Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Gettysburg Gospel

Lincoln and the new civil religion. From The American Conservative:
Lincoln’s speech also engages the other side of civil religion—not the appropriation of the sacred for the purposes of the state but the elevation of the secular into a political religion. Early in his career, Lincoln had explicitly promoted this kind of civil religion. Again in his 1838 Lyceum address, he called for fidelity to “the blood of the Revolution” and the Declaration, the Constitution, and the laws to serve as America’s sustaining “political religion” now that the founding generation was passing away. In 1863, Lincoln filled the Gettysburg Address with the words “dedicated,” “consecrated,” and “hallow.” The cumulative effect of this sacred language was to set the American Founding, the suffering of the Civil War, and the national mission apart from the mundane world and transport the war dead and their task into a transcendent realm.

Bellah, a defender of American civil religion who wanted to globalize it in the post-Kennedy years, claimed that Lincoln and the Civil War gave America a “New Testament” for its civic faith: “The Gettysburg symbolism (‘…those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live’) is Christian without having anything to do with the Christian church.”

To this civil religion, Lincoln added his distinctive civil history and civil philosophy. Subtracting the “four score” years from 1863 takes us back to 1776. America was “brought forth” in 1776—not in 1787 or 1788, when the Constitution was ratified by state conventions. In his First Inaugural in 1861, the Republican president had insisted that the Union was older than the states: it had formed at least as early as 1774 and had organically “matured” through the war years. But now at Gettysburg, the Union vanished and the claim appeared that a “new nation” was born in 1776. (Read more.)
Via Joshua Snyder. Share

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