On February 12, 1809, two great men were born, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. Each would shape the world, challenging accepted wisdom of the day and influencing generations to follow.
But what do they really have in common, other than a shared birthday 200-years ago? ..... Neither man was religious!
Charles Darwin came to reject religious dogma late in his life, after writing On The Origin of Species (1859). By the time his Descent of Man was published in 1871, he could say ....
"For my part, I would as soon be descended from a baboon as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies, treats his wives like slaves, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions."
Darwin's memoirs were published posthumously in 1887 with his controversial views on religion carefully excised. Only in 1958 did Darwin's granddaughter finally agree to publish the original omissions which include this excerpt:
"I can hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that those who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. This is a most damnable doctrine."
The same thing happened with Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth (link to full 55-pg novella of Satan trying to make sense of The Creator's Pet, Man). It was precluded from publication until some 50-years after his death due to his family's wishes to preserve The Great American Author's lofty perch in the minds of the somewhat less lofty American Public's Belief Structure. Letters from the Earth is usually paired with Twain's The Damned Human Race (link to a short but excellent excerpt) in which he noodles the idea that far from being the Highest Animal or Pinnacle of Creation, humans are in fact the Lowest Animal, and certainly undeserving of any special importance!
Abraham Lincoln was never religious, it seems. Oh sure, he liked to toss around references to "the Almighty" or "Divine Providence", but his closest friends all knew he was strongly rationalist and no fan of conventional religion.
Lincoln's first law partner, John Stuart, observed, "He went further against Christian beliefs and doctrines and principles than any man I ever heard; he shocked me." Colonel James Matheny, Lincoln's one-time political manager, said, "I knew he was an infidel. He attacked the Bible and the New Testament on their inherent contradictions. Sometimes Lincoln bordered on Atheism." David Davis, who rode with Lincoln on the court circuit and later became a Supreme Court Justice said, "He had no faith, in the Christian sense of the term."
Colonel Ward Lamon, author of Life of Abraham Lincoln in 1872, wrote: "Mr Lincoln was never a member of any church ... He showed no sign of that piety which his many biographers ascribe to him. When he went to church at all, he went to mock and came away to mimic ... He consorted with Freethinkers, joined with them in deriding the gospel ... and read Volney and Paine." A lifetime friend of Lincoln who was put in charge of Lincoln's funeral train, Colonel Lamon was a profoundly religious man himself who said he just wanted the historical record to be accurate.
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All of which makes me admire Lincoln all the more! Considering the rough times he presided over, he resisted the temptation to frame the Civil War as a mandate from God like many Abolitionists of his day were busily urging. Instead, Lincoln saw it as a moral issue, and his attitude showed that morality is not the sole provence of religion.
I credit Darwin with providing the theory a girl would stumble upon in her 14th year. Once she embraced evolution, everything else made sense, and she was thus given the power and inner strength to remove herself from the arms of the church.
That 14-yr old girl was me! However, the years since then have made me somewhat more tolerant. I now see that my way is not everyone's way. And so I respect other people's belief systems as long as they do not impinge on my or anyone else's rights or freedoms.
HAPPY 200th, CHUCK and ABE!
As for Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), I maintain a lifelong affair of the heart, separated only by time. Who could not love the man who wrote in 1902: "What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin."
Yes folks, I am in still in the throes of tax season woes!