Ratio Christi invites Joseph R. Fornieri to Rutgers for a look at Lincoln's personal philosophy and biblical interpretation of slavery
Slavery, religion and politics were all analyzed through the scope of American history on Tuesday night at a presentation hosted by Ratio Christi, a Christian-student group at Rutgers.
Joseph Fornieri, a professor of Political Science at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and the special guest, delivered his presentation on “Lincoln, the Bible, and the End of Slavery.” Fornieri is RIT's director of the Center for Statesmanship, Law, and Liberty, and has published many works detailing the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.
“I gave the Ratio Christi group a presentation on Lincoln and the Bible, one of my areas of expertise,” he said. “Today we looked at how the Bible was invoked by both sides of the Civil War and how Lincoln’s greatness as a statesman involved his ability to speak to a Bible-reading public.”
Fornieri’s latest book, "Abraham Lincoln, Philosopher Statesman," deals with the topic of biblical Republicanism, which Fornieri defined as “Lincoln’s ultimate moral justification of American self-government in public life that appeals to the moral authority of the Bible and the (founding fathers') Republicanism, their belief in self-government.”
He said that Lincoln’s rejection of slavery and racism was based on three tenants: Revelation (the Bible), Republicanism (self-government) and reason. Fornieri said he was excited by fresh discussions on the subject, and was heartened by new efforts to not overlook religious significance in the public discourse around slavery.
Fornieri used extensive primary sources to support his claim. The majority of his presentation dealt with comparing the biblical arguments made by Lincoln against those made by Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
The irony, as Fornieri initially said, is that both sides were of the same religion yet used it to support different causes. Lincoln too pointed this out in his 1865 Second Inaugural Address.
He said, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other,” according to The Atlantic.
Backers of slavery at the time would often use Old Testament verses to support their cause, such as Exodus 21: 20-21, Fornieri said. The verse said, “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property,” according to his presentation.
Davis also used the Genesis story of The Curse of Ham, or The Curse of Canaan, which is a myth explaining the existence of races, to further his ideology, Fornieri said. The myth said, “It is enough for us that the Creator, speaking through the inspired lips of Noah, declared the destiny of the three races of men,” according to his presentation.
He then discussed how Lincoln used Bible verses to dispute slavery. Those included verses like Genesis 3:19, which said, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” according to his presentation.
Fornieri said that opponents of slavery interpreted this as suggesting that all men are equal in the eyes of God, and that all men come from and will return to dust. Therefore, one person should not have absolute power over another. Invoking this passage, Lincoln called slavery “a double-refined curse of God upon his creatures.”
Fornieri concluded his presentation by briefly discussing new charges against Lincoln that accuse him of racism, but Fornieri dismissed these charges. He said that Lincoln's extremely uncommon progressive ideals for the time and his friendship with Frederick Douglass, a freed slave and famous abolitionist, demonstrate otherwise.
Host of the event, Ratio Christi, is a worldwide Christian-student group, said Hannah Fitzgerald, the president of the Rutgers chapter and a School of Engineering junior. The chapter is eight years old and has about a dozen members. It hosts similar large, public events once a semester, and holds two weekly meetings in which members present on a variety of religious and philosophical topics.
She said that on any given week the group has more non-Christian attendees than Christians. Ratio Christi has had atheists, philosophy students, Buddhists and Muslims all attend its events.
“The goal of (Ratio Christi) is to give Christian students the ability to explore the faith and to say ‘why do I believe this,’ as well as to give non-Christian students the ability to say ‘why don’t I believe this,’ and to then open a discussion,” Fitzgerald said.