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Why a president’s faith may not matter
We’re accustomed to presidential displays of piety but historians say a president’s faith is no sure guide to how he will govern.
June 30th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Why a president’s faith may not matter

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.”

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Books • Christianity • Church • Church and state • Culture wars • Evangelical • History • Poverty • Uncategorized

soundoff (2,727 Responses)
  1. seenenough

    Well then let's see how this plays out with all the Mormon haters.......CNN did Mitt a big favor!

    And this little Quote: "But Johnson never seemed to have any problem with a little personal sin." That pretty much describes ALL OF US!

    July 1, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  2. GAW

    Robert Tilton for President. That would be interesting.

    July 1, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  3. Dan

    One interesting implication of this article is that non-Christians are just as likely as Christians to behave like Christians should

    July 1, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      This is true, as is the converese....some of the worst human beings I know parade themselves to church every Sunday...because it's good for their business for them to be seen there.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • John the guy not the baptist

      Not so long ago when the military were making up dog tags for you, if you stated you had no religion they put you down as a protestant. Wonder if they allow their people to be atheists now?

      July 1, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  4. zoyster1

    Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son: You are a world-class mor0n. You just got Pwnd.

    New tax on individuals who do not purchase government-approved
    health insurance. $17 Billion

    New tax on employers who fail to fully comply with government health
    insurance mandates. $52 Billion

    New 40% excise tax on certain high-cost health plans. $32 Billion

    New ban on the purchase of over-the-counter drugs using funds from
    FSAs, HSAs and HRAs. $5 Billion

    Increase the Medicare tax on wages and self-employment income by
    0.9% and impose a new 3.8% surtax on certain investment income (for
    individuals over $200,000 and couples over $250,000). $210.2 Billion

    Increase, from 7.5% to 10% of income, the threshold after which
    individuals can deduct out of pocket medical expenses. $15.2 Billion

    Impose a new $2,500 annual cap on FSA contributions. $13 Billion

    New annual tax on health insurance $60.1Billion

    New annual tax on brand name pharmaceuticals. $27 Billion

    New 2.3% excise tax on certain medical devices. $20 Billion

    New 10% tax on indoor UV tanning services. $2.7 Billion

    New tax on insured and self-insured health plans. $2.6 Billion

    Double the penalty for non-qualified HSA distributions. $1.4 Billion

    Eliminate the deduction for expenses allocable to Medicare Part D
    Subsidy. $4.5 Billion

    Limit the deduction for compensation to officers, employees and
    directors of certain health insurance providers $0.6 Billion

    July 1, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And your source for these figures, honey?

      July 1, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Ancient Curse

      Exactly. Cite your sources. For instance, if I were to say that the ACA will save the economy a trillion dollars in its second decade, I can point to a CBO report which states that very thing.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      While you're at it, zoy, tell us all how much it will cost YOU, just little old you.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Bible just a theory

      Hey Tom, the reason why we need such a ridiculously complicated law is because of PEOPLE LIKE YOU who oppose the completely simple and easy tax-supported single-payer system they have in Canada. And don't tell me any HATE-RADIO LIES about Canadians dying like flies because they can't get treatments and procedures, because CANADIANS LIVE 2 YEARS LONGER THAN AMERICANS. So there!

      July 1, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What in the fvck are you on about, Theory? I don't oppose a single-payer system at all-I had hoped that was what we'd get. I think you are confused.

      July 1, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Funny that zoy hasn't come up with an answer yet.

      July 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      It looks so nice all typed up but for one problem.
      Its all BULL.

      July 1, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  5. Manto

    I always laugh at the f?#ls who think the universe came out of nothing. They need to take time and think about the vastness and the mechanics of the universe. There is no way planets rotating on their axes and revolving around the sun could be attributed to some chance phenomenon, big bang whatever. This is the work of a supernatural being whom you fail to acknowlege just because of your failures in life. This is not hard to understand but I dont know why too many people dont get it.

    July 1, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Dan

      Plenty of more intelligent and more knowledgeable people disagree with you

      July 1, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      God is a cop out for fools and lazy people.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      First of all, who is claiming that the universe 'came out of nothing', you dolt? Your contention that some invisible being 'created' one planet that is here purely for us is equally ludicrous.

      Just because we don't yet know, and may never know, how the universe began, does not mean that "goddidit'.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Ancient Curse

      I think you mean "axis," not "axes." Your argument would hold more water if you could exhibit a basic understanding of grammar.

      And by the way, only the faithful believe that atheist believe that the universe came from nothing. There are several interesting theories about the origins of the Big Bang - thankfully, "a bearded man snapped his fingers" isn't one of them.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No, it's "axes", the plural of "axis".

      July 1, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Ancient Curse

      My apologies Manto - you are correct regarding "axis/axes". I re-read your post and see that you're properly using the plural form. My mistake.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Manto

      Which intelligent and knowledgeable people??? What explanation do they offer??? All they try to do is explain, wrongly, how the universe came into existence, but can they create anything??? They just wanna make money by telling people what they want to hear. Even the most intelligent and knowledgeable human being cannot explain undoubtedly the origins of the universe, let alone solve myriad problems we have on earth. Those people should not fool you.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Manto, you're a believer. Bully for you. You can't 'create' anything, either, so what does your rant prove?

      Why do you think that not knowing must mean a god did it? Doesn't it dawn of folks like you that at one point in man's existence people believed that disease was caused by certain "humors" in the blood? That the earth was flat? Just because systems are complex or because we don't know how something occurred does not mean that a supernatural fairy waved a wand and it was all here.

      Just a note for you: using multiple question marks does nothing to make you look smart.

      July 1, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And do explain how anyone "makes money" by trying to find out more about the origins of the universe, exactly?

      July 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Manto

      Tom Tom, you are missing the point. I am not talking about earthly issues here, I'm talking about the universe. Blood diseases and earth being flat, those were issues earthlings had to figure out using their 'Intelligence and knowledge'. My point is the universe was created by a supernatural being and NOBODY will discover anything to the contrary because the truth is already known. Everything else is chasing after the wind. Don't you know people are making money through bing bang theories e.t.c??? Charles Darwin made money through On the Origin of Species, though different in form, they are similar in nature in that they both nullify creation by a supernatural being.
      BTW am not trying to be smart, this is so simple and does not need racking of your brains to get it. Anyway, you'll understand in due time. I rest my case for now.

      July 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Manto

      "Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short."

      July 1, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      OK, you're a delusional moron, Manto.

      There is absolutely no evidence that any supernatural being created anything. Furthermore, people 200 years ago were just as certain as you are that all knowledge and discovery had been accomplished.

      I doubt you graduated from high school; you're too ignorant to have a diploma you didn't order from a catalogue.

      July 1, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      But that supernatural being was just....always here huh ?
      Riot.

      July 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  6. Bible just a theory

    How come all you CHRISTIANS keep praying for "PEACE ON EARTH" and we never get it?! WHY? 1) God loves war and likes to watch his beloved creatures duke it out in their ridiculous disputes. 2) God allows his people to do whatever they damn well please in order to preserve "free will". 3) There is no God, so humans have to direct and settle their own f*ked up affairs!

    July 1, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      3 is a bit of a non sequitur.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Oh wait. I get it.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • One one

      God lets bad people kill at will.
      The devoted say it’s because of “free will”.
      Then why do they pray, and pray, and pray?
      For god to help them, day after day?
      They pray to god to improve their fate
      Their own free will they ask god to negate
      “Free will” for us all…, from the god of peace!
      Who sends us to hell for a wrong belief.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  7. Skeptical Christian

    I will be an atheist the day they expalin to me how life arose from dirt....good luck with that one.

    July 1, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Doesn't the Bible say that God made Adam from dust?

      July 1, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • achepotlex

      Atheism's loss, I say.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      You're confusing atheism with Islam there.

      I'll become a Christian the day I receive permanent brain damage.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Colin

      Oh, not this tired cr.ap again. Look, when will you Christians get it. No scientist thinks we magically appeared from dirt. I have never read such a thing in any science book ever.

      Ironically, the only book I am aware of that makes the ridiculous assertion that life popped out of dirt is the Bible.

      The theory most scientists currently favor for the origins of life is called “abiogenesis.” But, to understand why it is not inconceivable that life arose from non-living matter, one has to understand some basic biochemistry. This is where you “talking snake crowd” have such a problem. You have to actually understand some very basic science.

      All life is comprised of complex arrangements of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, all orchestrated by DNA and/or RNA. DNA/RNA and proteins are by far the most important components of a living organism, carrying out virtually every function in a cell. Fats and carbohydrates are generally simpler molecules and play critical, but subordinate roles in cells.

      DNA and RNA are made of five nucleotides – adenine, thymine, cytosine, guanine and uracil. They act as the cell’s “mission control”, orchestrating the cell’s activities. Proteins are made of 20 amino acids. They are the workhorse of the cell – the nails, wood, steel beams and machinery that make the cell run. It is the order of amino acids in a protein that determine its shape and, therefore what it does. This order and shape is itself dictated by the DNA through RNA.

      So, in short, life is made up of complex arrangements of:

      The five nucleotides – adenine, thymine, cytosine, guanine and uracil – arranged into DNA and/or RNA
      The twenty amino acids – that form all proteins, including enzymes and the other 100,000 or so proteins in a complex organism’s body.
      Carbohydrates – literally “water-carbon,” which include sugars and starches. These are much simpler elements than proteins or DNA/RNA and act as an energy source.
      Fats – also called lipids, these are important in constructing cell membranes.

      The simplest cells are prokaryotic cells. They exist today principally as bacteria. Stromatolites and other fossils from all over the planet suggest that, for the first billion years of life on earth, all life was simple, prokaryotic life. These cells consisted of a fatty cell membrane, like a balloon skin, with DNA/RNA, proteins, fats and carbohydrates on the inside. They had no nucleus. Cells with nuclei, called eukaryotic cells (which make up virtually all multi-cellular organisms) are much larger and more complex that prokaryotic cells and likely resulted from the early combining of prokaryotic cells.

      So, can a simple prokaryotic cell come into existence without the intervention of God, Allah, Shiva, Vishnu, Yahweh or any other divine/magic being?

      Beginning in the 1950s, scientists started trying to mimic the conditions on the early Earth to see whether some kind of “life-fairy” was necessary to get things started. In the most famous experiment of this era, the Miller-Urey experiment of 1952, Stanley Miller demonstrated that heating and running an electric spark through an atmosphere of water vapor, ammonia, methane and hydrogen for a few weeks resulted in these very simple molecules self-assembling into all 20 of the amino acids upon which life on Earth is based. This was a startling result. All 20 building blocks of proteins, which comprise over 99% of the cell’s functional structures, self-assembling without a magic wand from God, Shiva, Vishnu, Allah etc!

      The experiment was groundbreaking because it suggested that, under the perfectly natural conditions of early Earth, the building blocks of life can and will self-assemble. Indeed, it now seems that major volcanic eruptions 4 billion years ago would have created an even more diverse atmosphere than Miller used, including carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and sulfur dioxide (SO2). When these were added to the mix in subsequent experiments, they have resulted in the creation of all 5 nucleotides, all 20 amino acids and basic fatty membranes and various carbohydrates. That is to say, with no magic/divine intervention, all life’s building blocks WILL self-assemble.

      But nails, wood, wiring and bricks a house do not make. Even the simplest life requires these building blocks to be arranged in very, very complex ways. In various experiments with various conditions, scientists have been able to create a wide range of cell-like structures of increasing complexity on the road toward a simple self-replicating organism. These creations are called protobionts or coacervates and if you “you tube” or google these terms, you will see many examples.

      This is till a far cry from a cell, but the important thing is that the experiments uniformly demonstrate that organic molecules have a natural tendency to clump together in increasingly complex ways under early Earth-like conditions. They are not being pushed into doing something “against their will”.

      Where it gets really suggestive is that scientists have been able to isolate what they believe to be some of the most primitive genes of Earth, by comparing the DNA of two organisms whose last common ancestor lived soon after the formation of the Earth. For such genes to be common to both such organisms, they must be very, very old. When these ancient genes produce amino acids, they are rich in the amino acids most common in the Miller-Urey and similar experiments! This suggests that these experiments do indeed reflect early Earth conditions and that life itself did arise under such conditions.

      The other important factor is that these impressive results have been achieved in laboratories over small periods of time. Imagine the whole Earth as the “Petri dish” and hundreds of millions of years as the timescale. Simple life gradually emerging from such a “soup” does not seem at all incredible, certainly not incredible enough that we in the USA have to give up and call the remaining gap in knowledge “God,” while our Indian colleagues do the same and attribute it all to the Lord Shiva.

      Scientist are also approaching it from the other side too, gradually stripping away at prokaryotic cells to see how stripped down they have to become for life to “stop,” while others continue to build up from coacervates and protobionts. The gap is narrowing as our knowledge continues its inexorable march.

      The Christian sky-fairy is being pinched out! There’s not a lot of room left for him now. The pincers of science are closing in from both sides, squeezing out the phantom of religion and ignorance. Soon, the two sides of the pincer will meet and this unnecessary holdover will have to flutter off and find another dark corner to settle in, where the penetrating light of science and knowledge has not yet shone. Fortunately, the weak, forgiving mind of the believer will always be there for him, acting as an eternal refuge from enlightenment and advancement.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Skeptical ... I think you meant to say, "I will be an atheist UNTIL the day they expalin to me how life arose from dirt.... "

      July 1, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • One one

      Where did god come from ? Good luck with that one.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Bible just a theory

      Are you aware that you are nothing but a complicated chemical factory, with all your bodily functions the result of chemical reactions? If God is supposed to be omnipotent, you would think he could create life that doesn't have to eat – drink – pea – poup all day long. I'm not impressed with God – if this character exists, but I am impressed with the ingenuity & complexity of the chemical reactions that run our bodies!

      July 1, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  8. DeeDee

    Actually, most Americans believe Obama is a liar.

    July 1, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Source?

      July 1, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      All presidents lie to an extent. I'm no Obama supporter, but I'd say he has been a more honest president than most.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • maxdenn

      Usual right wing hogwash.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • One one

      He is, just like every other politician. You can't succeed in politics without lying. And among their lies is proclaiming their faith in god. Believers wouldn't have it any other way.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • GAW

      Are you the DeeDee from the Dexter's Lab cartoon?

      July 1, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Fearless Freep

      Most people who make statements like this are liars.

      July 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  9. Craig Knutson

    It is true, religion does not automatically mean perfection for a president. In fact, it seems most modern-day presidents are 'religious' as a political move. I take issue with the comments of Neil Neilson concerning Abraham Lincoln. I'm pretty sure his research of Abe is inadequate. He was very much a born-again christian who embraced the deity of Christ. Otherwise, good article. Yes, Nixon was christian but failed. Yes, Jimmy Carter is 'christian' but twists the Bible to his own ends. Yes, Bill Clinton claimed to be Southern Baptist, but had no evidence of a relationship with God. Obama sat in a racist, black-theology church for 20 years but does not seem to be a racist himself.

    July 1, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  10. Thinkergal

    I don't want a "religious" president. I want a smart president. And,yes, I have gone to church every Sunday all my life and continue to do so.

    July 1, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  11. GAW

    The president's role is commander in chief not pastor in chief.

    July 1, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  12. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    I for one am very much looking forward to the day we have a President who can openly admit they've thrown off the chains of the pavlovian style fear/reward conditioning of religion and can make clear rational decisions and stop pandering to religious followers for votes.

    July 1, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Harrys Putter

      I cant wait to have a black lesbian athiest president.

      July 1, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  13. One one

    The Christian bible says lying is a sin
    All American politicians claim to be Christians
    All politicians lie
    Therefore, all politicians are going to hell. :)

    July 1, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  14. Bible just a theory

    Except for a few Quakers, NO American politicians obeyed Jesus after Pearl Harbor. JESUS DIDN'T say in the BIBLE: "Kill your enemies, burn them alive in the their cities, drop a giant bomb on them, and THEN forgive them." Of course, you can't get elected without giving lip-service to Christianity, but nobody actually obeys what it says in the Bible!

    July 1, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      God did say that kind of stuff a LOT though.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  15. zoyster1

    Gotta love the Obungle ad at the top of the page claiming a victory for the middle class when he just hit them with a ton of new taxes on Obunglecare.

    July 1, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Go ahead and tell us all exactly how much the middle class will pay in increased taxes for health care, bozo.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Harrys Putter

      "Obungle "

      Dead giveaway that you are six years old.
      Only children talk like this.
      Bet you giggle when you say it.

      July 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  16. Catherine

    Mr. Darren Grinder and Mr. Niels Nielsen have both made a foolish, fundamental error: they have confused the existence of religious belief with perfect behavior – and so I would like to explain a very basic concept to them: each and every human being is flawed and imperfect. This is true in every case, regardless of whether the person in question is an atheist, an agnostic, an occasional participant in some sort of religious worship, or a devout believer in any particular faith. They apparently believe FDR wouldn’t even be considered a Christian today, on the basis that he "was no saint in his personal life." While it is quite true that FDR didn’t live a saintly life, that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with whether or not he was a Christian.

    But let us leave that aside for a moment. For Mr. Nielsen to say that it was FDR’s “suffering that drove him to look out for the most vulnerable, not his faith,” he must have disregarded quite a lot of evidence to the contrary. (See the end of this comment for a few verifying links.) For instance:

    FDR was first elected to the vestry of his home parish, St. James Episcopal Church (Hyde Park, NY), in 1906; he became senior warden of the vestry in 1928, and continued to hold that position throughout his presidency. By all accounts, he took his duties seriously – indeed, he would interrupt Oval Office meetings to take phone calls from the junior warden. He was also a trustee of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (NYC), as well as (briefly, beginning in 1918) a member of the vestry of St. Thomas’ Church (Washington, DC).

    Mr. Nielsen quoted Eleanor Roosevelt to support his position that it was FDR’s own “suffering” (that is, polio), not his faith, that led him to concern himself with the poor. It seems Mr. Nielsen failed to notice a few other things she said, such as: FDR always considered his faith “an anchor and a source of strength and guidance”, and that he could not have made certain critical decisions as president “without faith in spiritual guidance.” In addition, their son James also spoke of his father’s faith – in particular, a story about the night of FDR’s first election to the presidency, in which FDR said to him: “I’m just afraid that I may not have the strength to do this job. After you leave tonight, Jimmy, I am going to pray. I am going to pray that God will help me, that He will give me the strength and the guidance to do this job and to do it right. I hope you will pray for me too, Jimmy.”

    A few sources:
    (1) “Franklin And Winston: An Intimate Portrait Of An Epic Friendship”, by Jon Meacham
    (2) http://archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=30848
    (3) http://www.seamenschurch.org/images/stories/article-body/2-1-17-0452/FDR-Lecture-2009-SCI.pdf
    (4) http://mtsjournal.memphisseminary.edu/vol-50-1/america-s-holy-war-fdr-civil-religion-and-the-prelude-to-war-by-timothy-wyatt

    July 1, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Harrys Putter

      each and every human being is flawed and imperfect.

      Thats not what your God said.
      He looked down at his creation and said it was good.

      July 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  17. rand

    It's EASY to LIE to the American people if you lack FAITH> David Lew with Chris Wallace said today "This HC BILL only effects 1% of the population" yet he FORGOT TO MENTION that there are TWENTY NEW NEW TAXES on the American people and SEVEN that hit the MIDDLE CLASS. Disability claims have gone up 110 PERCENT and if YOU are one of the hard working MAKERS ........you are now paying for the TAKERS.Good luck with THAT!

    July 1, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      What's faith got to d with that? Or am I missing something.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Thinkergal

      Your grammar is terrible; so is your word usage–"affects," not "effects."

      July 1, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Harrys Putter

      And the Chinese are digging a tunnel below our feet.

      July 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  18. Kane

    I pray for the day we elect an openly atheist president...

    July 1, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  19. Obama Breaks Down Why We Need Separation of Church & State

    At least our current President gets it.

    July 1, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Tr1Xen

      At least he gets SOMETHING.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  20. pinkstar

    believers in christ want to believe that having a president whose belief is the same as theirs will lead the country in a better state. unfortunately, it's all political and unfortunately, religion is used to gain voters. the leader of our country should make their decisions based on their character, experience, and knowledge. it should remain separation of church and state due to biases decisions. in my opinion, the problem lies with having democrats and republicans separated in the seats of house and senate. here's a scenario: A priest, A entrepreneur, A general, and A doctor all are presidential candidates AND IF THEY WERE ALL BELIEVERS IN CHRIST, who would you choose. You would choose the best candidate. Politics make the presidency a religious war when it shouldn't be. How do you select the best candidate; you analyze, research and come down to your own conclusion. An individual is only defined on his actions not speech or his campaign. Use some logical reasoning. 1+1= is not 11.

    July 1, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • SciGuy

      You're close though, 1+1=10

      July 1, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • KEVIN

      Pink, excellent point about seperation of chrch and state. America has been consistantly successful in ensuring such since it's conception. Such should and must be taken into consideration. We could elect a Martian as president, but if it does not adhere to seperation of church and state, he will be on a rocket back to mars

      July 1, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Harrys Putter

      Pinkstar i like the way you think.

      Let me throw this at you.
      I know that most people want to get to "know" thier candidate.
      This driving around on busses and shaking hands doesnt work.
      Why ?
      You are only going to visit with the candidate you have already picked.

      Ground Zero.
      Every candidate gets the same amount of money and air time.
      Debates.
      Questions are formulated from a panel of experts
      including Debt, spending, taxes, social issues, foriegn policy.
      You go on national television (or cable/dish/internet) and all the candidates are asked
      the same questions and get a specific amount of time to answer them.
      Candidates are not allowed to see the questions ahead of time
      so they cannot be coached.

      You say, but some of this is happening now.
      No.
      Example.
      During the Republican nomination, several people including Ron Paul
      where repeatedly ignored because they where not deemed "electable".

      Time to clear the playing field, then one by one we weed out rest.
      This superpac money is not fair to the lesser candidates.
      And even a good candidate can get overwelmed.

      We could even go to a sudden death senario like an NFL playoff game.
      Two candidates spar, you go vote, one is out.

      For good or bad.
      One thing is clear.
      We have to get back to, one voter, one vote.
      Winner takes all.

      Example.
      Hillary won the majority vote,
      Obama got the super delegates and the white house.

      I am an Obama supporter and a liberal Democrat.
      But this whole process is a mess.
      I think it was designed that way on purpose.
      Why ?
      Because if the majority realy does want a candidate that those in charge
      do not approve of, they have found several ways around it.
      LOOPHOLES.

      July 1, 2012 at 5:38 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.