Abraham Lincoln's Humanistic Religious Beliefs

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In debates on whether Ohio's state motto is an unconstitutional governmental advancement of religion, some supporters of the motto pointed out that Abraham Lincoln mentioned God in some of his speeches. Lincoln's religious views, however, were inconsistent with the motto.

Ohio's motto "With God, all things are possible" is a quote from Jesus' teachings concerning salvation, as set forth at Matthew 19:26. The motto thus endorses Christian theology, including the view that the God of the New Testament assists human activities by intervening in the world and altering the course of nature. Lincoln did not subscribe to those ideas.

As a young man, Lincoln read the theological works of the deist Thomas Paine, and it was well known among his friends and neighbors in Springfield, Illinois, that he agreed with Paine and was a deist and an infidel. The youthful Lincoln even wrote a manuscript, which he intended to publish, that argued against the divinity of Christ and the divine inspiration of the Bible.

One of his friends became worried about the effect that this writing would have on Lincoln's career, and therefore destroyed it by throwing it into a fire. Nevertheless, Lincoln never denied that he had written the manuscript, nor did he ever disavow the views contained in it or join a Christian church.

His friend's concerns turned out to be well-founded, for when Lincoln ran for state legislature in the 1830s, his opponent accused him of being an infidel and of having said that Jesus was an illegitimate child. And when Lincoln ran for Congress against a Methodist minister in 1846, he was again charged with being an infidel, if not an atheist.

Lincoln did not deny the charges of infidelity, which indeed proved to be injurious to his early political career. But these experiences taught him...