought of as 'religious' persons - to the broader cultural contexts and religious issues that surrounded them." It's a fascinating concept, and I'm glad this series exists. I hope to get more of them soon. This was a fascinating read, if a bit dry and detached. Neither's bad, and may be commendable under the right circumstances (which may include such a divisive figure as Lee), but it doesn't make for the best read. That, plus my ambivalence towards some of Cox's attitudes toward the subject, makes me rate this 3 Stars. That's still a recommendation, and I'll gladly tell anyone to read it -- believer or nonbeliever -- if they want to understand Lee better, but I'm not that enthusiastic about the book. Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this opportunity. N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work -- I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bill Berry

    A good look at the religious convictions of Lee. The author does a fine job showing Lee as neither a saint nor demon but a man, with struggles, faults, and sins who tried to live out his faith in every aspect of life. Sometimes he did and sometimes he didn’t.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bill

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amber

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mark Frizzell

  12. 4 out of 5

    Drew Norwood

  13. 4 out of 5

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  14. 4 out of 5

    christopher brown

  15. 4 out of 5

    Christine Flynn

  16. 5 out of 5

    Minato

  17. 5 out of 5

    Shirley Humphrey

  18. 4 out of 5

    Robert Butler

  19. 5 out of 5

    James

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mary Vogelsong

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Tomes

  22. 5 out of 5

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  23. 5 out of 5

    Charles Cowherd

  24. 4 out of 5

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  25. 4 out of 5

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  27. 4 out of 5

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  28. 5 out of 5

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  38. 4 out of 5

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  39. 4 out of 5

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  40. 5 out of 5

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  43. 4 out of 5

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  44. 5 out of 5

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  45. 5 out of 5

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  46. 4 out of 5

    CSU Library

  47. 5 out of 5

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  48. 4 out of 5

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  49. 4 out of 5

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  50. 4 out of 5

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  51. 4 out of 5

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