Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thomas Jefferson vs. Abraham Lincoln on Christianity

"Thomas Jefferson was anti-Christian" is but one of the hair-brained ideas debunked by the great Clyde N. Wilson, who observes that "the same people who calumniate Jefferson have sanctified the village atheist Abe Lincoln, who once wrote a treatise ridiculing Christianity and who, according to his closest associates, was never a believer" — More Dubious Notions. More:
    Thomas Jefferson had a capacious, active, and questing mind, wrote prolifically, and lived through a more than usual number of years of more than usually full history. To understand his religious beliefs requires careful and extensive inquiry. Jefferson never scoffed at Christianity. He never denied its divine inspiration or its importance or that man is made in the image of God. He did want to remove the miracles from the Scriptures because he thought it made them less believable rather than more so. He did believe, quite reasonably, that, historically, religious dogma had sometimes assumed the guise of superstition that had stifled intelligence and that religious establishments had suppressed freedom more than was justified. His statement about the desirable wall of separation between church and state, though later hyped by haters of Christianity, was merely a standard American and Protestant position and emphatically did not advocate the banishment of faith from public life. When all is said and done, Jefferson’s belief, though not meeting strict definitions of Christianity (which disagree among themselves), differed little from that of many another Anglican gentleman then or later. Curiously, the same people who calumniate Jefferson have sanctified the village atheist Abe Lincoln, who once wrote a treatise ridiculing Christianity and who, according to his closest associates, was never a believer. The political context explains much about Jefferson’s thinking. He thought that Calvinism was responsible for the peculiarly malicious and domineering nature of Massachusetts and Connecticut, which had introduced a distorting element into the American polity. Calvinism, he wrote, was the mother of atheism because it presented God as unchristian, unloving, and unlovable.

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