Abraham Lincoln and John Locke

I just watched the History Channel’s powerful three-hour documentary on Abraham Lincoln, and some of the things on the program reminded me of John Locke on Lost.

1. Several scholars remarked that Lincoln’s depression and hard experiences in life actually set the stage for his success as President. One of the interviewees said that, had young Lincoln married Anne Rutledge and gained a sweet, supportive wife, he probably wouldn’t have become President.

The reasons were varied. Lincoln was portrayed as a man driven by ambition, so maybe his pain gave him a hunger for success. The argument was made that Lincoln’s suffering made him empathetic to the pain of others, especially slaves, and opposition to slavery was a key element of his political career. The narrator said that Lincoln’s quest to save the union was tied to his own desire to become personally whole. Someone remarked that depression can lead to introspection and reflection, which can enable one to become a visionary. And, according to the documentary, Lincoln’s dramatic encounters with pain and suffering led him to the conviction that God had a plan for it all, for he needed that kind of faith in order to cope!

On last week’s Lost episode, John Locke goes back in time to the second season. At that time, Locke believed that a mysterious portal had some sort of divine significance, when actually it did not (see Lost: Season 2). As a result, he experienced a lot of pain. When Sawyer asks Locke why he doesn’t tell his past self that the hatch is insignificant and thereby spare himself the pain, Locke responds, “I needed that pain to get where I am right now.” I’m not sure what Locke meant. Maybe he was saying that he learned to trust the island when things did not make sense, or that his inner pain made him hungry for the type of home that the Others provided him. But Locke believed that pain was an important element of his destiny. That brings me to my second point.

2. According to the documentary, Lincoln had a sense of destiny from his youth. He wanted to get away from his backwoods life and accomplish something important, and he believed that he would make his mark on the world!

At times, his sense of destiny was challenged. He had a midlife crisis in his 40s, for he felt that his life and career were going nowhere, in contrast to those of his successful acquaintance, Stephen Douglas. Lincoln had just served one term as a congressman and left after taking an unpopular stance against the U.S.-Mexico war. He didn’t know where he was going, and he thought he would fade away into insignificance.

But his wife married him because she believed he would be President. And, after Lincoln gave a rousing speech against slavery that excited people of many political persuasions, he figured that he had a political future, notwithstanding his loss to Stephen Douglas in a recent Senate race. Lincoln also had a vision that he would become President. He looked in the mirror while he was shaving, and he saw an image of him as President, with a fading image of himself behind the first image. He interpreted that to mean that he would become President, but he wouldn’t survive his second term.

Throughout his Presidency, Lincoln knew he had enemies and would probably be assassinated. But he believed that he had a destiny, which he identified as saving the union and freeing the slaves.

Similarly, John Locke has a sense of destiny. Even though he is a paraplegic before he comes to the island, he believes that he has a destiny to go on a safari to Australia. On the island itself, he steadfastly maintains that he is there for a purpose. On last night’s episode, the ghost of Christian Shepherd tells Locke that he (Locke) will die in his mission, and Locke accepts his fate. He is willing to die, so long as he fulfills his destiny and purpose. Before he came to the island, he was living without those things, and his life was rather empty!

Did Lincoln have a lot of pride and arrogance in his desire to go down in history? He may have initially, but that vanished as he grew older and wiser. At the beginning of the documentary, one of the scholars remarked that Lincoln always wanted notoriety, but, once he got what he wanted, he realized that it brought more difficulties than he had anticipated.

I wonder if we’ll see something similar with Locke: he has been gun-ho about his mission for the island, but will he learn that he should be careful what he wishes for, since he may very well get it? And will he conclude that his mission is worth the pain and suffering that comes with it?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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