Friday, November 16, 2012

It's what gets left out

Spielberg's Lincoln opens here today and I very much look forward to seeing it at some point, probably next week. The reviews I've read have been [with a single exception] uniformly favorable. R.J. Moeller thinks it is "a wonderful film," too, but believes something important is missing:
.... I had only one serious qualm with Lincoln, and I think it important enough to mention here.

The study and teaching of history is an imperfect science. I get that. Certainly there is hard data–the dates that events occurred, kings who ruled, or names of civilizations that existed–which can be fairly difficult to screw up or slant one ideological way or the other. But there is also a great deal of interpretation that the person relaying the events of history can choose to imbue their textbook, scholarly paper, or feature film with. Sometimes the issue of potential biases on the part of the person communicating a piece of history are to be found in what is not said, what is held back or downplayed, more than anything else.

Such is the case with a certain aspect of Lincoln.

The abolitionist movement was in many ways the result of the Second Great Awakening, a Christian spiritual revival in the first part of the nineteenth century that swept the country and convicted many Americans on the importance of ending the “scourge” of slavery. Among those who fought to bring the matter before Congress, faith was a primary motivating factor. And while the personal vitality of President Lincoln’s private faith has been questioned by some historians in recent years, his rhetoric on the issue of slavery was drenched in Judeo-Christian, biblical morality (and consistently, even direct quotes from Scripture). This reality does not make Christianity the national religion, nor does it shame or exclude the faith traditions of any American citizen before or since.

So why almost no mention of these things in a film that is, more than anything else, about the critical push to pass the law that ended the most shameful chapter in our nation’s history? Directors and screenwriters are only too happy to wrap the faith of a character around his or her neck if he or she is depicting a despicable hypocrite or philanderer, but why no love for the undeniable religiosity of so many courageous social/political warriors when they were a driving force behind one of our nation’s proudest moments?

If Christianity must accept the fact that many so-called believers justified slavery in the South by misappropriating the teachings of their faith, why can it never get so much as a shout-out for the role it played in confronting slavery in the nineteenth century and racism in the twentieth? .... [more]
Spielberg’s Lincoln: Sometimes It’s What You Don’t Say « Acculturated

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