Abraham Lincoln’s Biblical Theology of the Civil War

Responding to the public debate that flared up last month about the legacy of the civil war, Meir Soloveichik suggests paying attention to Lincoln’s second inaugural address. There the sixteenth president suggested that the suffering and bloodshed of the Civil War—on both sides—was a divine punishment for the sin of slavery:

Standing on the Capitol steps in 1865, with Union victory a certainty, one would have expected a president to celebrate the valor of his soldiers triumphantly, to rejoice in the coming end of the war and in the justice of his cause. Yet Lincoln does no such thing. Instead, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel during ancient Israel’s wars with foreign powers, he seeks to explain the designs of Providence in producing so much death and destruction. He finds the answer in what he believes is the sin of both North and South, a sin that lies in the origins of America. . . .

Lincoln’s most critical point . . . is that the compromises [that preserved both the union and southern slavery until 1861] were not to be celebrated. . . . Lincoln . . . asserts that compromise on slavery, even if it was required to create the union that he loved and fought to preserve, nevertheless implicated the country in a moral crime. America had compromised on slavery again and again; and in the wake of the war’s carnage, Lincoln came to the conclusion that in the case of slavery, America’s genius for compromise, however necessary the Founders felt it was to produce the United States, was also a source of divine wrath. And what Lincoln interprets as the resulting punishment is the tragedy at the heart of the miracle that is the American story.

But, since the war brought such an unquestionably good outcome, should it, as one liberal journalist recently contended, be seen as something other than tragic? Quite the opposite, writes Soloveichik:

We certainly should celebrate much of what the war produced: the abolition of slavery, and a renewed understanding of our identity as a nation conceived in liberty. Yet, Lincoln reminds us, the Civil War was tragic because it was a result of sin, and therefore the Union’s triumph must be marked not only with elation but also with humility.

Why have so many today forgotten Lincoln’s profound and prophetic insights? Because American society, once formed by the theological themes of the Hebrew Bible, now is in danger of losing the biblical perspective that made it unique.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Abraham Lincoln, American Civil War, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas, Slavery

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict