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.”
Whether they like it or not, Obama is winning for the second time. Call him names, he does not care. The haters will always hate, it is part of their DNA. We don't give a Fu.....k.
Barry better start pulling some rabbits out of his hat because as lame as he is Mitt is in this thing.
Faith matters to liberals. They have shown total hatred and regligious bigotry and sickening intolerance to Romney's faith. If this was done to any DEM, there would be outrage by the MSM 24/7.
You're full of what makes the grass grow.
I have no problem with people being Mormon if they want to; however, I don't, want a president who is gullible enough to think he can become a god on another planet as long as they give enough money to their church. I want someone who is capable of seeing reality, and the Mormons along with all religious fundamentalists, are not among them.
I have no more problem with him being a Mormon than any other religion. I just don't like his political views. At all.
Obama is the Christmas Easter attend Church disparage anyone who disagrees with you force Catholic Hospitals to perform abortions and provide birth control, destroy Israel Christian President!
Where the faith comes from is not as important as whether the candidate has a faith. These are two different things. The question is this article is misleading. The other misconcept is that if Richard Nixos wass corrupt, this mean that religion does not matter. Of course, we all know that half of what is in the main media today is not ture and the other half is bias. In other words. Who among today's atheists would be a statesmen of a fraction of the caliber of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln?
Washington didn't believe in the deity of Jesus, neither did Jefferson.
"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:" You should continue to write and finish this sentence with, "Tricky Dick has been surplanted by Obama as the the most corrupt and thin skinned man to occupy the Oval Office. Obama gave us Fast and Furious, SG Holder, Van Jones an avowed communist, the largest tax hike in American in Obamacare, war on women, war on states and the most divisive president the USA has ever had. Then continue with the article as so you would not be looked as being so bias as most of the lame street media. Otherwise your article is so left, it makes Lenin look progressive.
Yes they did too wu. God bless
DO you people know you've NEVER seen the paper Birth Certificate the one coming in Oct. will be a doctored up version to adjust to the Photoshopped version which has layers and wasn't meant to be put online (oops!) The forger thought they were gonna print it but alas the general public is so blindly ignorant they'd believe whatever the internet says. After all snopes.com is better than the Bible for accuracy.
Really? Are you still on that lol
Conspiracy theory much? Grow a brain.
The only reason the church is so quiet is because Obama is a Dem and is a christian and Romney a Rep is a Mormon. There are a lot of people that do not want to draw attention there. Mormon teachings string off from traditional christian teachings and most conservatives think of mormonism as a cult. Most conservative christians tend to swing towards repub.
At least you got the fact that snopes is more accurate than the bible.
Hello everyone. You are all cordially invited to visit ... thestarofkaduri.com
You are cordially invited to kiss my posterior.
Screw your censors CNN
"...no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." This is the ONLY thing that actually matters.
i already posted that....(Article 6, section 3)
page 12, at the bottom.
here is a question that should be asked of every pres.
which in your eyes is more admirable....having a belief based on nothing but a notion of its reality or seeking to know if something is true or not?
a true leader will seek the truth before action is taken......think about it...
another interesting idea...
is faith of ones guilt good enough to put him to death?
You make the assumption that spiritualness and God cannot be sought and known.
its not an a$$umption...truth is measurible....truth is based on facts...a feeling or belief or faith or hope are not found but created by the person....they can not be found for they don't exist in reality but rather ones mind, much like god – its all a notion of truth based on nothing...
why don't you seek Horus?
YOU WILL COME UP EMPTYHANDED...
when people say i found god what they really mean is they can't explain something. so they use what they know of an idea widely used and always different (god...s) and warp it for their personal use and explainations of stuff they can't.
I challenge you seek. Study near death experiences. Read the bible and pray. You put faith in micro organisms and other sciences that you yourself cannot see nor prove. Study the spirits as you would other sciences and you will be pleasantly surprised.
because i can't personally prove a fact that is well known means its not true....is that your position?
you folks take on faith that which can't be explained....yet.
science has a way of showing up god, all it requires is time for technology to caught up for the ability to see smaller then the human eye can or further.
i have read the bible, i was a follower of this god you speak so highly of and i found it to be lacking something required by any rational person – facts. i find truth thru evidence which lead to proof or facts already found that can be tested to be true.
god has none of these things.....its called faith for a reason – no proof, all hopes and dreams of the one who believes.
Religious people are delusional, it's like talking to a brick wall. Their tiny little minds are so tightly closed, nothing can pry them open.
I feel for you then brother. My experience was the opposite as I was agnostic before and held strongly to the sciences. When I sought and asked my mind was quickly reconciled to the point of the sciences witnessing Gods creations. Many scientists are very strong believers in God also. But do read on near death experiences... There are strong similarities and things that cannot be explained away... Or at least shouldn't.
Luis – maybe that is because their really is such things as God and spirits and we cannot deny. However... Keep that strong faith you have in yourself and man and you will surely be disappointed.
Few scientists believe in the Christian God.
Einstein was asked in an interview if he believed in God. He replied that he didn't believe in a "personal" god but in something similar to "Spinoza's God". Baruch Spinoza believed in a non-intelligent, "life energy" that pervades the Universe. A lot of Einstein's contemporaries believed that as well as do a lot of scientists today. Makes more sense to me than an invisible, supernatural man int sky that simultaneously monitors every thought of over 7 billion people, sending the ones who just happen to be raised in another faith to be tortured forever.
many do wu
near death experiences are easy – we are raised from birth to have these expectations of AFTER death and since no one has truly come back after "true brain death" what they are seeing is the last creation or thought they are having before actually death – that also explains why nearly all of the experiences are almost the same to the letter – at first glace your right, that could turn an atheist into a believer quickly but all one has to too is keep doing research....why anyone would go from seeking truth to just accecpting is beyond me...whatever works i guess.
any true thinker will not have the same experience but will just be one out of many on a bar graph and so be overlooked.
Einstein 's energy idea is really based on the law of conservation of matter and energy law – The law of conservation of energy states that energy may neither be created nor destroyed. Therefore the sum of all the energies in the system is a constant.
no god but rather just us and everything else as one living being but separate.
sry.... i was doubling as food for thought on another article and spaced.... that was me answering just so ya know.
Not so food for thought. There are stories of an atheist that came back and converted. There are stories of religious people that went to hell and came back with a very different philosophy. There was at least one that had been dead for a few days. And there is one of a four year old boy that came back and told of things in the bible that could not be known to a four year old.
I cannot convert you but there is a reason so many people believe and it's not because we are shallow and closed minded.
God bless you all. I have enjoyed the conversation.
yeah, i'm calling your bluff on that one.... throw these claims out then leave...i am going to require either these peoples names or at the very least a news article or something with the story on it which would at least show that your not just making this up on the spot – but if you leave after saying these things – one has no other conclusion but to accecpt the facts which aren't there – aka – BS.
Here you go... http://www.near-death.com/
have you read about using ice baths to slow the decay process and work on dieing people – it gives the workers more time to correct a problem which is killing them.... this is the reason why the 4 yr old was able to live – the water the kid was in was frozen and so the body temp was well past needed chill temps to work on it... and it wasn't days it was less then 2 hours.
no special god like thing going on... all expainable thru science....wether science has the answers now or in 20 years, it would still fit the science trumps religion track record – and again, all we need is time.
also a needed piece to this puzzle is that these people describe things that never address what they are during the "visions" but are only later given lables like "god-like being" or they can't qauntife their experience with words they know so they compare it so the closest thing.....bright lights can be the brain firing off nerves while the person will describe a "being of light" or a "tunnel of light" these things are not special in anyway ... often the simpliest answer is the correct one.
god is not a simple answer but rather a complex, built upon foundation of ideas with 3000 years of added info to use as a referrence.
i will say i am envious of your belief even thou i view it as a weakness of character to know seek the truth but rather just accecpt what one told you or you read....i have always wanted god to be real but i must be true to my nature which is to seek out the truth with evidence and facts.... god lacks all of these....the only reason to believe is out of fear of death and the wanting to have an afterlife – all other reasons are justifications and are really just the persons way of saying i fear death – or the unknown....really its the same thing.
I agree that a president's faith shouldn't matter. Whether they are Catholic, Muslim, Mormon, Protestant, or any sort of religion, it doesn't matter, because they aren't going to be forcing their beliefs on to everyone else in America. Religion shouldn't be a factor in how the president does his job, nor should it be a factor that makes people vote/not vote for them.
Tell that to Rick Santorum.
Considering rick Santorum isn't going to be president.....
"it doesn't matter, because they aren't going to be forcing their beliefs on to everyone else in America."
You wanna bet? Mormons are good at that. And they're not Christian.
I am sorry to hear that you do not believe that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are not Christian. If I may ask, how are they not considered Christians? Is not the definition of a Christian one who believes that Jesus Christ is the Saviour? Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world.
"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."
Apparently this does not apply to the unborn. When asked about his daughters, Obama said he wouldn't want them strapped down with a MISTAKE. (He couldn't even bear to say the word CHILD)
Again, but not the unborn. I think Jesus would have wanted to unborn included in that biblical idea. What about separation of church and state that the left touts so much. Apparently its ok to mix the 2 when the President is a Liberal Democrat. I'm an independent and it sickness me to see the media give up their integrity to give this President every pass imaginable.
That is your thought and not biblical.
Jay – "I think Jesus would have wanted ...". Good for you. I don't. What makes your opinion any more valid than mine?
I don't think fetuses are people.
Exactly his faith is not for unborne children, for anyone that disagrees with him (even Americans he will choose foreigners over tea party tax protesters no matter how law abiding (99.99999% are) or Christian they are. He also has no respect for Catholic Hospitals or Israel to exist but then again what would you expect from such a faith filled man.
Nature/.God causes miscarriages everyday., What do you say about that hypocrit
To NotGOP, that is your thought and animalism. You must be a prac
Doesn't mean you're right because you think it. Also, you missed the part about bearingf alse witnesse which is what you're doing if you're wrong. Do you think you'll get a pass or will he say the same to you as he did to the Pharisees? You do not get to judge who is a Christian.
I am glad and grateful to see such an even-handed article on this topic. As I can see by a brief perusal of the comments, as if often the case, the hate speaks louder than common sense. Missing the points, they bash the current president. This does not bode well for the intellectual heritage of the extreme right.
To praise the current President, is a denial in the Black Hole of intellectual thought that will never see any light. Are you kidding or just a two celled brain person?
religion is the last major form of prejudice left. the sooner we are rid of it, the better the world will be.
I see the great President George H W Bush who once said an atheist is not a patriot and should not be a citizen of America, we are one nation under God. God bless
I see you're still just dim as a two-watt bulb if you think it matters what he said.
to think any of your bull sh it matters?
Context???? And did he correct himself (Something his majesty PinocchiObama never does he never makes mistakes just ask him).
No. We are one nation under Canada.
Under which god? Zeus? Krishna? Zoroaster? Manitou? There are so many imaginary invisible beings in the sky, I lose track.
If Bush said that, he was WRONG. Being a patriot has NOTHING to do with religion and EVERYTHING to do with love for your country. This country's government was founded with the belief that religion would not be forced upon its citizens and that its citizens would be free to practice whatever religion they wished without persecution. This belief allows for atheism just as much as it allows for any religion.
there is one God and thousands of idols. President Bush was referring to the one true God . Hear o Israel our God is one.
He said it, he meant it and he was right. God bless
Truthbetold – All of the gods that have been worshiped throughout history would fill 10 football stadiums. But of course YOURS is the only one that's real. Grow a brain. It's all just ancient mythology. Period.
It's faith does matter!
This is America. Not the mid-east, china, Mexico or any other country. It's faith and complitation to its culture is anti-American; just like the the garbage that inhabits the White House.
Complitation? The only garbage here is between your ears.
In fact the garbage is James T
Obama knows more about the bible than any president I can remember. Can't recall Bush reciting a verse in the Bible.
He did use the phrase if they aren't for us they are against us. Which is a slant from Jesus' teaching that if they aren't against us they are for us. That's how they do it... Take the pure teachings of Christ and obscure it into their radical hate talk. However, we must still love them and forgive them... Just don't give them the presidency!
You base this on what his jeapardy apprearance? Hillarious........pull that right out of your gludius maximus did ya? The Amazing part Bush was pretty liberal which upset most conservatives and he actually tried to work across the aisle and unlike democrat past presidents he did not spend a lot of time disparaging the present holder of the office (not a Jimmy/Failure Carter wannbe)..............For the guy that was going to bring us together and hope and change washington getting rid of the partisan politics your messiah sure has done a bang up job with his glaring Christianity.........
What is said in the article is true but why is the left hammering away at Romney's Mormonism as if there is something "weird" about it?
Maybe you don't remember that the mormons believed black people were devils up until 1978. Perhaps you don't think thats weird.
And- then, the MORONS made a Black Person the PRESIDENT in 2008- and, as it turns out- he IS the Devil. Go figure.
They didn't believe they were devils, they believed (and probably still do) that when Cain went to the land of Nod and took a wife, he married an ape, and that's where black people came from. The black skin is the mark of Cain. They claim they don't believe that anymore, but they believed it for over a century. It was part of their teachings until the early 1960's.
This President has been given so many passes in articles and in the press that he thinks he is God.
The press puts a spin on most subjects so that they make him look good, I think he has surpassed Jimmy Carter as being the worst President we have ever had.
Funny. I thought only Bush thought he could give and take lives... at least that's what his lies did. And I'm paying the highest taxes I ever had due to wars we couldn't afford. It's people like you who drive this country into the ground.
Its obvious you don't think at all.
Blah blah blah. You have no substance.
Gee Dubya was the worst president we ever had, followed closely by Nixon and then Ford. Obama isn't great but he's a thousand times better than Bush.
And exactly how much do you know about all the other presidents that makes you qualified to make this claim? George W. Bush is easily one of the worst presidents ever. So is Martin Van Buren. What? You never heard of him? Stop watching reality TV and Fox News and go learn something.
Prayer changes things .
I've prayed that you would stop posting this dreck. So where does that leave us?
Yep. And I have a rock that keeps tigers away. How do I know? I've never been attacked by a tiger so far.
You, my dear zealot, are on my list. You will have eternal life... on fire.
Prayer changes things
Prayer changes lives
Prayer puts me on Christs list
You lose lucifer
Prayer changes things
Please don't feed the ignorant troll.
This President has been given so many passes in articles on the press that he thinks he is God.
The press puts spin on most subjects that make him look good, I think he has surpasses Jimmy Carter as being the worst President we have ever had.
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.