Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #23

Re: Lincoln (2012)

I have been following you for a few years now, especially on Relevant Radio and Catholic Answers. You have changed the way I view movies. I would also like to encourage you on your journey to becoming a deacon. I know you will be a great blessing to the Church. You are in my prayers.

I recently saw Lincoln, and I so much wanted to like it that I let myself be blinded. The camera work was great and the acting superb. Plus it was about Lincoln and the Civil War era. What not to like? I let all of this block out all the red flags going up during the movie.

My problem with the film is summed up in the phrase “The end does not justify the means.” In the movie, Lincoln did whatever it took to pass the Thirteenth Admendment. The point of the movie is essentially “do what ever it takes to pass your agenda and the world will remember you as great.” Morals and character don’t matter, your mission matters.

Lincoln engaged in bribery and lying to get the amendment passed. The Tommy Lee Jones character lied as well, and compromised his convictions to get the amendment passed. It was all about the greater good, not about the little things to get the good accomplished. And in the end, only the final goal was remembered. No harm was done by all the dirty deeds.

Would you think I was joking if I asked “What’s wrong with offering bribes?”

It is not a mere point of casuistry to note that the Bible repeatedly condemns those who take bribes, but never those who offer them — for excellent reason.

We usually think of a bribe as an inducement to neglect one’s duty, to buy unjust favor or consideration, to subvert justice. However, there are situations, particularly in corrupt regimes, in which, merely to obtain justice, to induce corrupt officials to do what they ought to do anyway out of duty and rectitude, one may have to offer a bribe.

For instance, in some corrupt countries border agents extort bribes from those seeking to leave the country, even if their papers are in order and they have every right to leave. To offer bribes in such situations may or may not be a crime, but it is certainly not a sin.

According to the film, Lincoln and/or his confederates offered various senators inducements, not to move them to neglect their duties, but to do the morally right thing. This may or may not have been a crime; it is not clear to me that it was therefore morally wrong.

It’s certainly not the way we want to think of politics being carried out, and it’s a practice clearly open to abuse; but in a case of clear-cut moral right and wrong, in a situation in which it was necessary to obtain a just outcome, I would be inclined to give Lincoln and his confederates the benefit of the doubt on this issue.

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