Lincoln was arguably the nation’s most interesting president. His life has been studied in great detail, yet much is still unclear about his life including his religion.
Abraham Lincoln frequently quoted the Bible. It is fair to say that it was one of his favorite books. He was raised by a stern, somewhat distant father who attended Baptist Churches in Kentucky and Indiana. Clearly Lincoln was a man of considerable virtue. He was known for honestly, sympathy, and kindness to the victims of the Civil War on both sides. Lincoln referred to the Bible as god’s greatest gift to man, but often found reasons to quarrel with Christians and Christianity.
Lincoln was Honest about his Beliefs
Lincoln was deeply interested in theology, but exhibited a skepticism that stayed with him for a lifetime. He frequently invoked the scriptures in speeches, his writings, and in his casual conversations, yet never joined a church. Under political pressure in 1846 while running for a congressional seat, Lincoln’s questionable religious views were attacked. He responding by acknowledging that he was “not a member of any Christian church.” He added that he did not deny the truth of the Scriptures.
Lincoln was an avid reader of great books and seemed to have formed a unique belief regarding religion. He did not accept the fundamental Christian belief of Jesus Christ as his savior and questioned whether or not the Union would prevail as a result of the intervention of God. Lincoln was clear in his belief that Christians of the North and South were praying to the same God.
Lincoln was a Lover of Words
With a scholarly approach toward the power of words, Lincoln seemed at times moved by Biblical quotes for political reasons. He certainly understood that he was immersed in a nation dominated by the Christian faith. His public appeals and references to God may have been motivated in part by a need to connect more to the public than to God. His love of Shakespeare seems to have had a profound influence on his philosophy and communication. He often expressed a fatalism expressed by Hamlet and other Shakespearean characters, although the Christian majority would have readily recognized his references to the scriptures perhaps to the exclusion of Shakespeare.
Many of the most influential thinkers in the formative days of the United States were not Christians, including Jefferson and Paine. Many Founding Fathers were influenced by Deism and Unitarianism. Lincoln was an admirer of the writings of Paine and shared many of his beliefs.
The religious beliefs of Lincoln are difficult to define. He certainly saw a benefit in appearing to believe in a supreme being, and his public addresses moved many to classify him as a deeply religious man. Likely, Lincoln was an amalgam of many great men whom went before him.