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History of Religion

In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln wove together deep religious insights as well as his interpretation of the Civil War, which was nearing an end at this time after four years of bloody conflict which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, tore families apart and tested the strength of the nation to remain whole. From a personal standpoint, the war tested Lincoln’s mental, physical, and spiritual endurance, which seemed to mirror the trials of the American people as well, and Lincoln used this as the backbone of this now immortal address.

To place the remarks of Lincoln into proper context, it is important to first understand the religious and political views of the era. In a strange irony, religion and politics overlapped as a result of the Civil War. Lincoln’s moral compass, echoing that of the majority of people who remained loyal to the Union, held that slavery was an offense to God as well as an affront to the basic decency of a free society such as the United States exhibited.

Likewise, those who held allegiance to the newly formed Confederate States of America believed that they were entitled to freedom of choice, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were using that freedom in the morally questionable practice of enslaving other human beings for personal gain, and as such, maintained that their financial freedom was also at stake due to the challenge to slavery. The financial aspects of the slavery debate caused the controversy to become political as well as moral/religious.

A direct quote from Lincoln’s address makes this abundantly clear: “ 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…the prayers of neither (USA or CSA) has been answered fully” (Basler). In this brief passage, Lincoln uses powerful language to show that although both sides worship the same God, and claim to hold the same belief system, their values are vastly different.

In summary, in mid-19th century America, religion and politics among the fighting factions clashed like so many swords in the heat of battle, each believing that they held the ethical high ground. Nathan Glaser (Question 2) In his writings, Nathan Glaser devotes a large amount of time analyzing the tension between American Judaism and Jewishness. Upon closer analysis, this tension encompasses divergent ideas and the theories of some of the most prominent Jewish thinkers of the 20th century.

Tensions within the various factions of the Jewish religious community in America have their roots in the fight for American independence. The foundations of a free America have their roots in the Christian tradition, which many Orthodox Jews saw as a complete exclusion of Judaism, as they knew it, in this new nation (Abrams). On the other hand, there were those Jews who were pursing a new form of Judaism which discarded many of the Orthodox traditions, thereby retaining the spirit Jewishness but little of the precepts of the ancient faith that they were expected to bring to America.

This abandonment of the old traditions was a part of, as well as a result of, the new culture of a new society, evidenced by the consumption of non-kosher foods and the skipping of traditional daily prayers in order to appear to be “more American”. All of this formed a definite rift between the old and new Jewish ways, and generated a considerable amount of tension. On both sides of the debate, prominent Jewish thinkers put forth their ideas which ultimately firmly entrenched the opposing viewpoints.

Regarding the divide itself, Glazer himself asserted that the Jews who came to America, while doing so for the obvious reasons such as economic advantage and the like, also were motivated by a desire to escape the restrictions of Orthodox Jewish doctrine, and furthermore, these American Jews were not the most faithful of their people anyhow, and should be allowed to express their Jewishness as they saw fit (Abrams). Still others, such as J. L.

Gordon, a prominent Eastern European poet, suggested that American Jews could maintain the Orthodox ways and still assimilate to American culture, when he urged American Jews to “be a Jew in your tent, but a man on the street” (Abrams), suggesting that Judaism could be taken on and off like a cloak but still stay true to its origins. Overall, the Jewish tension that made its way to America not only defined the history and future of the Jewish faith, but also was symbolic of the clashes in American culture that still exists today in religion, as well as other areas.

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