Abraham Lincoln's Religious Beliefs

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#1
For the first time in a long time, I just finished reading a book that has single-handedly caused me to change my mind on a major issue relating to the Civil War, in this case the issue of Lincoln's religious beliefs. I'm talking about Stephen Mansfield's book Lincoln's Battle with God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012).

Until I read Mansfield's book, I believed, based on reading many other books on the subject, that Lincoln was an anti-Christian deist, or even an atheist, until the end of his life or almost the end of his life, and that whatever conversion he might have experienced shortly before he died did not involve an acceptance of Christ's divinity and the inspiration of the Bible. Mansfield presents an enormous amount of evidence that this is not true. Mansfield makes a strong case that Lincoln began to reject his earlier skepticism/atheism in the early 1850s; that by the time Lincoln reached the White House, he had embraced God, Christianity, and the Bible; and that during his White House years Lincoln's Christian faith grew stronger and deeper.

Mansfield also shows that the scholars who have portrayed Lincoln as a deist or atheist have been very selective in their use of evidence and have ignored or dismissed dozens of credible accounts that document Lincoln's rejection of atheism and his embrace of biblical Christianity.

During the last year or so, before I read Mansfield's book over the last five days, I had stumbled across a few statements attributed to Lincoln that indicated a genuine belief in God and the Bible, but, influenced by all the books I'd read that had seemed to show he was a skeptic or an atheist, I dismissed them as aberrations or as the result of errant recollections. Mansfield presents a veritable mountain of such statements, some of them written by Lincoln, that leave no reasonable room for doubting that Lincoln did in fact believe in biblical Christianity by the time he was elected and that his faith deepened and matured during his White House years.
 

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#3
For the first time in a long time, I just finished reading a book that has single-handedly caused me to change my mind on a major issue relating to the Civil War, in this case the issue of Lincoln's religious beliefs. I'm talking about Stephen Mansfield's book Lincoln's Battle with God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012).

Until I read Mansfield's book, I believed, based on reading many other books on the subject, that Lincoln was an anti-Christian deist, or even an atheist, until the end of his life or almost the end of his life, and that whatever conversion he might have experienced shortly before he died did not involve an acceptance of Christ's divinity and the inspiration of the Bible. Mansfield presents an enormous amount of evidence that this is not true. Mansfield makes a strong case that Lincoln began to reject his earlier skepticism/atheism in the early 1850s; that by the time Lincoln reached the White House, he had embraced God, Christianity, and the Bible; and that during his White House years Lincoln's Christian faith grew stronger and deeper.

Mansfield also shows that the scholars who have portrayed Lincoln as a deist or atheist have been very selective in their use of evidence and have ignored or dismissed dozens of credible accounts that document Lincoln's rejection of atheism and his embrace of biblical Christianity.

During the last year or so, before I read Mansfield's book over the last five days, I had stumbled across a few statements attributed to Lincoln that indicated a genuine belief in God and the Bible, but, influenced by all the books I'd read that had seemed to show he was a skeptic or an atheist, I dismissed them as aberrations or as the result of errant recollections. Mansfield presents a veritable mountain of such statements, some of them written by Lincoln, that leave no reasonable room for doubting that Lincoln did in fact believe in biblical Christianity by the time he was elected and that his faith deepened and matured during his White House years.
Just curious, is there a direct quote from Lincoln that claims he actually believed on Christ to save him? Not just belief in general that God exists, etc.

Sounds like a pretty interesting book.
 

John Hartwell

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#5
Lincoln's faith might have influenced his behavior and motivations, and can be a help in understanding the man. But, it surely is not, by any measure, "a major issue relating to the Civil War."
 
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#6
Does it really matter what Lincoln believed....how he acted is what is important.
That's a good question. If a person's religious persuasion or at least their interpretation of theological belief influences their behavior then yes it makes a huge difference what their belief system is.
Where the subject of religion become real murkey real fast is when people of the same religion are on opposite sides of a war or political issue.
The ACW is an excellent example of people from different religions or denominations of a religion fighting or supporting either the Union or the Confederacy.
If it can be shown that Lincoln's political belief system and or his actions is based on his religious belief system or his interpretation of a religious belief system then yes religion becomes an important issue.
Certainly the abolitionist movement is based on interpretations of Christianity.
The pro slavery movement certainly used religious arguments as well to support and expand slavery.
Leftyhunter
 
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#7
Lincoln's faith might have influenced his behavior and motivations, and can be a help in understanding the man. But, it surely is not, by any measure, "a major issue relating to the Civil War."
Upon further retrospection it is certainly possible that Lincoln's religious belief system influenced greatly his political beliefs and his policies. After all religion and politics have been intertwined since at least the biblical era.
Leftyhunter
 
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#9
Just curious, is there a direct quote from Lincoln that claims he actually believed on Christ to save him? Not just belief in general that God exists, etc.

Sounds like a pretty interesting book.
If by "direct quote" you mean something Lincoln wrote, I'd have to go back and check the book. I listened to the whole book on audio CD and am waiting for the hardcover book to arrive so I can read what I heard.
 
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#10
Lincoln's faith might have influenced his behavior and motivations, and can be a help in understanding the man. But, it surely is not, by any measure, "a major issue relating to the Civil War."
Oh? Lincoln said he issued the Emancipation Proclamation to fulfill a covenant he made with God. He said he believed God wanted him to maintain the Union and that he acted on that belief. I'd say those were two enormously important beliefs that impacted the war in a major way.
 

WJC

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#11
Lincoln's faith might have influenced his behavior and motivations, and can be a help in understanding the man. But, it surely is not, by any measure, "a major issue relating to the Civil War."
On the other hand, we frequently encounter statements, letters, autobiographies and biographies of other persons involved in the conflict and its issues that clearly attribute their actions to their religious beliefs. Why not Lincoln?
 
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#12
I don't think was a big believer, unless he said in public to others that he was a believer. I think he was a private person, who kept such things to himself. It matters what he did in public and in office, not what he thought, which I believe he rarely put on paper.
 

archieclement

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#13
Personally I tend to think based on various things he said he would have considered himself Christian...

Most denominations probably not, as they tend to require you belonging to a denomination, however personally I believe it's a personal bond between you and your beliefs/ faith.

Interesting side note, last three presidential inaugurations have used the Lincoln Bible.
 
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#15
I don't think was a big believer, unless he said in public to others that he was a believer. I think he was a private person, who kept such things to himself. It matters what he did in public and in office, not what he thought, which I believe he rarely put on paper.
Actually, Lincoln put a number of statements on paper that indicate he was a religious person, and Mansfield documents that dozens of friends, and even some enemies, heard him express orthodox Christian views.

After reading Mansfield's book (well, listening to it), I have a greater appreciation for Lincoln.
 

JAGwinn

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#16
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/38374
Abraham Lincoln: Was He a Christian? by John E. Remsburg

HON. NEWTON BATEMAN.

Dr. Holland's claim rests chiefly upon a confession which Lincoln is said to have made to Newton Bateman in 1860. During the Presidential campaign Lincoln occupied the Executive Chamber at the State House. Mr. Bateman was Superintendent of Public Instruction at the time, had his office in the same building, and was frequently in Lincoln's room. The conversation in which Lincoln is alleged to have expressed a belief in Christianity is thus related in Holland's "Life of Lincoln:"

"On one of these occasions Mr. Lincoln took up a book containing a careful canvass of the city of Springfield in which he lived, showing the candidate for whom each citizen had declared it his intention to vote in the approaching election. Mr. Lincoln's friends had, doubtless at his own request, placed the result of the canvass in his hands. This was toward the close of October, and only a few days before the election. Calling Mr. Bateman to a seat at his side, having previously locked all the doors, he said: 'Let us look over this book. I wish particularly to see how the ministers of Springfield are going to vote.' The leaves were turned, one by one, and as the names were examined Mr. Lincoln frequently asked if this one and that were not a minister, or an elder, or the member of such or such a church, and sadly expressed his surprise on receiving an affirmative answer. In that manner they went through the book, and then he closed it and sat silently and for some minutes regarding a memorandum in pencil which lay before him. At length he turned to Mr. Bateman, with a face full of sadness, and said: 'Here are twenty-three ministers, of different denominations, and all of them are against me but three; and here are a great many prominent members of the churches, a very large majority of whom are against me. Mr. Bateman, I am not a Christian—God knows I would be one—but I have carefully read the Bible, and I do not so understand this book;' and he drew from his bosom a pocket New Testament. 'These men well know,' he continued, 'that I am for freedom in the territories, freedom everywhere as far as the Constitution and laws will permit, and that my opponents are for slavery. They know this, and yet, with this book in their hands, in the light of which human bondage cannot live a moment, they are going to vote against me. I do not understand it at all.' Here Mr. Lincoln paused—paused for long minutes—his features surcharged with emotion. Then he rose and walked up and down the room in the effort to retain or regain his self-possession. Stopping at last, he said, with a trembling voice and his cheeks wet with tears: 'I know there is a God, and that he hates injustice and slavery. I see the storm coming, and I know that his hand is in it. If he has a place for me—and I think he has—I believe I am ready. I am nothing, but truth is everything. I know I am right, for Christ teaches it, and Christ is God.'

"The effect of this conversation upon the mind of Mr. Bateman, a Christian gentleman whom Mr. Lincoln profoundly respected, was to convince him that Mr. Lincoln had, in his quiet way, found a path to the Christian standpoint—that he had found God, and rested on the eternal truth of God. As the two men were about to separate, Mr. Bateman remarked: 'I have not supposed that you were accustomed to think so much upon this class of subjects. Certainly your friends generally are ignorant of the sentiments you have expressed to me.' He replied quickly: 'I know they are. I am obliged to appear different to them; but I think more upon these subjects than upon all others, and I have done so for years; and I am willing that you should know it'" (Life of Lincoln, pp. 236-239).
 
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#17
If by "direct quote" you mean something Lincoln wrote, I'd have to go back and check the book. I listened to the whole book on audio CD and am waiting for the hardcover book to arrive so I can read what I heard.

Ok, yeah, audio books can be difficult to work with I'd think. Just curious, and if you happen to come along a quote like that and think about it, let me know. But don't feel pressured. Just wondering. :smile: Thanks!
 

JAGwinn

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#19
@dixie1861 "Mr. Bateman, I am not a Christian—God knows I would be one—but I have carefully read the Bible, and I do not so understand this book;' and he drew from his bosom a pocket New Testament."

That he could not accept that he was a Christian [simply termed a 'follower' of Christ] is common to so many people that find it hard to believe that God could love them.
 

Karen Lips

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#20
@dixie1861 "Mr. Bateman, I am not a Christian—God knows I would be one—but I have carefully read the Bible, and I do not so understand this book;' and he drew from his bosom a pocket New Testament."

That he could not accept that he was a Christian [simply termed a 'follower' of Christ] is common to so many people that find it hard to believe that God could love them.
And so very sad!
 

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