Lincoln and the Healthy Fear of Hell

Lincoln and the Healthy Fear of Hell September 7, 2017

The election of 1864 quickly became a referendum on the Civil War itself and no small part of the argument of the Peace Party was that the fog of war had transformed the Northern effort from a battle to save the Union to a battle to free the slaves.  Understand: this was regarded as an accusation against Lincoln and not (as it would later become) a form of praise.  Why, it was asked, was it the job of the white man to die for the black slave?  Many northern whites had exactly the same view of the inferiority of blacks as their southern brethren and saw no need to donate their bodies to the meat grinder of the war for them.

So it was suggested by some in the GOP that Lincoln should rescind the Emancipation Proclamation and, once the service of black troops was complete, return them to slavery.

Lincoln’s response was firm: “If they stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the strongest motive . . . the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept. . . . There have been men who proposed to me to return to slavery the black warriors, [but] I should be damned in time and in eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith to friends and enemies, come what will.”

Lincoln, of course, was an ignorant premodern who believed in the possibility of Hell.

Postmoderns no longer believe in Hell.  Crude scare tactics for herding simpletons, they say.

Postmoderns also have no fear of deporting men and women who served in the military and went into harm’s way for us. Nor do they fear the everlasting fires of hell for threatening to deport a Dreamer who did back-breaking, life-threatening work to save lives during Harvey. Nor do they fear the just wrath of the living God for refusing to let a mother come and bury her son who gave the last full measure of devotion when he drowned saving lives during Harvey.

However, I am unclear here and must apologize. I don’t mean postmodern secularists. I mean postmodern conservative Christian Trump supporters: those who self-identify as “Real Christians”. The “Fake Christians”, those who listen to Pope Francis and the Magisterium condemned by the “Real Christians” are on the obvious right side of the question and could not live with themselves if we betrayed Dreamers as we have already betrayed vets. With that riff raff of immoral human debris who oppose betrayal of vets and Dreamers are people ranging from pagan Romans, to Jews, to Muslims, to atheists. These can all see what Lincoln could see: that you do not betray those who have risked their lives for their country with banishment.

This is not, of course, to say that Good White Christian Trump supporters are alone in history. They have one very significant figure in their court: Joseph Stalin, who rewarded his conquering troops with sentences to the Gulag. Enjoy your bedfellow, Trump supporters and defenders.

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