I had a chance earlier this week to talk with Miller, a Kansas Citian who lives not far from me, about what he learned about Lincoln's approach to religion. And I thought his insights were worth sharing, especially because Lincoln often gets drafted into various faith communities by people who think he was a believer in this or that. See, for instance, various works by the late televangelist, D. James Kennedy, who spent a lot of time trying to prove that Lincoln was a traditional Christian or at least wound up one.
Here's part of my conversation with Richard:
Tammeus: As a child, would Lincoln have been considered part of a traditional Christian family?
Tammeus: At what point did he begin to move away from that and how did he finally end up?
Miller: I think it was in his teen-age years that he began to move away from orthodoxy. It had a lot to do with his self-education in astronomy, science, history, whatever. And what he was finding was inconsistent with what he was hearing from the preachers.
Tammeus: And what he was hearing from the preachers was a pretty literalist kind of view of what the Bible was saying?
Miller: Yeah. It was later called fundamentalism, though that term wasn't used then. For most of his adult life he was basically a deist, I think. He believed that there was a God who created the universe and then stepped back. . .He saw the universe as what was called the Great Clockwork. And for that reason everything was preordained; there was nothing he could do to change fate.
Tammeus: If that's his view, why bother to run for office?
Miller: There's a paradox there.
Tammeus: Yes, and how did you sort that paradox out?
Miller: Well, you couldn't know for sure what was ordained. So you had to do what you thought was right and necessary. The outcome of what you were trying to do was preordained but there was no way for you to know the outcome so you just did what seemed like the right thing. Once he got into the White House he moved back toward orthodoxy.
Tammeus: Well, he attended New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (in D.C.). But was he there because it was expected of him as president?
Miller: No. I think he sincerely felt that was the right thing to do. I don't think he was doing it for p.r. benefits or social pressure. His wife, Mary, as he was moving closer to orthodoxy, she was moving away from it into spiritualism and that kind of stuff.
Tammeus: It's really a stretch, though, to try to get Lincoln to fit into a traditionalist mode in terms of Christianity.
Miller: Oh, I think so. Certainly as far as any formal church membership goes. . .(But) Lincoln was moving in that direction.
Well, there's much more about Lincoln in Miller's highly readable books, including more about Lincoln's connection with religion. Even if you've read a dozen Lincoln biographies and think you know the great man, I think you'll find new insights in Miller's work.
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RELIGION'S ROLE IN BOSTON BOMBING
Were the Boston Marathon bombers motivated by religion? No, says the priest who wrote this piece. His argument: "The cause of such horrible events is not religion, but religion twisted into ideology, and by ideology I mean that particular form of human behavior which begins with self-righteous absolutism and ends in violence." I think he's right.
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