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Letter from close friend offers rare glimpse into President Lincoln's 'theist' beliefs
The Raab Collection is offering the letter by William Herndon on President Lincoln's religious views for $35,000.
April 12th, 2011
09:06 PM ET

Letter from close friend offers rare glimpse into President Lincoln's 'theist' beliefs

By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN

(CNN) - President Abraham Lincoln was a "theist and a rationalist" who doubted "the immortality of the soul," a close friend said in a letter that provides a rare, intimate glimpse into the Civil War president's religious views.

"Mr. Lincoln’s religion is too well known to me to allow of even a shadow of a doubt; he is or was a Theist - a Rationalist, denying all extraordinary -– supernatural inspiration or revelation," William H. Herndon wrote in a letter dated February 11, 1866, to Edward McPherson, clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Herndon was one of Lincoln's closest friends. The two met in Springfield, Illinois, and practiced law together for 17 years before Lincoln became president in 1861. After Lincoln's assassination on April 14, 1865, he authored "Herndon's Lincoln," a biography based on contributions from Lincoln's friends and contemporaries  considered among the most authoritative for its proximity to the elusive president.

The three-page letter, which is being offered for sale by the Raab Collection for $35,000, offers a rare account from someone close to Lincoln on the subject of his religious beliefs - a topic that has eluded historians. Lincoln did not discuss his religious beliefs and he did not belong to a church.

"Lincoln was reticent to discuss religion, particularly after his election, which has fueled the ongoing debate about whether he believed in God or if he was Christian in the way we would explain it today," said Nathan Raab of the Raab Collection. "These are subjects still being debated."

His early religious outlook was colored by the evangelical Baptist faith of his parents and a Calvinist theology of predestination - the belief that the fate of all men and women had been predetermined by God, PBS.org said of Lincoln in its "God in America" series. Lincoln rejected this Calvinist view later in life and shunned emotional excess, but the Calvinism of his youth left him with a sense of fatalism that endured throughout his life.

How the Bible was used to justify slavery, abolition

Lincoln's views on providence and God's will in the context of the Civil War have been the source of great scrutiny over the years.

In his letter, written less than a year after Lincoln's death, Herndon wrote that the president was "the purest politician."

"At one time in his life, to say the least, he was an elevated Pantheist, doubting the immortality of the soul as the Christian world understands that term. He believed that the soul lost its identity and was immortal as a force. Subsequent to this he rose to the belief of a God, and this is all the change he ever underwent. I speak knowing what I say. He was a noble man - a good great man for all this," he wrote.

"I love Mr. Lincoln dearly, almost worship him, but that can’t blind me. He’s the purest politician I ever saw, and the justest man. I am scribbling - that’s the word - away on a life of Mr. Lincoln - gathering known-authentic - true facts of him."

- egrinberg

Filed under: History • Politics

soundoff (336 Responses)
  1. Mojanami

    Ibrahim Lincoln was a Muslim. He believed in the oneness of God and did not believe that Jesus was divine.
    In today's tea party America, he would have been treated as well . Obama is by the Republicans.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      Mojanami, your comment is like a a breath of fresh air. Peace be unto you! Now you have me imagining Lincoln reading the Koran by candlelight. His beard should have been a major hint! 😉

      May 10, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  2. Tom

    I highly doubt the people quick conclude that lincoln was an atheist read any more about the man than the article preceeding this discussion. Lincoln often quoted the Bible and in his own words stated that it was God's own word to man. He even used the principles in the Bible as a arguement for the freeing of the slaves. You really should read more in depth of our history and learn from it rather than believe your high school teacher/college professors own biased personal viewpoint before proclaiming our forefathers were atheist.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  3. roberto

    Mr. Lincoln was probably smarter than the average bear. And back in those days the average bear was probably south of Yogi. I suggest that people stop trying to analyze a dead person's belief or disbelief in a higher power. You may as well start analyzing all the sayings and doings of Ghandi to determine what his favorite color was and then passing judgment on him based on that. Ahhh, Jeez. Do people, anymore, have anything better to do with their time? Such as me, writing this missive on this absurdly time-wasting article?

    April 12, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  4. Doc

    Some quotes by Lincoln:

    That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or any denomination of Christians in particular.

    I do not think I could myself, be brought to support a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion.

    To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
    –February 11, 1861 Farewell Address

    Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.
    –March 4, 1861 First Inaugural Address

    If I had had my way, this war would never have been commenced; If I had been allowed my way this war would have ended before this, but we find it still continues; and we must believe that He permits it for some wise purpose of his own, mysterious and unknown to us; and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that he who made the world still governs it.

    Nevertheless, amid the greatest difficulties of my Administration, when I could not see any other resort, I would place my whole reliance on God, knowing that all would go well, and that He would decide for the right.
    –October 24, 1863 Remarks to the Baltimore Presbyterian Synod

    If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.
    –April 4, 1864 Letter to Albert Hodges

    We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein.
    –September 4, 1864 Letter to Eliza Gurney

    I am much indebted to the good Christian people of the country for their constant prayers and consolations; and to no one of them, more than to yourself.
    –September 4, 1864 Letter to Eliza Gurney

    All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man's welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.
    –September 7, 1864 Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible

    Lincoln may not fit neatly into modern understanding of Christianity, but he was not an atheist, and it is very difficult to call him a deist. He believe the civil war was a natural consequence of God's judgment for slavery.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Tom

      To say that Lincoln was an atheist is a stretch of the imagination. To say that he would approve of what the liberal media/governments have done to try and stifle Christianity is rediculous. Please do your homework folks. Your attempt to rewrite history is pathetic.

      April 13, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • A Mom

      Thanks, Doc. We would all do well to read Lincoln.

      April 13, 2011 at 1:13 am |
  5. bornold

    "This is my religion, to feed the hungry and care for the widow and fatherless," Jesus
    "to he who does for the least of these children, he does for me," Jesus
    "And all the commandments can be summed up in this one commandment: love thy neighbor as thyself," Jesus

    April 12, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Jesus

      Read the Infancy Gospels which were removed from your Bible after the First Council of Nicea in 320 AD. Jesus killed on a whim in those texts. If you looked at Jesus the wrong way or made a negative comment, he'd kill you. Psychotic Jesus has been cleansed over the last 2,000 years. Know your history!!!

      April 13, 2011 at 4:53 am |
    • jonathan

      hey Jezus person why don't you publish those infancy gospels....i suppose the Christians of the first three centuris conquered the Romans huh???...The New Testament as they are advocate no violence in them whatsoever??? yet we see that Christianity without the help those infancy gospels waged much war in the earth.... I hope you can graspe what I am trying to say...

      April 13, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  6. Ceri

    A lot of the atheists on here seem to be glossing over the quote near the end: "Subsequent to this he rose to the belief of a God, and this is all the change he ever underwent."

    April 12, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  7. Scotsmam

    It is debatable that Herndon was one of Lincoln's closest friends. Law partner, yes – friend, maybe. Mary refused him admittance to her home because of his 'drinking' and he came to greatly dislike her. He was the first source to mention Lincoln's early romance in New Salem. His statements are suspect. Lincoln certainly knew the Bible and quoted from it frequently to bolster speeches, statements and writings but I would certainly questions his statements in regard to this.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      @Scotsmam, we could also debate whether gravity is real, but it wouldn't change the reality. He was indeed one of Lincoln's closest friends. There's no need to question that fact simply because he writes something that conflicts with your impression of Lincoln. He actually knew the man. None of us did. The fact that Lincoln didn't attend church as an adult really does suggest that the man who knew him for 17 years knew him far better than we do. Lincoln was a great man. Not every great man has to be a Christian.

      May 10, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  8. Ron

    I am amazed and amused as it appears that some on this blog, Christian, I think, appear to be making claims that "their" religion is the author of morality. It never was nor will it ever be so.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Trisha

      This, this, this!

      The entire concept of human morality is much, much older than the Christian faith, and I have no idea why so many refuse to acknowledge it. The Jains had an idea of "right" and "wrong," tremendously similar to the pacifism perscribed in (some of) today's religions, around the 6th century BC. But I've been told several times that I must attribute the use of my moral compass, as it were, to the Christian faith.

      April 13, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  9. jonathan

    @M22 perhaps in the next life Mr. Lincoln will get to chance to judge you by your words.. you never know but I often hear , "what goes around comes around." 🙂 🙂 🙂 I been planting good seed and expect a great harvest of Tsunamic proportions 🙂

    April 12, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  10. Tom

    Hey Christian Adeline, try a bit of history it may help. If there is a consistently violent religion it's Christianity, or more accurately the things done in his name. Just ask the guy with pointy hat in Rome. Lincoln was a diest face it. So was Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams (although he did attend a Christian church) and many more of the founding generation. So your country's most prominent founders were NOT Christians no matter how many ways you may try to revise it. Enjoy your beliefs and let others do the same. THAT was the founders intentions.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • jonathan

      that's good idea Tom but we waz brought up to worship those guys.. 🙂 by the way I obey the first commandment and worship no other Gods but the own who recreated me in the image of Christ ...I need no idols; for Christ is real..He filled me with his spirit ...and I turned from every idol ...and i am at peace with every man except .....Hypocrites who have no faith in Christ but demand it in others who choose not to believe.. that in itself is a crime..or it ought to be... 🙂

      April 12, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • KeithTexas

      Abigail wrote to John that she would go to the church for a bit longer in order to fit into the community but the three people equals’ one god was the stupidest thing she had ever heard. She didn’t believe in the Trinity. Her question was “why do we need to fit in with these people?"

      They were Deist and believed in the one true God, the God of Abraham. Only problem is that Deist didn't believe the modern Christians were worshiping the right one.

      April 13, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  11. Adelina

    Bad, spoiled, ingrateful and backslidden kids who slander their good parents – that's what present secular Westerners are.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Which parents? The parents that had slaves and then Jim Crow laws? That oppressed women and abused workers? The parents that had the Inquisition. The parents are still trying to pass on the most bigoted and hate-filled beliefs to their children?
      Or do you mean the parents that gave us the Const.itution and a unified country and the removal of slavery and equality?
      If you look at the "Christian" beliefs of these two groups, you may be surprised to see which group represents "Christians".

      April 13, 2011 at 7:53 am |
    • M22

      mark: "Which parents? The parents that had slaves and then Jim Crow laws? That oppressed women and abused workers? The parents that had the Inquisition. The parents are still trying to pass on the most bigoted and hate-filled beliefs to their children?"

      Your lack of knowledge of history is astounding, really.

      Slave owners justified slavery based on the Bible, science, evolution and the "natural" inferiority of the Blacks. Abolitionists justified their opposition to slavery on the Bible, the innate equality of human beings, etc.

      Taking one side's religious beliefs without making reference to the other is the height of intellectual dishonesty.

      "Jim Crow"

      Ah, yes. And what about the Southern Christian Leadership Conference? Martin Luther King Jr.? The Black Churches in the South and the White churches in the North?

      April 13, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  12. BCISLEMAN

    It is my impression that most historians look at Herndon's writings about Lincoln with a great deal of caution. That being said, there is a consensus that Lincoln believed in God, that his faith deepened in 1862 with the death of his son Willie and the rising tide of casualties, but that he never accepted the traditional Christian belief in the Resurrection and eternal life.

    April 12, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      It's my impression that Lincoln's close friends knew him far better than "most historians." Lincoln was great man. Not every great man has to be a Christian, in the religious sense of the word. Christ taught a value system: "treat others as you would like to be treated." Lincoln certainly lived that way. Lincoln's greatness is neither increased or diminished by what ever his personal religious beliefs were. I

      May 10, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  13. Rick

    "When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad, that is my religion." – Abraham Lincoln

    April 12, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • M22

      rick: ""When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad, that is my religion." – Abraham Lincoln"

      Not a very good, or sound, system of moral philosophy, is it?

      If it feels good to r- ape, do it. If not, don't.

      If you can get away with lying, cheating, stealing, and your conscience permits, you might as well, eh?

      ancient: "I'd say it's pretty clear he was not a Christian. More than likely a Deist or even a closet Atheist like so many others back then. We owe him much praise."

      Alas, an atheist's feeble and fallacious argument from authority. And not very good authority, at that. Quoting a theist, saying he was probably a deist, and then concluding he was an atheist.

      What a brilliant grasp at a non-existent straw.

      April 12, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • Jake Jeckel

      M22 You act like Christianity stops people from killing, stealing, lying, etc... As an atheist (that keeps quiet because of all the prejudice I get from Christians from telling people I don't belive in god) I've noticed that Christians are the biggest hypocrites and think they can do whatever they want as long as they ask Jesus for forgiveness. I've even know a hitman that tries to preach about Jesus and thinks because their lawyer gets them off it's because of god. When his lawyer pays off the judge and DA.

      April 12, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • M22

      jake: "I've noticed that Christians are the biggest hypocrites and think they can do whatever they want as long as they ask Jesus for forgiveness. I've even know a hitman that tries to preach about Jesus and thinks because their lawyer gets them off it's because of god. When his lawyer pays off the judge and DA."

      How wonderfully non-responsive.

      Not only do you make a fallacious over generalization about Christians, you seem to think the hypocritical nature of one Christian, or even all of them, says something about the merits of Christianity itself.

      "You act like Christianity stops people from killing, stealing, lying, etc..."

      Not quite. What was said is that an atheist has no reason to be good, except if it's in his self-interest to be good.

      You can't be this dense, can you?

      April 13, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • fatheroffour

      Once again by reading these responses I am reminded that Christians need a book in order to be a decent human being. I am an Atheist and do not need a book to be a good person. If you need the Bible to live properly than fine, use it. But do not tell me that I am less of a human being than you are because I do not need a book to accomplish the same goal as you. By the way why do Christians want to get into politics.

      The first "beast" of Revelation 13 must be equally influential both spiritually and politically, for we know from Revelation 17:12-18 that ten nations will come under the geopolitical influence of this "beast" in order to attack the "harlot" .

      This Antichrist is likely a man who has achieved greatness during a lengthy spiritual-political career, being gradually vindicated by a succession of past, present and future supernatural prophetic signs, which will peak at the opportune time (see Revelation 13:13-15).

      If you read Revelations thoroughly it describes in detail how the Beast will be the best political power the world has ever seen. Since he will be the best liar of all time as well. I know if I where to hijack the world starting with America I would be a Republican and hijack the Christian right by lying to them and make them sinners without them even knowing.

      Not to mention that if you elect a highly religious individual to office who is looking forward to the end of time when he can see his lord and savior; than the chances of him helping out that cause is pretty darn good.

      April 13, 2011 at 2:15 am |
    • Jesus

      Lincoln sounds like Charlie Sheen!. Party on!!! Many of our Presidents were deists or atheists. Their writings prove it! Today in America, you can't get elected President unless you feign a belief in Jeebus and Gawd. I doubt that Jefferson who called followers of Christian dogma "fools" and who rewrote the Bible could ever be elected President today and yet, he was one of our greatest Presidents.

      April 13, 2011 at 4:47 am |
    • Trisha

      @M22: What I'm inferring from your responses here is that a) religious beliefs provide a "reason" for morailty, while b) atheism provides none, and c) the religious "reason" for morality is superior to the atheistic position that wanting to be a good person is an inherent thing. It seems, in my opinion, that you sidestepped a significant issue with your logic. Another poster pointed out that countries with a generally religious population have higher rates of crime, including murder, than countries with no significant religious ties. That being said, what purpose does the "reasoning" behind one's moral compass serve if the moral compass is not followed? You seem to be implying that those who affiliate themselves with a religious sect hold the moral superiority regardless of whether they practice the moral obligations afforded them by their religious leaders and holy books.

      April 13, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  14. Christian Adeline

    Liberal Americans could not disprove God's existence in the science field. Now they are pouring all their energy into elimination of anything Christian in the history. Don't they know such efforts make other nationals scorn the West and increase disrespect and hostility against America? Please be conquered by Chinese, Russians or aliens or whatever if the world continues. You asked for it.

    April 12, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • LEB

      It's not the responsibility for liberal Americans to disprove God doesn't exist. It's the responsibility of religious Americans to prove that he DOES. And guess what? The Bible isn't proof. If a book by itself is proof, then Harry Potter and Hogwarts school of magic also exists. Prove the nature of God, in what form he exists, the actual location of where he resides, and the total sum of his control and influence over the universe, and THEN you will convince non-believers. But you're too lazy to do that, exempting yourself from having to produce concrete physical and undeniable evidence of God because it's "a matter of faith"

      April 12, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • wzrd1

      I find your statement astonishing. First, science has found no evidence that God DOES exist. No evidence to the contrary, save the lack of evidence.
      Rather like the lack of evidence for the existence of the cosmic ether, which was finally disproven completely.

      THAT said, you THEN jump to a lack of faith being a promotion for invasion by Russia, China, space aliens or the screaming cult of loud mother in laws or something! So, I guess that Russia has been invaded, China has been invaded and a half dozen European nations have been invaded and indeed, even Turkey has been invaded by the invisible hoards that trouble the cobwebs of your mind!
      You display in your statements a striking inability to form a single rational thought, the inability that is astounding, to recognize fact and the unbelievable ability to comprehend the difference between experiential, observational and experimental based systems that ARE PROVEN TRUE, as your computer, lights, car, telephone and every other modern convenience is predicated upon that system and a religious system of faith.
      Indeed, so ingrained is your inability to ascertain the differences, you insist upon telling the almighty how long his day is!
      For, YOU insist on the absurd notion that the bible is a continuous measure of time when it admits in its own texts to skip generations and omits centuries at times. Any minister who says otherwise should be ignored and TRUE theologians be consulted for PROPER guidance!
      For indeed, time IS relative. In many, many ways.
      Idiocy, sadly, is a constant.

      April 12, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • jonathan

      I think you are confusing yourself with what others are thinking as if it is your responsibility...

      get your eyes off of liberals and on to Jesus... what's inside liberals might get into you if you continue to idolize them to much..
      But we see Jesus eternal in the heavens...if you keep your eyes on him you will prevail..but if your eyes are on other men.. you will fall no doubt.. are you ready for the great Tsunami ???? it shall surely wash away all walls of resistance.. 🙂

      April 12, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Candice

      Hi Adelide, I am a Democrat and practicing Catholic. Conservatism many times does not embody Christ's compassion. Like with Health care, and immigration for example. Jesus said that how we treat the lowest among us is how we treat him (paraphrased). Glen Beck and Sarah Palin and the like have hijacked Christianity to buttress their political agenda. Jesus was a middle-eastern Jew. He observed Passover and the sabbath and never even visited the US. Why does the GOP think they can brand him?

      April 13, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • Mr. Sniffles

      Come on, Frederica, I have told you many times before that there is absolutely no way to prove the nonexistence of something which does not exist, but you keep on bringing up a discredited tactic. Go ahead and prove to me that Thor does not exist. How about Amun? Aphrodite? Kali? Yup. You can't.

      So why don't you believe in Thor? Why don't you believe in Quetzlcoatl? Why don't you believe in any of the 4,199 known gods other than the Christian god? You don't, because they don't exist. We non-religious people, we only have one more god that we don't believe in.

      April 13, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  15. GL

    But the Tea Party would now point that Lincoln never produced a copy of his birth certificate and therefore was an illegal President, notwithstanding the fact that copy machines did not exist back then.

    April 12, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  16. Christian Adeline

    Theism alone is useless to make the world civilized; we are seeing it in how Muslims treat women and infidels. On the other hand, secularism is a pure hell as it is destroying human beings with toxic moral chaos. Mankind needs Christianity to live like a decent human being. Mankind needs the Bible, the Maker's Manual. All decent education system started in order to make people able to read the Bible and comprehend it properly. The West is in regression in everyway as it abandoned the Bible. Willful illiteracy and insanity is inevitably rampant.

    April 12, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • LEB

      I'm a secular humanist and have no toxic moral chaos whatsover. Christians didn't event notions that murder is bad, stealing is wrong, and charity is a good thing. These values existed LONG before the Judeo-Christian tradition because humans are by nature moral beings. Morals change from culture to culture, but our natural and inherent ability to form morality is essential for our species to live in functioning societies. And this is essential because humans do not thrive when they are completely alone. We thrive in complex societies, and matters of morality have actually been observed in many other social species, not just ours.

      April 12, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • jonathan

      That is a great exageration..or an ought right lie...There are at least 20 million Christians in America .. 🙂

      April 12, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • M22

      leb: "I'm a secular humanist and have no toxic moral chaos whatsover. Christians didn't event notions that murder is bad, stealing is wrong, and charity is a good thing. These values existed LONG before the Judeo-Christian tradition"

      Alas, another superficial argument from an intellectual lightweight.

      Secular humanism fails by its own terms because there is no "reason" for doing good in the absence of a god. Even if there were moral commands floating around the universe, their proscriptions are meaningless if you can get away with violating them.

      The argument isn't that atheists "cannot" be good, but that they have absolutely no reason to be. That is, no reason to be good unless being good fills them with a certain peace, happiness, joy or pleasure.

      I'm sorry you're too stupid to see that.

      April 12, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Thinker

      Factually incorrect. Confucianism alone – not to mention the educational systems of ancient Greece, Persia, etc etc – were clearly "decent" educational systems taht were _not_ started to teach people to read the Bible.

      April 12, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • Shannon

      @Christian Adeline - People like you make me sad.

      April 13, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • Darn that pesky truth stuff!

      @ M22, how do you support the statement "there is no "reason" for doing good in the absence of a god"? Study after study has found that religious developed countries have significantly higher rates of major crime than more secular ones. The more religious areas of the Untied States similarly have higher rates of major crime. Other studies show that the more non-religious people are, the less divorce they have. The more religious you are, the more likely you support torture, war, and capital punishment. Surveys of prison populations show that those who identify themselves as atheist or non-religious are far fewer than their percentage of the population as a whole, while Christians are significantly higher than their percent of the American population.

      So the problem is, not only is it possible for atheists to behave morally, but it is a proven fact that they behave more morally. Religion actually seems to be an impediment to morality.

      How is this possible? If people do not believe in a god, what is to stop them from behaving as horribly as they want? The answer is that there are a lot of very good reasons to be decent that have nothing to do with invisible friends. First of all, there are still police and prisons, but even so, there are positive reasons as well. If you behave badly, others around you will also, and humans do not like to live in fear and chaos. Humans for the most part do not naturally like to hurt one another, and actually have to be trained to be brutal, by armies or gangs or whatever. Many people will help because they want to be helped when their time comes. Yes, there are lousy people out there, behaving badly, but studies show they are more likely to be religious as not. And if you cheat, there possibility of revenge, legal or extralegal, becomes real.

      If you need more, there ae very good reasons to cooperate rather than steal. Cooperation produces ongoing prosperity, stealing prodices only a one-time windfall, and nobody is out for revenge if you cooperate. Game theory shows in different ways that cooperation is a highly beneficial strategy, whereas treachery is far less so than you imagine.

      You don't need God or relifion for morality. It exists anyway.

      Your visions of secular people are unreal, disconnected from reality, dehumanizing and villifying, total bullsh!t.

      April 13, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • justin

      M22, you are the one with the lightweight thinking. The problem with your argument is that there are many humanists who by any definition ARE "good". That they have "no reason to be" according to your thinking might be confusing to you, but the fact is they _can_ be good. You don't need a religion to be good, you just need to behave in a good way. Turns out, that isn't so hard. Most of the bigotry and hatred in the US today comes from those who claim to be the most religious... I judge people by their actions, not by which imaginary being they claim to be following.

      April 13, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • M22

      darn: "So the problem is, not only is it possible for atheists to behave morally, but it is a proven fact that they behave more morally. Religion actually seems to be an impediment to morality."

      My my. Not a deep thinker, are you?

      Read the argument over again. If you're not totally brain dead you'll eventually understand it.

      The argument isn't whether or not atheists "can" be good or moral. The question is whether they have a "reason" to be. If there is no god, there is no reason beyond their self interest. If they can get away with robbery, r- ape and murder, they may as well do it. The only thing stopping them is their conscience.

      "The answer is that there are a lot of very good reasons to be decent that have nothing to do with invisible friends. First of all, there are still police and prisons"

      Thank you for proving the rule. Morality, in the absence of a god, comes down to seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.

      Stalin was the world's most virtuous man on your view.

      April 13, 2011 at 12:22 am |
    • M22

      justin: "That they have "no reason to be" according to your thinking might be confusing to you, but the fact is they _can_ be good."

      You're conflating the "ability" to be good with the "reason" for being good.

      But don't worry, if you keep having dogmatic response you'll keep looking foolish.

      Thinking before typing is a virtue, my child.

      April 13, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • KeithTexas

      You just make this stuff up as you go along don't you?

      April 13, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • SANJOSEMIKE

      LEB said: "I'm a secular humanist and have no toxic moral chaos whatsover. Christians didn't event notions that murder is bad, stealing is wrong, and charity is a good thing. These values existed LONG before the Judeo-Christian tradition because humans are by nature moral beings. Morals change from culture to culture, but our natural and inherent ability to form morality is essential for our species to live in functioning societies. And this is essential because humans do not thrive when they are completely alone. We thrive in complex societies, and matters of morality have actually been observed in many other social species, not just ours."

      sanjosemike responds: Nice post. I wish I had written it.

      April 13, 2011 at 1:41 am |
    • fatheroffour

      Why is it that Christians think they own the rights to morality? Please take an honest look at the morals you are preaching. They are only common sense and if you can not acknowledge that than you do need the bible in order to be a good decent person. I do not want my belongings taken from me, therefore I will not take yours. I do not want my life to be taken, therefore I will not take yours. I do not want you sleeping with my wife, therefore I will not sleep with yours. It does not take a genius or religious zealot to understand the concept of common sense. But if you need a Bible to help you be a good person than all the power to you. I am just thankful that I am better than you. By the way trying to argue religion using the Bible to somebody that doesn't believe in it just shows your ignorance. You are using something that the person you are arguing with believes is rubbish and just a book. So declaring it the end all be all ends the argument, because having an intelligent conversation requires two arguments. Not one intelligent backed up by facts, and one based on fictional stories written so long ago that they are no longer relevant.

      April 13, 2011 at 1:57 am |
    • Darn that pesky truth stuff!

      Ah, but M22, your own contorted theory applies even more to you, too. Morality WITH Christianity comes down to seeking pleasure (heaven) and avoiding pain (hell).

      I notice you avoid the extensive evidence the religious people are more criminal and inhuman in their behavior, and instead hide behind amaturish hypothesizing. Supply evidence that religious people behave more morally. History and modern scientific studies prove the opposite.

      Your Stalin reference is bizarre and irrelevant; it only reveals the extremity of your delusion and nothing about anyone else. Despite your condescending comments on the intellects of others, it is your thinking that does not withstand even the slightest scrutiny without collapsing into the twisted gibberish of an unsound and uneducated mind.

      April 13, 2011 at 2:14 am |
    • MarkinFL

      M22 is the classic moral lightweight. He cannot even recognize that human civilization exists because we figured out a long time ago that we can get more by cooperating than by fighting. All very practical really. There will always be those that want to take the easy way out and steal from the others that work together. Thus societies have rules. Religion is simply a basic set of rules for the uneducated. For those that cannot see value of cooperation for the common good, we revert to the old pleasure/pain theory of most religions. Nothing like a threat to your immortal soul to keep you in line.
      Hell can only scare the ignorant. Reason is good enough for the rest of us.

      April 13, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • The Bobinator

      > On the other hand, secularism is a pure hell as it is destroying human beings with toxic moral chaos.

      Sweden seems fine to me.

      April 13, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • M22

      darn: "I notice you avoid the extensive evidence the religious people are more criminal and inhuman in their behavior, and instead hide behind amaturish hypothesizing. Supply evidence that religious people behave more morally. History and modern scientific studies prove the opposite."

      Fallacies, fallacies and more fallacies, eh?

      There are two problems with your argument:

      1) You take bare statistics, evidently, of prison "conversions" to prove that somehow Christians are "more criminal" than others.

      2) Whether or not religious people have or have not acted morally throughout history is irrelevant to the entire debate. Why? Because the issue is whether or not morality exists, and whether or not you have a reason to follow it.

      You can't escape the fact that if there is no god, you have absolutely no reason to do anything that doesn't benefit you yourself.

      "Your Stalin reference is bizarre and irrelevant; it only reveals the extremity of your delusion and nothing about anyone else. Despite your condescending comments on the intellects of others, it is your thinking that does not withstand even the slightest scrutiny without collapsing into the twisted gibberish of an unsound and uneducated mind."

      Not really. You argued that you "should" be "good" because you "might" be punished by the rest of society. Seemingly, then, Stalin was the world's most virtuous man because he murdered millions of people, lived in the lap of luxury, and suffered no real legal or social consequences by his autocratic rule.

      Try again.

      April 13, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • M22

      mark: "He cannot even recognize that human civilization exists because we figured out a long time ago that we can get more by cooperating than by fighting. All very practical really."

      It's interesting that you never answer the question, meet the argument or stick to the issue.

      The question is: why should any one person care about the good of society, when violating society's rules can benefit them tremendously?

      "For those that cannot see value of cooperation for the common good, we revert to the old pleasure/pain theory of most religions."

      You make reference to "value" without defining what it is, or who it holds value for.

      If the common good is against my own, personal, "good" then what reason do I have to seek it? Because it's the "right" thing to do? That assumes an objective morality, the violation of which should be avoided for some reason.

      "pleasure/pain"

      What other distinction can there be but pain and pleasure, especially in an atheist's universe?

      April 13, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • M22

      darn: "Despite your condescending comments on the intellects of others, it is your thinking that does not withstand even the slightest scrutiny without collapsing into the twisted gibberish of an unsound and uneducated mind."

      How so? You've yet to answer any of the arguments that show how and why your views either, 1) don't lead to any type of morality at all, or 2) don't show why anyone should pursue the "common good" over their own self-interested goals.

      For claiming my comments don't withstand scrutiny, you're awfully afraid to scrutinize them.

      April 13, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • ScottK

      @M22 – "The argument isn't that atheists "cannot" be good, but that they have absolutely no reason to be." That and all your other arguments so far are pure fiction. If you would study how human society evolved you can see every reason to be "good" without any God. Ancient civilizations crumbled and disintigrated if there was widespread "evil" such as murders, stealing, lying and cheating, wheeras those that banned such things survived and passed on "good" habits to their children so they would lead happier more productive lives, not because they feared some eternal torment.

      Your invented hell and heaven are "absolutly no reason" to do anything. Living a meaningful life being with those you love and enjoying every day is every reason to be "good".

      April 13, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • ScottK

      Correction...

      Your invented hell and heaven are great reasons to be good if you have no education and no social group or friends, just like telling a child to be good because Santa is watching them and they won't get presents if they are bad instead of teaching your child how to be a good person by setting the example and disciplining them when they error.

      April 13, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • M22

      scott: "If you would study how human society evolved you can see every reason to be "good" without any God. Ancient civilizations crumbled and disintigrated if there was widespread "evil" such as murders, stealing, lying and cheating, wheeras those that banned such things survived and passed on "good" habits to their children so they would lead happier more productive lives, not because they feared some eternal torment."

      You're right, but you're mistaking the issue.

      If this is the only life you have to live, why should you care about society, future generations or other people at all? If you can maximize your pleasure, increase your material wealth, and benefit yourself while avoiding undesired consequences, what reason do you have to be "good"?

      Unless, of course, being good brings you some satisfaction, or helps you avoid pain.

      "Your invented hell and heaven are "absolutly no reason" to do anything. Living a meaningful life being with those you love and enjoying every day is every reason to be "good"."

      Which still misses the point because it tries to draw a universal rule from your own subjective preferences. For the person who doesn't care for family, finds no pleasure in the company of others, is stingy and hard hearted, his personal preferences and interests dictate he should be as callous and mean as he can get away with.

      April 13, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • M22

      scott: "instead of teaching your child how to be a good person by setting the example and disciplining them when they error."

      You do see that you implicitly concede the point, right?

      That children have no reason to 1) be good, except 2) to avoid punishment.

      April 13, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • ED

      I agree with M22. Atheists cannot be "good" or "bad". There is no standard or yardstick to measure those words against if you're an atheist. Whatever good you perceive in yourself is influenced by theism, and probably Christianity. Also, I agree with M22's argument that atheists have no reason to be "good". Is there an afterlife, ultimate accountability for our actiions, rewards or punishment if you're an atheist? Obviously not...no if I were an atheist, I'd do everything this side of the law to help improve my life, with little regard for others. If I were an atheist, why would I send my hard earned money over to a Third World country to save the life of starving children...as an atheist, what difference does it really make if that child lives or dies? It has nothing to do with me and ultimately that child is going to die anyways so why prolong their miserable existence?

      April 13, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • ED

      I would even go as far as to say that atheists who do "good" (in quotes because atheists can't define the word without relying on a religion like Christianity to inject meaning into it) are doing it despite their atheism, not because of it.

      April 13, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Fred Furdinander

      I do a lot of hands-on charity work, donate a significant amount of money (anonymously) to various charities, have raised adopted children, gone a long way to help out friends in need with money and a place to stay while they get on their feet, and basically try to be kind to the people I run across every day. I am an atheist, so I expect no place in heaven or special blessings or treatment from God, Allah, Buddha, Thor, or Alvin the Lesser God of Singing Chipmunks. I have never been arrested, much less sentenced to anything, and never sued or been sued. My choice to behave decently is not motivated by any fear of police or prison, nor driven by any desire for status or praise (which really does not happen anyway). That is not a hypothetical situation, that is my life.

      According to M22 and Ed, there is no way that I as an atheist would choose to do that. According to them, I instead have been ra-ping and rob and murder. According to them, I cannot even come up with notions of good or bad without the religion I never had.

      There is no point talking to people like M22 or Ed; they are so blinded by their delusions and bigotries that they cannot see the truth, no matter how strongly you support any argument or how effectively you prove their fallacies to be wrong.

      April 13, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  17. Weep4America

    Whether or not Lincoln was a Christian or not is pretty much a moot point now. It affects nothing. It's a matter that was dealt with at the moment of his death and nothing can change the outcome of his decision, whether it was for, or against, Christ.

    April 12, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • jonathan

      Why weep there are at least 20 Christians in America....only 10 was needed to save Sodom... 🙂

      April 12, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • jonathan

      forgive me I mean't to say 20 million.. ":)

      April 12, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      jonathan
      Why weep there are at least 20 Christians in America....only 10 was needed to save Sodom.
      .------
      Sodom was not saved, there was not one was righteous there ! Lot left!
      p.s. there was no such thing as a Christian back then, Jesus had not yet come!

      April 12, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • jonathan

      Why strain on a knat Steve..( the real one)

      I said only 10 was needed..and to another person who obviously would understand that every Christian (in God's sight) is a righteous man..but then when christians strain on knats and swallow whole camels the world is absolutely in trouble 🙂

      April 13, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  18. Christian Adeline

    Mr. Lincoln was raised by a Christian mother who taught him how to read and write from the Bible texts. No matter what he said in his bad moments quoted out of contexts, the Bible had been enbedded into his philosophy and the Judeo-Christian values in doing what was right including liberating human slaves. There were many true Christians in his day who knew the treatment of slaves were wrong in God's sight and working against it. Do Americans still read "Uncle Tom's Cabin"? Systematic liberation of slaves never happened in non-Christendom. All pagans were either educated or forced to end slavery by the Bible-literate individuals or Christian systems.

    April 12, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • PDXMark

      It is not necessary to believe in any religion to believe that slavery, and more, is wrong.

      April 12, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • LEB

      Slavery mostly ended not because 19th century Americans suddenly all became humanitarian, but because slave laborers were slowly replaced with technology, which was cheaper and more reliable. Yes, there were many who believed that slavery was wrong which certainly helped the cause, but the main driving force between slaves being freed was that they were no longer needed. It's also important to note that many slaves continued working for their former masters even after they were freed. The promise of "forty acres and a mule" materialized for few.

      April 12, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • Ken

      Christian Adeline, your argument is a curious one. It was in fact many Christians who owned slaves and these same Christians used the Bible to justify their ownership. Is it your argument that only "true" Christians fought for abolition? If this were true, I am fairly confident that a number of "non-true" Christians of the day would have taken great exception to you classifying them as such.

      As to President Lincoln himself invoking Judeo-Christian ideas as the reasons behind his thinking, I would say that his own words merit the most consideration. That is to say, although you would like to believe that he held these sentiments, history does not seem to bear out your beliefs.

      April 12, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • jonathan

      would you please take the Judeo out of Christian.. I find that sickening..with all the other neo Christian terms...

      Jesus needs not creeds just people who love who he is..and are not ashamed...come on out in the open and acknowledge HIM ..

      April 12, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • Roger Wilco-out

      I have never read a quote from Lincoln extolling the virtues of religion, and I doubt they exist. Just because a person is raised by a Christian mother does not mean that person has the same beliefs. And many of Lincoln's quotes about religion didn't come from "his bad moments," but were well thought out and used measured wording, as though he put a lot of thought into what he was going to say about such a divisive issue.

      Putting your own beliefs into Lincoln's mouth as though they were his is a very poor manipulation of the historical evidence.

      April 12, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • Candice

      @Jonathan – you can take the "Judeo" out of Christian, but Jesus was a Middle-Eastern Jew, my friend – and we Christians share the 10 commandments (and the entire Old Testament) with our Jewish brethren. We are inextricably linked with the Chosen, not sure why that is so objectionable to you. Your anti-semitism is showing, and Jesus is probably not happy, as his Mother was also Jewish.

      April 12, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • SANJOSEMIKE

      jonathan said: "...would you please take the Judeo out of Christian.. I find that sickening..with all the other neo Christian terms...Jesus needs not creeds just people who love who he is..and are not ashamed...come on out in the open and acknowledge HIM ..

      sanjosemike responds: If a person named Jesus existed, there is every indication that he considered himself Jewish, and went to his death as a Jew. So...what on earth are you talking about?

      April 13, 2011 at 1:39 am |
    • Jesus

      Adeline, you are dead wrong. SLAVERY was touted as a Biblical right by Southern Senators in the 1850s. Just read Exodus 21 which sets forth rules on how to care for your slaves.

      April 13, 2011 at 4:41 am |
    • Trisha

      It baffles me that you consider a man like Abraham Lincoln, one of the most universally revered political figures in US history, to have had "bad moments," as you put it, or was "quoted out of context" whenever his perspective did not align with today's status quo. It's okay to respect someone's intelligence and accomplishments without trying to recruit a new teammate.

      April 13, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  19. Paul. Surly Liberal

    Does this mean Lincoln hated America?

    April 12, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Huh?

      April 12, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Jan

      According to all the Christians out there, it probably means exactly that. Disgusting, huh?

      April 12, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Jan
      According to all the Christians out there, it probably means exactly that. Disgusting, huh?
      -----–
      ALL the Christians? You surveyed ALL of us? You know ALL of us?

      April 12, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • LB

      Why do you hate America, Abe?

      April 12, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Paul. Surly Liberal

      Maybe this makes Lincoln a Muslim.

      April 13, 2011 at 2:03 am |
    • Alex Gessong

      @Paul, well put, sir! Your fellow surly liberals understand the jest! And so do those who know what being an American is all about. Lincoln knew. And because he knew, we all live in a better America than the America of the 1860's. Thank God for Lincoln and for liberals forever!

      May 10, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  20. AncientLie

    "The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession"
    - Abraham Lincoln,

    "It will not do to investigate the subject of religion too closely, as it is apt to lead to infidelity." – Abraham Lincoln

    "My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them." – Abraham Lincoln

    I'd say it's pretty clear he was not a Christian. More than likely a Deist or even a closet Atheist like so many others back then. We owe him much praise.

    April 12, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • Jan

      Thank you, AncientLie. To think that all the Blind Followers of the world now see an Abe Lincoln forever condemned to the fiery pits of hell... is just nauseating.

      April 12, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • wzrd1

      He WAS a learned man, he may have even spent time considering gnostic beliefs.

      April 12, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Explanation

      Could it be that Lincoln was referring to Slave owners justifying slavery because the slaves were being converted to christianity?

      April 12, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • Mike E.

      Abe may not have been Christian but he acted more Christ like than most modern Christians today. No doubt our greatest leader ever.

      April 12, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • A Mom

      @ Ancient Read his second inaugural address and key in some quotes from that speech, which, by the way, has been called his greatest speech.

      April 13, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • Alex Gessong

      @AncientLie, you're right: we owe him much praise. For holding the Union together. For ending slavery in America. For being an example that more politicians should emulate. He didn't call himself a Christian, but he lived the kind of life that Christ taught. He was far more Christ-like than the so-called "Christians" who spout hatred of their fellow Americans today. Thank God we had a President like Abe Lincoln!

      May 10, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.