By John Blake, CNN
He called himself a “life-long Quaker and a church-going Christian,” and at first there was no reason to doubt him.
He played piano in the church, taught Sunday school, and praised Jesus at revivals. His mother thought he was going to be a missionary. His friends said he would be a preacher.
We now know this former Sunday school teacher as “Tricky Dick” or, more formally, President Richard Nixon. He was one of the most corrupt and paranoid men to occupy the Oval Office. Nixon gave us Watergate, but he also gave presidential historians like Darrin Grinder a question to ponder:
Does a president’s religious faith make any difference in how he governs?
“I don’t think so,” says Grinder, author of “The Presidents and Their Faith,” which examines the faith of all American presidents.
“If I asked George W. Bush what he thought about torture, I think outside the presidency he would say he hates it,” Grinder says. “But he’d do it for the country if he thinks it’s right in terms of American security.”
We elect a president every four years, but perhaps we also elect a high priest. Ever since George Washington spontaneously added “so help me God” to his inaugural oath, Americans have expected their presidents to believe in, worship and publicly invoke God.
A presidential candidate who doesn’t meet these religious expectations won’t go far, Grinder says.
“It’s going to be a long time before anyone who openly admits that he or she is an agnostic or an atheist is elected,” Grinder says. “We tie character and religious beliefs together.”
Piety and presidential greatness don’t always mix
History suggests, however, that piety and presidential performance don’t always match. Some of America’s most religious presidents have been its most brutal. And two of its greatest presidents wouldn’t even be considered Christians today, scholars say.
Consider Abraham Lincoln, who is widely acknowledged as one of the nation’s three greatest presidents, along with Washington and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But Lincoln, who never joined a church, was not a Christian, says Niels C. Nielsen, author of “God in the Obama Era.”
“Lincoln believed in an active God, he believed in providence. But if you asked Lincoln if he believed in the deity of Jesus, he would have said no,” Nielsen says.
Or look at Roosevelt, who is virtually a national saint. With his perpetual grin and a cigarette holder perched jauntily in his mouth, he guided the nation through the Great Depression and World War II. His legacy is built on his New Deal, an array of programs that protected the poor and elderly from the abuses of unrestrained capitalism.
But Roosevelt was no saint in his personal life. He rarely talked publicly about his Episcopalian faith, preferred golf over church (before he was stricken by polio), and likely cheated on his wife, scholars say.
Yet few presidents embodied the biblical concept of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” as much as Roosevelt, who once called the heartless business tycoons of his day “the money changers” in the temple.
Nielsen, the historian, suggests that it was Roosevelt’s suffering that drove him to look out for the most vulnerable, not his faith. According to his wife, Eleanor, polio taught her husband “infinite patience and never-ending persistence.”
“I think it made him more sensitive to the feelings of people,” Eleanor said, according to Nielsen.
Another contemporary president’s concern for others seemed to be driven more by his exposure to suffering than his faith.
Lyndon Johnson plunged America deeper into Vietnam. Yet his “Great Society” programs displayed a concern for “the least of these” in America. Under Johnson, the government launched programs to protect the civil rights of minorities, improve the educational chances of needy children and protect the environment.
Johnson saw poverty as a sin, something that should be attacked and defeated.
But Johnson never seemed to have any problem with a little personal sin. He grew up in Texas, where he affiliated with Disciples of Christ and Baptist churches. But he is widely believed to have stolen one of his earliest elections. He was a womanizer, historians say, and his speech was filled with such vulgarity that reporters had a difficult time quoting him on the record.
“He didn’t have any morality,” says Nielsen.
But he did have the experience of teaching in a poor, rural, immigrant school in Texas, Grinder says, where Johnson once said he learned “what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.”
One of Johnson’s domestic advisers says in Grinder’s book that Johnson’s commitment to racial justice and eliminating poverty came from his teaching days in Texas.
“Equal opportunity became for him a constitutional obligation, and he pursued it with messianic conviction,” said Joseph Califano Jr.
Our first ‘infidel’ president
Some American presidents didn’t just seem indifferent to religion. They were accused of being hostile to organized religion and dismissive of Jesus.
Washington, the nation’s first president, was not a Christian but most likely a Deist, someone who believed in a divine, beneficent being who ordered the world. Clergy would often try to goad him into publicly stating that he was a Christian, but he refused to do so, Grinder says.
Thomas Jefferson, though, aroused the hostility of more religious leaders than any other president, except perhaps for President Obama.
The nation’s third president once said that he didn’t care if his neighbor worshiped one God or 20, and argued for the separation of church and state. His opponents called him a pagan and an infidel. New England farm wives buried their family Bibles in gardens because they heard Jefferson would confiscate them, Grinder says.
Grinder wrote that one pastor who campaigned against Jefferson’s election warned:
“If Jefferson is elected, the Bible will be burned, the French Marseillaise will be sung in Christian churches, and we may see our wives and daughters become the victims of legal prostitution.”
Most presidents, however, didn't speak out against organized religion like Jefferson. Some took on the high priest role of the office, and few did it as eagerly as our nation’s seventh president, Andrew Jackson.
Jackson was a devout Presbyterian who read three to five chapters of the Bible daily, built a chapel in his Tennessee home and publicly attended two Washington churches while in the White House. He is known as one of the most devout presidents.
Yet he was also known for his violent temper (he killed a man in a duel) and for being a rich slaveholder. Jackson’s claim to infamy, though, comes primarily from his treatment of Native Americans. Some historians describe it as genocidal. He slaughtered Seminole Indians and their families in Florida, and he is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Cherokees, who he forced from their homeland in Georgia.
How could Jackson reconcile his fervent religious beliefs with the mass killings of Native Americans? Grinder thinks he knows:
“He was brutal because he did not believe the persons he was being brutal to were human.”
Obama and his faith
Anyone who doubts that a president’s faith remains important to the American people has only to look at the experiences of Obama.
Obama has declared his Christianity in his biography, and in many speeches. He evoked it recently when he came out in support of same-sex marriages. But arguably no president has had his faith so aggressively questioned. Many Americans still believe he is a Muslim.
Stephen Mansfield, author of “The Faith of Barack Obama,” is a political conservative who has written about the evangelical faith of President George W. Bush. He became curious about Obama and spent time talking to Obama’s spiritual cabinet, a collection of ministers who counsel Obama.
Mansfield says he has no doubt that Obama is a devout Christian. His belief has angered some fellow conservatives so much that he says he has had speeches canceled and received angry e-mails.
“I take him seriously as a Christian,” Mansfield says. “He’s a politically liberal Christian man who is making a deeper journey of faith all the time.”
Mansfield says Obama’s health care law is an expression of faith: his belief that Christians are obligated to look out for the most vulnerable.
“Barack Obama believes that the mechanism of the state ought to be used in service of the biblical idea of saving the needy and the poor and the oppressed,” says Mansfield.
For some, though, Obama’s faith will always be associated with the angry sermons of Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor. Yet Mansfield says Obama has embraced a more traditional form of Christianity since becoming president.
In his book, Mansfield tells a story about Obama ministering to a pastor who had experienced a death in the family. Mansfield says he was stunned that Obama could draw so easily from a deep well of scripture to minister to a minister.
“He is serious about his faith,” says Mansfield, also author of “The Mormonizing of America.” “He’s absolutely not a Muslim.”
Nielsen, author of “God in the Obama Era,” has a theory why some Americans believe Obama is a Muslim.
“They hate him so much,” Nielsen says. “He’s polarized the country.”
Nielsen says Obama’s unconventional religious background may arouse suspicion, but it’s an asset. Obama was raised in Hawaii and Indonesia, where he was exposed to Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism and other religions. When he lived in Chicago, his Christianity was shaped by the black church’s emphasis on social justice.
“He knows more about world religions than anybody that’s been in the White House,” Nielsen says.
The persistent scrutiny of Obama’s faith, though, has helped his presidential opponent more than the president, says Grinder, author of “The Presidents and Their Faith.”
“If [Mitt] Romney had almost any other opponent than Obama, I think we’d be hearing a lot more about Mormonism,” Grinder says. “He would be in the same place that Obama has been in the last five years.”
Once Obama leaves the Oval Office, don’t expect the religious scrutiny of presidents to fade, Grinder says. We still want our presidents to act like a politician and a priest.
“The religious rhetoric gets louder each year,” he says. “That’s not going to change anytime soon.”
All a joke! Saw a report one time that stated a certain percentage of americans were atheists, but ALL members of congress said they were not! Hard to imagine, huh? And this bunch expects us to believe them when their lips move!
We're up to 15% of the US population, mostly aged 35 and younger. Times, they are changing.
THR, Be careful. As should these Presidential "scholars". Many in the US are not athiests but agnostics. But most in the US are Christians. The first step is not to abondon God from our politics but to keep it in perspective as to not dictate or influence our political practices. Our first step is not to abondon God but to allow other religions like Muslims (who believe in God) to enter politics as long as they respect and support ALL who practice whatever belief they wish. The belief in God is very, very important for 90% of our population (and the world) and such will be expected of our leaders.(since it is us who elect them). Be careful.
Don't "abondon" your spell-checker, KEVIN. Be careful.
David, until you get close to death. Then you will change your beliefs quite quickly
The Taught Police, you have lived up to your name. I got a new computer and I can't find the spell check. Could you help me find it (seriously) It's a Dell computer. Thanks
It definitely matters to me if my president believes in fairytales. At least a few are smart enough to pretend, like Obama. His atheist newsletters in college betray his true intellect, but he clearly sees the value in assuaging the gullible.
He needs to get their votes to be re-elected. He's no fool.
So you admit he is a lying decieving sack of crap.
Yup. A white lie is acceptable.
How about when your wife tells you white lies at night about who she was with is that acceptable?
A lie is a lie.
White lies are minor lies which could be considered to be harmless, or even beneficial, in the long term. White lies are also considered to be used for greater good. A common version of a white lie is to tell only part of the truth, therefore not be suspected of lying, yet also conceal something else, in order to avoid awkward questions.
So its ok if judges lie and elected officials--as long as they are democrats and get what they want?
I find it ironic you consider white anything to be of any value.
I think maybe we need to hold elected officials to higher standards. If you or I tell a white lie in court. Guess what? We go to prison or jail.
Christianity is all about lying. Think about it. The whole premise of Christianity that the death of the son of god would have been any kind of "sacrifice" and was required to deal with "sin" is utter nonsense. You are lying to yourself if you believe it. This is a supposed omnipotent being that we are discussing. Christians, think this through a bit: how come your 'omnipotent' creature couldn't do all that supposed saving without the loony son sacrifice bit?
And for that matter, how was it a sacrifice at all, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time it wants with less than a snap of its fingers? Pretty feeble god it is that you've made for yourself there. Give that some thought and maybe it will help you leave your delusions behind. You will remain a laughingstock otherwise, and the more you dwell in your silly delusion and ancient myths, instead of keeping up with advances in medicine and technology, the more America slips downward relative to the rest of the world in science and other fields.
Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
Here is the human facts about making the right decisions. A majority of decisions made today by ALL humans are not the correct ones made. Why, because changed events, changed situations, ungather facts, unknown facts are all come into play in making a decision. As far as belief is concerned you need all the help you can get when a situation is there and you MUST make the call. No, I am not a religious person, but it certainly doesn't hurt to simply ask for some guidance to your gut. As Truman said, the buck stopped here at the top." If you are the one at the top, its s lonely job and there is lots of pressure. Belief and asking for gudiance can give one calmness in the center of the fire and yes it may make all the difference in what you do and how you do it. There is tremendous WISDOM in the Bible , especially in Psalms. Finally DO NOT flaunt your beliefs or talks with the ALMIGHTY, it should be a very personal matter, it's nobodys business, especially the media!
John Kaufman, that's rubbish. Belief in a tooth fairy doesn't enhance your ability to make the right decisions. It's just childish and wimpy. And regarding the bible, it's a pretty poor book to look to for guidance on government, unless you want a horridly violent and vicious world. Let's look at some of the actions that Christian god demands, according to the bible:
17 Now kiII all the boys. And kiII every woman who has slept with a man,
18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
Deuteronomy 13:6 – “If your brother, your mother’s son or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul entice you secretly, saying, let us go and serve other gods … you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death”
Revelations 2:23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
Note that the bible is also very clear that you should sacrifice and burn an animal today because the smell makes sicko Christian sky fairy happy. No, you don't get to use the parts for food. You burn them, a complete waste of the poor animal.
Yes, the bible really says that, everyone. Yes, it's in Leviticus, look it up. Yes, Jesus purportedly said that the OT commands still apply. No exceptions. But even if you think the OT was god's mistaken first go around, you have to ask why a perfect, loving enti-ty would ever put such horrid instructions in there. If you think rationally at all, that is.
And then, if you disagree with my interpretation, ask yourself how it is that your "god" couldn't come up with a better way to communicate than a book that is so readily subject to so many interpretations and to being taken "out of context", and has so many mistakes in it. Pretty pathetic god that you've made for yourself.
So get out your sacrificial knife or your nasty sky creature will torture you eternally. Or just take a closer look at your foolish supersti-tions, understand that they are just silly, and toss them into the dustbin with all the rest of the gods that man has created.
Obama didnt run on a religious platform and wont need one now.
Liberalism, atheism, male s e x ua l exclusivity is linked to IQ.
We need an atheist president with intelligence!
How does not acknowledging the universe may have a creator make you more intelligent?
It actually works the other way around.
You certainly dont know if there is a God or not- therefore to deny his possible existence makes you sort of ignorant.
The whole problem with any kind of "ism" is that it makes a person very closed minded.
Although this is true, remember that correlation does not imply causation.
We actually can deny the existence of specific gods, such as the Christian one, because, such as is the case with so many of the gods that man has created, the Christian one has inconsistent and self-contradictory characteristics. And that's a good thing that Christian god doesn't exist. He's apparently be quite the vicious jerk, according to what the bible says about him.
What does any of this reasoning have to do with the fact that the president should remain humble? As for Roosevelt, I am not as impressed with him as his fellow democrats. He had a penchant for the occult secretly so it wasn't so much that he was "more sensitive."
That a person of faith is clueless about the plights of others is a gross prejudice. Anyone of faith who has gotten there because of personal suffering can tell you this. Our country isn't just becoming agnostic, it is becoming overtly anti-Christian. Subtle little clues in our media: scientists find that Christians don't think as well, aren't as open minded, and they always think the exact same thoughts.
Nancy Regan had seances in the white house.
Ronald was a christian.
Who are we to be declaring whether or not someone is a Christian? Based on a Biblical definition it would not be easy for anyone to know, especially a non-Christian. We cannot know what is in a person's heart (mind). When a politician states that they are a Christian we should take it with a grain of salt. They may think that they are but not actually be, or they may be carrying on a deception for the sake of political gain.
Religion and God are not the same thing.
God is very separate from religious rituals and man made traditions.
GOD EXISTS and HE IS THE JUDGE OF ALL HUMANITY whether you like it or not. He has given us one chance to go back to Him or spend eternal life in hell for having rebelled against Him. You didnt rebel? Just take a look at the comments on here everywhere on media, the crazy youth knowing no history and nothing other than hunger pains dish out the worst atrocities against God and believe they are invincible. god does love that is why all of those God haters are alive today to mock Him and do evil to others, but we only have ONE LIFE TO LIVE and then judgement. I hope you get on the right and narrow road that leads to a heavenly reward: eternal life with God. But if you deny Him in this life, HE WILL DENY YOU IN THE NEXT ONE. And it is all written...no fairy tales... fairy tales...are the religious of bones (catholic)...evil fairy tales (Islam) and unbleivable puppet fairy tales...the Eastern religions. RELIGION IS FALSE...ALL OF THEM...JESUS ALSO DEMONSTRATED IT FULLY.
Loving God and havinga relatioship with Christ is a different story and that is needed but very far from the mind of most because most people have been brainwashed by the world powers into believing we are here on our own. WE are not. Satan is with most of you, all of you who deny God.
I'm an educated adult. Your imaginary friend does not impress me.
Sarcasm! One can only hope or the danger of what fanatical believe can do to a mind, scary.
How utterly stupid. I boggles my mind how supposedly intelligent adults blindly accept ancient mythology and ignorant superst!tious nonsense as reality. Sorry, it's just really stupid.
god is a fairy tale. and to toss you a bone, if he were real, he is the biggest tyrant and the source of the majority of all the evil things humanity has done.
You are one preachy little beotch.
Is that the Hand of Jeremiah Wright? The Racist Pastor that Obama worships? I guess it doesnt matter lol suckrz
Joe the Plumber, nice try vice president Biden. It's too obvious. But your still cool with me.
Are these the same scholars that brought us the Global Warming scam? Or maybe it was the Coming Ice Age scam? Perhaps it was the same scholars who suggested if we lower academic standards it will help minorities progress? Somebody should fire these scholars. They are clueless.
You're kind of a tool.
I have no faith in our President and he has no faith in us.
He has faith in destroying our country.
What you talking about????? Forcing the CNN liberal media agenda without even considering the truth. CNN is a non relevant media source and a puppet of the liberal agenda to stuff abortion, "it is OK to be gay", our nation's beliefs mean nothing, we should not question who Obama is – where he came from. - you guys make me sick!
Nope, you are sick all by yourself.
Rednecks always prefer to get their bagging and birthing done by Friday. That leaves the weekend free to go to Walmart to shop for guns, knives and ammo. Or they may use that time to boink their cousins instead.
The sad thing is the way people are taken in by the scores of evil politicians feining to be Christians for votes. People like Boehner, Cantor or G. W. Bush love to talk about God and Christ to get votes, but their *actions* betray a cynical greed of the most un-Christian kind. When a leader tells you that we must not help the poor so the rich can be protected, well, then, that person is NO CHRISTIAN.
Agree with you. The conservative and Christian point of view without compassion is evil. However non tolit usum. <-sp? The abuse doesn't abolish the use. I apply my compassion to my belief that the nation is better off more conservative. Unfortunately, conservatives don't get things done until something disastrous happens. Then, they get off the back halves and start acting.
"No true Scotsman" eh?
I don't care if the President is religious or not. So long as he or she is not an extremist.
I can't even spell my own name.
Oh... and to those uneducated who claim the US is a christian nation... you obviously have never read the Treaty of Tripoli (which was ratified by 2 sessions of congress and signed by a sitting president). It clearly states that the US is not nor ever has been a christian nation.
Yeah, okay. Let's see an atheist run and see how far he or she gets in the Bible Belt and elsewhere...
The country is filled with bigots. Nobody would ever have the courage to admit they'd never vote for a Jew, but it's totally ok to say they'd never vote for an Atheist.
Welcome to prejudice.
Doesn't say much about the bible belt does it...
A president who professes no faith would be a welcome change but not likely in a country that is off the charts in religious fundamentalism. Those thatwould b0m6 abortion clinics and butcher doctors point their bloody fingers at Islamic fundamentalism.
I'm not going to suggest that Trick Dick wasn't corrupt but compare Watergate to Fast and Furious alone and we'll see the nation's morals have been devolving. No party or Prez is exempt. As for a Prez and Christianity I wonder how many of them have been legit Christians anyway? It's another charade we go through. . .they claim they're Christians and we pretend to believe them. If anyone thinks this latest guy is a legit Christian they've suspended their disbelief more than the average person who thinks pro rasslin' is real.
Big difference between Wgate and F&F. You know that. Tricky Dick was trying to destroy political opposition and cover up his attempt to assa55inate Castro to enable him to win the election. F&F was a mission to determine the path of illegal weaponry. An agent got killed.....a tragedy but not of the severity of thousands of soldiers butchered so Haliburton could make bank.
Considering that Obama's "autobiography" has been proved, by an Obama supporter, to be a whole bunch of lies, citing that "source" as proof of his Christianity isn't worth much. I'd rather take his own words. During an interview with George Stephanopoulos, he was asked if McCain had ever attacked him for his faith. Obama responded: "No, he has never attacked me for my Muslim faith." Fact. Heard it myself. And, when the interviewer went: "Your MUSLIM faith?!" Obama stammered and said,"Uh...oh...no. NO. My...my Christian faith. Yes. My Christian faith." And, Jackson did NOT kill anyone in a DUEL As a teen-ager, he killed a British officer, who had barged into his home (a log cabin), threatened him and his mother, and struck Jackson with a sword, giving him a deep wound on his face which he carried for the rest of his life. Jackson wrestled with the officer, grabbed the sword and killed the officer...before the man could kill him. He had to flee his home. Some "duel." If you can't get your facts straight, you just need to stop writing.
Fact? Heard it yourself? Oh, so you're just a liar:
Considering that Obama's "autobiography" has been proved, by an Obama supporter, to be a whole bunch of lies,
An Obama hater saying that he is a supporter so he can call him a liar like you ?
I expect that a President's faith would not matter at all. To get to the point to even be elected, the candidate has had to make too many questionable deals and stated too many falsehoods for that person to be "true" to his faith–whatever it is.
And of course, any candidate wanting to be elected in the US would need to declare himself as some sort of christian by default. The article correctly points out that the citizenry would NOT vote for a nonbeliever. Duh. It's just another lie on top of the thousands the candidate has already told.
"The president’s faith?" He's Probably muslim.
You guys will be surprised when he comes out from the closet.
"Probably" followed by "will be?" LOL!
It really doesn't matter what we believe here in the US. The fact that his father and step-father were of the muslim faith is enough to make the muslim world believe that our president is indeed muslim. That's 1.6 billion people and counting...
Muslim coming out of the closet ?
You get your metaphores mixed up ?
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.