Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lincoln's Providential Role?


I thought that I was done with Lincoln until such time as I've seen the new film by Spielberg, but I read a review by Christopher Sullivan, "Abraham Lincoln's Faith, 'Battle With God,' Explored In New Book" (Huffington Post, December 12, 2012), which has some interesting details about a new book by Stephen Mansfield, the one depicted above:
Textbooks often freeze and simplify Lincoln's religion, making him merely a "skeptic, ever religiously uncertain," Mansfield writes in "Lincoln's Battle with God." "The truth is that Lincoln was, in fact, a religious pilgrim" . . . . As we follow Lincoln's journey through life, it's a revelation to read how candid and forthcoming he could be about his state of mind and soul . . . . In his 20s, freed from the strict Calvinistic beliefs of his father and other youthful religious influences -- including the wild enthusiasms of revival meetings -- Lincoln for a time vehemently and publicly rejected the religious givens of contemporary America . . . . Lincoln became known for his hard line. But when he went so far as to write a "little book on Infidelity," attacking the divinity of Christ and the inspiration of the Bible, and then announced that he hoped to publish it, . . . . [a friend] "snatched it from Lincoln's hand" and burned the manuscript.
Reportedly, the friend didn't want to see Lincoln ruin a promising career, and perhaps he was right to react so, for Lincoln surely could not have become president with such a book to his name, and his views changed, anyway, as he grew older:
Two ministers whose writing he admired and whom he sought out personally shaped his thinking, and he continued to read and study the Bible, a habit learned from his mother. Though he never joined any church, he attended Sunday services of his wife's Presbyterian congregation in Washington -- and even a Tuesday evening prayer meeting, listening from the pastor's office so as not to be distracted . . . . He came to see the unrelenting carnage of the Civil War as God's judgment and punishment for slavery, as he says in his second inaugural shortly before his assassination.
My guess -- though I have little reason to imagine that I'm right -- is that Lincoln could not bear the moral weight of the Civil War upon his shoulders alone and thus returned, in part, to the Calvinist faith of his father, seeking meaning for his role in one of history's great tragic episodes of flawed justice by attributing its dire purposes to Providence, and he himself merely participating in a role for which he'd been born and shaped but had not chosen.

I wonder if I'm right . . .

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4 Comments:

At 6:03 AM, Blogger dhr said...

Both Sullivans' and your own insights into Lincoln's story are very interesting. I think nothing like that would be said in Europe: just presenting him as a hero or, maybe, a fake one, but without wondering what his relationship with God had to do with it.

It will be worth seeing how the Spielberg movie will be commented on in Europe, in case (it probably would not even reach here, if the director was some other guy). "Munich" e.g. was powerful and shocking, but I don't think it was a great hit here, except during the very first days.

 
At 6:44 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I guess we'll soon find out. Meanwhile, I need to order that book . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:20 PM, Blogger dhr said...

Another fitting quote:

Reluctant, but in vaine: a greater power
Now rul'd him . . .

 
At 6:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Depends on how one takes "vaine" . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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