Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lincoln's Faith

Today, the Religion News Service syndicated a new article about Abraham Lincoln's faith. As with many articles, it draws the contrast of the Lincoln who wrote and delivered the Second Inaugural Address, considered the most religiously sophisticated presidential inaugural address of all time, and the Lincoln who never joined and church or professed his own personal beliefs.

The article does not break new ground on the issue, but it is a solid summary of some of the key considerations when thinking about Lincoln's faith. It also has pictures of the two Lincoln stained glass windows in New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, where Lincoln attended services while he was president.

After reading this article, I did a quick search for other things about Lincoln's faith online, and recommend two (of course, there are lots) without recommendation. Here is a column by Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek and bestselling historian, hosted by BeliefNet. And here is a chronological presentation of the high points of "Abraham Lincoln's Faith," at a site created by the Lincoln Institute and the Lehrman Institute.

It is difficult to comment on this issue briefly because the evidence is not easily put together in a neat package. Lincoln was never a member of a church, but it seems clear that he was always a religious seeker, reading the Bible and sometimes theology and thinking about issues of faith. The specifics of his beliefs, at any particular point in his life, are difficult to state with certainty. Others have argued that Jesus was everything from an orthodox Christian -- of several different denominations -- to a passionate atheist, from a Deist to a spiritualist, from a staunch critic of organized faith to a quiet, but sure, supporter of the church.

There are several books on the subject of Lincoln's faith, a few of which can be recommended: The Soul of Abraham Lincoln by Congregationalist minister William E. Barton (first published in 1920, reissued in 2006); The Almost Chosen People: A Study of the Religion of Abraham Lincoln by William J. Wolf (first published in 1959; almost released as Lincoln's Religion around 1970); and the hard-to-find Abraham Lincoln: From Skeptic to Prophet by Wayne Temple (published in 1995 by a small press).

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