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.”
Well, this country was founded for and on religous freedom. People came here because they wanted to practice thier beliefs without persecution...it seems that the athiests want to stop that. Me, praising God, openly or you ensuring no one utters the name of God in the open? which is right? Maybe neither, but maybe you..yes you the athiest need to have a bit more tollerance. Who cares if I believe in God any more than who cares if you dont? The difference is, I havent taken you to court over it...yet...
".it seems that the athiests want to stop that."
wrong. i'm an atheist. i want you to have the freedom to worship any non-existent god you want - just don't try to make me waste my time. i don't see atheists knocking on doors trying to recruit. try to get your facts straight before you post.
No, atheists want you to stop enacting your religion into laws, which is the opposite of religious freedom.
It;s a matter of ratioanlity. Reason drives the non-believers to cocnclude there's no go. It's hard to stand by and see other people being defrauded and lied to, if one has any scruples.
My keys a re sticky:
It's a matter of rationality. Reason drives the non-believers to conclude there's no god. It's hard to stand by and see other people being defrauded and lied to, if one has any scruples.
Atheists try and make their laws laws for everyone.They force atheism upon everybody who is non-atheist.
hence why they had "Reason Rally".They are such liars.
Nope, changing your screen name does nothing to hide your identi ty. What laws are atheists 'forcing' on anyone? Give an example. And what does holding a rally have to do with anything?
What we atheists want is for the government to stop imposing religion on us.
That's stupid because a person who doesn't follow that faith would be also.
Atheists are cry babies.
Wendy ... nobody cares what you believe in, just don't impose it on the rest of us as "the right way to live". Stop playing the martyr like you are actually persecuted.
Jesus doesn't believe in religious tolerance. He sends people to hell for not believing in him.
I too went to the Orlando show. My husband boguht us tickets for my 30th birthday. We we straight back from the stage up off the floor. The seats were pretty good; however, there was some lighting issues that blinded us on several occasions and lasted several dances. I agree that the sound (specifically of Nigel and Mary talking) was difficult to bear. I understand Mary's natural screechiness; however, it pained me to listen to that. This was my first time going to the SYTYCD tour since it began and I have limited information. The Broadway style was fantastic and I really enjoyed they way they changed up some of the dances. Totally disappointed Marco was out injured; however, the rest was amazing. Melanie took my breath away and brought me to tears on more than one occasion! I wasn't a huge fan of Ricky or Jess on the show; however, live, they are out of this world! It's hard to imagine SYTYCD can top this year; however, I'm excited for the next season! PS. One last thing and excuse the caps for this but: MAKE A VIDEO OF THE TOUR AND SELL IT! PEOPLE WILL BUY IT! I want to remember that night FOREVER!!!!Always Hope,Kristin
Atheism is a fantasy for adults.
Again, what is 'fantastical' about atheism?
try to make sense. try.
Nope ... again, your comment makes no sense. I don't think you know what Atheism is.
Atheism existed long before Christianity, and will continue to exist long after Christianity becomes extinct like so many other religions.
You might want to give some thought as to why that is so.
Lol that's also another fantasy of atheism
Why would it even matter if Obama was Muslim?
Guess it would not matter to you and the left wing, it does not matter that the muslims behead Americans, it does not matter that muslims have no regard for anyones life, it does not matter that they treat women like schit, it does not matter that a muslim killed several in a army post, well idiot it matters to a heck of a lot of people. When there is a confessed muslim in the White House I think it matters, he has said he is a muslim but keeps trying to hide the fact and the sheep just wag their tales and follow along.
the bible says to kill disobedient children. how many kids left in america after that?
the bible says to kill non-virgin brides. 98% of women have s.ex before marriage. not many left after killing them all.
the bible says to kill g.ays. about 10% of the population murdered there.
oh yeah, the bible is a great moral compass. christians in this country practice 'christianity light'. if anyone actually followed the bible to the letter, they would be among the worst serial killers/mass murderers ever to exist.
Christians aren't Jews.
Get a real proper education troll.
Cobra, your response shows how bigoted you are. People only think Muslims are evil because we hear about the small minority that wages a jihad on America. I personally know many muslims who are fine people. It is wrong to pass judgment on over a billion people, calling them evil and their beliefs twisted because of a small few who have taken core beliefs and warped them. Im sure 99% of muslims are good people whom you'd like if you got to know them. The same problem exists on the left as well: many liberals hate conservative Christians because we think they are all like the vocal minority on the news that spouts hate and oppresses the rights of women and minorities. Im sure the majority are not like that, and are fine people. The question is, which are you?
@yep. Are the gods of the OT and the NT the same, or are they different gods ?
this president has no deep seated faith or belief. he is king is his mind. he cares only for himself and taking this country to its knees. and when this country goes to its knees our true beliefs emerge. that is when we get him on the next boat to kenya
You've shown that the true reason that Obama has polarized the country is that so many can't get over the fact that we have a black president. Grow up
Wow . .must be great to have vast knowledge of another person's beliefs
Prayer changes things .
action changes things; prayer wastes valuable time.
haven't we been over this?
get up off your knees. leave the cult. go outside and actually put those hands to use.
nooooo, stay on your knees.....i'm almost there!
ok, you can leave now, :)
moneys on the desk....same time next week?
Just sayin' ... Stalin – the most deadly person to have ever been raised by a devout Mother and college educated as an orthodox christian!
lol atheists are funny..They literally think one person speaks for everyone else.
Talk about a real fantasy.
There was a study in whether prayer can help save someone's life. Statistically no, prayer doesn't change things.
What are you talking about, Nope?
@ rmtaks ... the study you refer to is the Templeton Prayer study. It in fact showed that people who knew they received prayers actually had a slightly "higher" incedence of post surgical complication ... for everyone else it made NO difference.
so, as always religion is the the cherry picking of the individual, having nothing to do with any supreme being, but only a reflection of the humanity of the individual. Religion doesn't teach morals at all, it simply is used as a reinforcement or an excuse.
What determines a "good" moral?
Atheists boast about being "good moral people" but YOU determine it.What if that "moral" turned out to be wrong?
Heck most morals are forced upon you by society,school,parents etc.So most people are afraid to be what they consider moral for the sake of those things listed.
So boast all you want.Still doesn't make it true.
take out morals and insert the word virtue....they are the same thru out the years and aren't distilled by anyone but the one who seeks them....and they are normally only had by those who are said to be moral people – perhaps the words got confused by lesser then intelligent folk.
@Nope ... society determines morals .. not relilgion, not atheists and not you. Morality is the societal sense of right & wrong based on the needs and best interest of society and our need to continue as a species. Morality is an evolutionary trait.
But what if your "moral" turned out to be wrong?
Wrong by your standards? That is subjective. In this country, laws determine what is legal or illegal, not based on 'morality' or subjective values such as "right" and "wrong" but on ethics and rights as guaranteed by our Const itution.
Hmm.Yet people still break those laws?
lol you seriously have no logic.Get more educated troll.
proof:The drinking age in some places in 21 right? Yet people under that age have broken that law right? Let's see how about drugs? How about rapists?
Ha talk about being more "logical".Even with laws almost every person who breaks them think they are above it.
Wake up from your fairy-tale.
Nope ... morals cannot be wrong as they are determined by society as a whole and not an individual. Morality is fluid and evolves with societal needs. The only way a moral can be wrong is if it is passed down unaltered from anitiquity without evolving to meet the needs of todays society ... get it Nope? .. didn't think so.
Yep, care to translate that into something resembling sense?
If a person gets addicted to drinking and is underage how does society feel about that? Its wrong correct? Yet the person THINKS its right.Follow me yet?
Yet in some parts of the world the drinking age is diffrent.So if a person breaks those laws they do it because they think they are above the law.THEY think it.
So your stance that "laws" determine morals is stupid.Every law has been broken by people.Everyone.
wake up from your fairy tale.
You have trouble with reading comprehension, Nope. I didn't say morals were determined by laws, or vice versa. I said our laws are not based on morality. You may not believe underage drinking is 'wrong', but your opinion or moral belief that underage drinking is okay doesn't matter. The law does. That is why there are consequences for drinking if you are not 21.
What part of this do you not understand?
Nope, I get the impression you are very young. I suggest you pay attention in civics class when school is in session again.
Lol laws are determined by MEN
I thought atheists hate to follow that?
Laws are made by people, yes. Why would atheists "hate that"?
Religion is made by men.
Ut! found yet another flaw in atheism!
While you practice your English, I'll go do something more worthwhile than talking to a mental midget, like clean the turds out of the cat box.
I know I know the truth is hard to accept sometimes.
Ya, go clean the turds out of the cat box tom. That's the only way you can ever get next to pu$$y..
Sounds like a blatant contradiction to me. Does this writer know what he saying?
He meant morality in the evangelical sense, cursing, adultry, helping the rich, etc. you know the things they care about not starving children in Apalachia.
CNN doesn't want it to matter, hence the current Muslin they help install....
you are foolish...grow up
well this republican won't be voting for the muslim or the mormon
@ peter – which muslim is running?
It matters – we need rational thought and critical thinking; not listening to voices in their heads.
"Whatever the truth is, it certainly won't be discovered here. When discussing the age old question of the existence of God we should expect more than petty snipping and grammar correction. CNN boards used to be reserved for intelligent, thoughtful debate. A place where people of differing view points could actually "discuss" ideas and in the end, agree to disagree. The discourse now has been reduced to the same intellectual and respect level of the average Youtube video.
"I'm right you're wrong".
"No,no,no. I'm right and you're wrong. Idiot".
"Everything you believe is a fairy tale, moran".
"It's spelled 'moron', not 'moran', you moron. Now I must dismiss every point you made".
The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness."
( Albert Einstein – The Merging of Spirit and Science)
It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.
- Albert Einstein
electing those purely on their beliefs and even sometimes on the idea of "someone you could share a beer with"....pathetic! its no wonder we are going to be a third world country soon – or at the very least we are going to split into a bunch of smaller countries...civil war anyone?
Abraham Lincoln ," one of the three greatest Presidents in American history" , Really? ... the only President to declare war on his own people,he invaded the southern "produce producing" states because they refused to sell produce to the north at a lower rate because the government refused to subsidize farmers for their loss. Then turned around claimed the war was to free slaves here's a quote for ya.... " I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. that i am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of neg ros nor qualifying them to hold office,nor intermarry with white people".. Abraham Lincoln Sept 1858 this is the man credited with freeing the slaves .. how ironic. 600,000 Americans died because the north didn't want to pay for fruit and vegatables!!!!
The Civil War was about agricultural subsidies. Ri i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i ght.
No, he invaded the South because they seceded. Learn a little about history before commenting on it.
corey, he invaded the south because they seceded but why did they seceded....i'll give you a hint – it has to do with farms and production of crops.....
agricultural subsidies is a grand way of saying slaves were used to produce more faster....do some thinking before you act.
In the various Southern states' declarations of secession, only half gave a reason. The reason they gave was "slavery." Only one state mentioned any other reason, "state's rights", which was not defined, nor can any state right be discerned that people were willing to pull guns and shoot about.
@ Corey .. lol so they seceded one spring morning for no reason , or could it be because they were being robbed by the northern states of their produce and cotton. maybe you should learn somthing before correcting someone who already knows!! The war was because the Fedral government was trying to take away States rights , just like Obama did in Arizona , all because of Cotton, and produce
Brainwashing changes things.
Difference between Watergate and "fast and Furious"? No one died in Watergate
is that the only difference you see, you have a very small mind indeed. you're comparing apples to refrigerators.
Wow cheesey, I never knew they could stack stupid as tall as you, but there you are!
Yea I know "fast and Furious" was much worse ..a federal agent killed over 300 Mexican citizens killed and comparing it to a 3rd rate burglary.....Shame on me
yes, because the cartels wouldn't have had any guns if not for fast and furious, right? where would the mexican drug cartels get a gun... your logic is spot on.
yet the DOJ or President shouldn't be selling them to the cartels
About 5000 Servicemembers and hundreds of thousands of civilians died when Bush & Cheney used cherry-picked intelligence to start the iraq War. Were you "outraged"?
Okay, I'll bite:
In your opinion, who SHOULD sell guns to the drug cartels?
"If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program."
–President Bill Clinton, Feb. 17, 1998
"Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process."
-Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), Dec. 16, 1998
"We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction."
- Sen. Ted Kennedy (D, MA), Sept. 27, 2002
look, billy graham going door to door to sell christianity:
Ahahha... there is a strong resemblance. God must like the look (sarcasm).
You know that's a movie right?
no, that's not a movie. that's billy graham's home video. he's never looked better.
You know religion is totally imagined and fake, right?
i've heard the rumors...
I have read both of his books and keep up with hard news. Obama has a relligion?
American Exceptionalism is dead
The Progressive play book if you can't argue name call......nice
It matters to some of us.
Four guys nodding off!
Obuma (get it) is a dang socialist muslim!! We need to vote him out and let the billionaires do what they want. I hate all their tax dollars paying for roads and schools and such.
Announcing a contest for "Put A Caption On That Picture"! Give us your best entry!
Here are a few to start you off:
"Four souls sit waiting for god and his judgement, only now realizing that they chose the wrong god"
"Billy Graham made the hash brownies a bit too strong again"
"Four constipated men wait for the laxatives to kick in."
4 men's faces looking at hell, waiting for a response from heaven.
Three former presidents sit with the evil Rev. Kane from Poltergeist II
Three guys saying "why do we have to kiss this guy's a$$" ?
God whispered in my ear, "Son, leave Christianity. Humans have messed it up big time. Become Buddhist." I did and am forever grateful.
that's funny, all he whispered in my ear was, "i don't exist".
The god that does not exist in Buddhism told you to become a Buddhist.
Uh, yeah. Gotcha.
Whew! Glad you didn't misunderstand "Budhist" and think he said "terrorist".
Actually believing that you heard God speak to you is legally grounds for your institutionalization is a mental hospital.
Went to the show last night in Cincinnati. Few thgins I didnt like and a few thgins I loved We had floor seats, and it was pretty much impossible to see the dancing. Peoples heads in front of me made it impossible, and the seating was way to close to the person next to you, all the seats were attached together .. Another thing was I felt the whole show was rushed and so was the dancing,I did not like how the next dancers were up there before the others finished Other than that, I loved the dancing.. You can tell they are pretty much worn out though..lol.. The energy was great and it was awesome seeing them up close when they were at the end of the stage..lol I thought the sound was perfect and the lighting also Overall, pretty good show.. It was my first time ever going to see them, i will go next year also
I was underwhelmed by the start, but the snecod half was WAY better. The dancers clearly worked hard and it showed. However, it's sad that the production crew hasn't gotten their crap together since the tour began. For such a big show, I expected more from the lights, stage and sound. The sound was AWFUL for us (was told the sound from the floor seats was ok). My friend had to use ear plugs just to keep watching. I love this season of dancers, but was disappointed the all stars weren't there and disappointed they left out the I got you routine. A lot of dances kept the show moving, but they needed at least some talking we want to hear from the dancers!
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.