Thursday, February 12, 2015

On Lincoln's birthday

....Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." .... from Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865
The author of Lincoln's Battle with God: A President's Struggle with Faith and What It Meant for America, summarizes his story:
.... Young Abraham rejected his parents' loud, sweaty brand of faith and in part because he could not reconcile the weepy, religious version of his father with the man who beat him, worked him "like a slave," and resented his dreams of a more meaningful life. Historian Allen Guelzo has written, "on no other point did Abraham Lincoln come closer to an outright repudiation of his father than on religion."

Young Abraham chose reading over religion — and reading made him rethink religion. Alongside Aesop's Fables and Robinson Crusoe, he read the works of religious skeptics. Books like Thomas Paine's Age of Reason, Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Ruins by the French writer Volney gave Lincoln the intellectual tools for dismantling the edifice of religion. ....

.... Lincoln drank deeply from this anti-religion stream. Soon he began openly attacking Christianity. Friends recalled that he openly criticized the Bible, that he called Christ a bastard and that he labeled Christianity a myth. He even wrote a pamphlet defending "infidelity." To protect his political aspirations, friends tore the booklet from his hands and burned it. Lincoln was furious. ....

When little Eddie Lincoln died in 1850, just shy of his fourth birthday, his parents were devastated. Ever haunted by depression, Abraham needed help pushing back the darkness. He turned to the Rev. James Smith, a Presbyterian minister in Springfield. The two met, counseled and prayed. Slowly, unsteadily, a change began. ....

We see this in his decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. He told his cabinet he did it because of a covenant he made with God. He would end slavery where he could if God would grant the Union significant victories. He had become convinced the war was divine judgment upon a slave-trading nation. He believed the act of Emancipation could help lift that judgment.

This same sense of need to mediate between God and the nation infused his Second Inaugural Address, perhaps the greatest of American political sermons. God wills this war, Lincoln said, in order to purge the wickedness of slavery. Now, at war's end, both North and South should humble themselves, honor God's righteous judgment, and heal the land through forgiveness and mercy. It tells us much about Lincoln's religious views in the latter years of his presidency that he expected the speech to disappoint the nation. Why? "Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them," he explained to a friend. .... [more]
Stephen Mansfield: Abraham Lincoln's Atheist Period