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Advice from President Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln struggled to understand the inexplicable ferocity and tenacity of the American Civil War. His thoughts are worth considering today as we face even greater challenges.

In a moral universe, the destruction of so many lives, over 700,000, over issues that humanity should have contrived to eradicate by its own natural progression, should not have occurred. No one wanted or expected such an unconscionable war, but no one could stop it either.

Lincoln was not a religious man, but he turned to the Bible for an explanation. His conclusion? Providence provokes suffering on those from whom much suffering came - and nothing can stop it until the prideful maliciousness of all those concerned is finally burned away.

"With malice toward none; with charity for all." So began the last sentence of Lincoln's second inaugural address. Here he is calling for those non-belligerent attitudes that will heal the nation's wounds. Whether he realized it or not he also articulated a moral formula to avoid such tragedies in the future. It is a lesson we must focus on today in order to achieve its completion.

Whether you believe in God or not, justice will have its due in ways that we cannot predict. From our limited, egocentric viewpoint, it may not seem like justice at all. Surely we deserve better! Surely the innocent should be spared! Surely peace should be everyone's goal, including those of our enemies! How is it that things continue to get worse?

On the stage of national and world politics, it is not just particular offenses that provoke upheavals that demand moral balance. If only it were! Selfishness alone would cause us to compensate in order to acquire peace.

What we fail to see, and what ultimately provokes so much suffering in the world, is the insanity we generate in order to allow our continued trespasses. It is that insanity for which we must account and initiate change.

You see, we are responsible not only for our offenses, but for the world we create in which these offenses arise. It is this blind status quo that fashions our own punishments. And they continue to escalate until we make sure that the moral insanity ends.

The Middle East has a long history of political and sectarian strife that cannot and will not be easily erased. The innocent there, and there are many, will suffer as a continued indictment against the rage and barbarity of those who turn to violence in the name of religion. This will continue until it learns the essence of all real religious impulses, as Lincoln summarized, "with malice toward none," and "with charity for all."

Europe has a long, sad history of imperialistic ambitions that contributed to Middle Eastern strife. They find themselves today bearing the cost of their own past offenses, and have embraced the remedy of replacing the maliciousness of greed with the conscience-building of charity.

The United States has a history of proclaiming profound and universal ideals while failing to protect them from the tainted subterfuge of greed. Whereas it was once welcomed and respected throughout the Middle East as a non-imperialistic conduit of modernity, it undercut its own reputation by supporting dictators, political coups and engaging in wars, the ramifications of which it could not begin to understand. Once trust was lost, it could not easily be regained.

It could be said that each of these regions are today being punished for their sins—but a moral universe, if ever we shall have one, is not about punishment. The true wages of sin always point to the insanity of their creation. We are all guilty of avarice, of pride bordering on hubris, insisting that our way is the only way, and using power disrespectfully for our own gain. This is the insanity we must now confront on a global scale, for which Lincoln provided a remedy:

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in… to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

As these words unveil their deeper meaning to us now, let us strive to learn from them how to defeat the insanity that escalates all around us before it is too late.


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