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.”
Relgion should neither qualify or disqualify a presidential candidate. What should disqualify a candidate is if they don't care about the best interest of the American people, their rights and their sovernty.
The young man entered the dimly lit office for his first job interview in several months. The gray haired gentleman told the young man to sit down and make himself comfortable. Gradually the young man's nerves began to settle down as the old gentleman began the interview. Before asking his questions he reached in his drawer and pulled out a joint. He offered the young man the joint and asked if he believed marijuana should be legalized. The young man hesitated before answering – if I say no and this gentleman is liberal minded and supports its legalization, he may hold this against me. However, if I say yes and he's conservative minded and opposes the legalization of any drugs, this too will work against me. At this point the young man realized the only right answer was the one that lined up with his core faith motivated moral beliefs, so he resoundly answered no. Question after question was then posed by the old gentleman of the same tenet, and the young man answered with the same confident resolution according to his core beliefs. At the end of the interview, the young man was hired on the spot because the old gentleman saw in the young man someone he could trust would make the right decision that others without core beliefs might not – that situational ethics would not lead the young to make the right decision in one case, but lead him to make a decision that could bring down the company in another. If such qualities are sought after in individuals who will never come close to looking at the Presidential nuclear football, how much more important is it for the person who has to carry it around.
You can have core VALUES without being or believing in one religion or another.
Believing that the law is the law and you don't break the law even if you may privately disagree with it works just as well.
Knowing that you have to live with yourself and your decisions, and that if you make the unethical decision, if you cause someone harm, it is YOUR fault, no equivocation, no excuses acepted, also works very well.
Anyone who thinks a candidate's faith doesn't matter, regardless of the office, needs to come to Colorado Springs, where they will be quickly shown the contrary.
Considering both Hitler and Sandusky were baptized Catholic, maybe it's not the same as a Good Housekeeping seal.
A shining example of a president whose religion ultimately didn't matter was JFK's. During his campaign, he was questioned about his Catholic faith. His response was, I'm just a man who happens to be Catholic and running for President. Eventually, Americans came to grips concerning JFK's religious afiliation. I personally take the same position. With the presidency being such a vocal office., it is doubtful that any one could walk away and not feel that although JFK's religion may have guided him making certain decisions during his tenure, it certainly did not define his presidency, nor has it in any other case with any other president.
KM You idiot! So how long do you think it will be before a Muslim, or a member of Islam would be elected President. Mormons and Islam have 2 things in common:
1. They recognize Jesus, but don't follow his teachings
2. They are both led by false prophets Muhammad and John Smith
The logic of whorshipping our SUN is beyond arguement, calling it a GOD is illogical but nessesary to gain a following as to move the civilization past the moronic idea of god as its currently understood.
Oh my God can power a car so you have no need for earth based fuel. My God gives its power freely and to all creatures, we are stupid to not use it!
using the law of conservation of matter and energy, the energy given off by the sun simply transferrs to us thru food and warmth, but the whorshipping goes beyond that. if the planet when it is at its perihelion were even just a few hundred feet closer to mars we would be very cold all the time, if the planet when it is at its aphelion was closer to the sun by equal distance, very very hot. so everything points to the sun as the true life giving object to whorship if you were to whorship anything- logically speaking!
all pres will bow to that most pwrful g.'d : $$$ per the words printed on dollar bills and coins.
Christianity faith unlike others keeps the President dedicated & devoted to people of America with real time connections in social life. Most other faiths just prepare & profess for personal deeds for getting salvation through unreal & realistic practices. There are live actions through humanitarian aid or military to protect others from fellow slavery & subjugation in their respective political governance by motivating to democratic reforms to which the rulers are resistant & reluctant to part gifts of national wealth. These countries political leaders have exploited for thousands of years for personal & elite groups. Islamic Jihadist in Kashmir asked “Tourists not to wear skinny or transparent wears as it makes them shiver” as given in Times of India. While Assad President of Syria educated in UK & got Ophthalmic Degree, married a British woman & did not open one surgical center for blinds in Syria. OBL promised virgins to suicide bombers in heaven while he had 5 wives in Pakistan in his house. This is a practice & profession of faith. No religion or faith says like this. Cover of Heads with cloth or towel is respect for God the great & hygienic practice to have comfortable & congenial atmosphere in place of worship & nothing more or less. Moreover such restrictions on liberty & freedom of behavior of women has not given any dividends since thousands of years of discrimination against women who have the same brain & body like men to give their best to a country, society & education uplift. Those with faith work & live for humanity all the time & everywhere.
Example: the Afrikaan apartheid leaders were very righty-ous Xtians.
Mitt Romney has already said that he will allow his faith to influence his decisions as President in ways that are not only illegal but unhealthy and dangerous for minorities (including women, LGBT citizens, and ethnic minorities). So do not even try to tell me that his faith should not be of any consequence. The moment he lets Jesus decide the fates of his fellow citizens, he loses the privilege of being considered a good candidate for the office of President.
It should never matter–unless they want to shove their beliefs down our throats.. Most candidates tell you what you want to hear anyway–very rarely will they reveal their personal beliefs (or lack thereof). Separation of church and state...
Have you met many Republicans? They mention religion in virtually every sentence.
If Mitt Romney was a Christian, the GOP would be running ads 24/7 featuring Rev. Wright implying that Obama is a Muslim. But because Romney is a member of the Mormon church, the largest cult on earth, the GOP is desperately trying to downplay religion. Do a wiki search on Parley P. Pratt, Mitt Romney's great grandfather. See why he was killed by a jealous husband. Oh yeah, he also had 12 wives.
yes. con-Christians has a vexing conundrum with a mormon which they regarded a heretic cult to represent them in the Whouse.
Well if he's regarded as a heretic, then he's obviously not an authentic Christian now is he....duh? Do you even hear yourself?
Nice demonization. I'm sure the Democratic agenda has been furthered by such blather. The election is really about who can best lead the nation going forward. In the grand scheme, religion will likely play a minor role, if any.
It is interesting that liberals always want separation of church and state, but then talk about how biblical, and Jesus-like, liberalism is. Hypocritical.
Noteworthy in its absence in the above article is the name John Adams ... a strong Christian President who sacrificed mightily to work toward the formation of this country. David McCullough's biography of him is a stunning portrayal of a Christian family in the white house.
I strongly suspect you are making s**t up.
“The Government of the United States is in no sense founded on the Christian religion.” John Adams.
"This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it"- John Adams
You take john Adams words out of context. (John Adams was a Christian, proven in all his personal writings)
You are gullable
stupid is a virtue to you
None of your "you might be an athiest if..." statements convince anyone that you know what you are talking about. ;-)
It's not noteworthy. None of your "Jesus-like" traits are owned by religious people. Atheists are just making comparisons.
Context !!! The last refuge of a theist in denial.
Typical conservative does not even understand what "separation of church and state" means. You go beyond hypocrisy to good old-fashioned ignorance. Closely related, but still unique. Brava. You remind me of why I need to protect my country from people like you.
In the case of a Mormon or Scientologist, I think it would matter.
Or a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, etc.
you hide behind a nursery rhyme
Look – Bush isn't praying.
Are you supposed to bow your head and fold your hands when you pray ?
Does it work better if you do that ?
Will it still work if you don't ?
Muslims do it differently.
I wonder which technique god prefers ?
you think Muslims pray to God
Yes, that's who they (think they) pray to.
they'd be wrong as is anyone who thinks allah is God.
Allah is Arabic for God. How can a language be wrong?
you cannot see the difference between a word and deity.
In the Bible, God capital G is used to designate the one true God the creator. The word god is also used to reference idols or false gods. If allah was in the Bible which it is not, allah would be god not God.
Allah is the god of Abraham, as is the Jewish and Christian god. Same deity, all nonsense.
allah is an idol, no real Christian or Jew will acknowledge allah as anything but an idol.allah is not the God of Abraham never was never will be. allah is not the God of the Holy Bible.
You think a god is God
Yahweh/Jehovah, etc., the god of the Bible, whose name came to be "God", is nothing more than an idol also.
The ignorance in here is astounding. Learn something about Islam before you try and argue about it. Abraham's God=God=Allah=Yahweh=Elohim. They're all the same diety and the religions all have the same basic ideas and foundations.
Since we have theoretically separation of church and state, a politician should neither be asked nor mention his/her faith. That's supposed to be a personal choice. Whether or not the politician exchanges e-mails with the Pope, whoever is running Scientolgoy these days,or the president of the LDS Church is again a perhaps deplorable, but nevertheless personal matter.
Rather than concern ourselves about a politican's religion we should be watching the cookie jar 21/7.
The overwhelming majority of candidates for the GOP nomination loudly trumpeted how the god they prefer to believe in personally asked them to run for President. They went on and on about their religious beliefs, and gave countless stump speeches to specifically religious groups. They have publicly stated how their religion is going to influence they way they govern. Even the last man standing, Mitt Romney, has done this.
I don't think the problem is with the voters here.
If Romney is elected, can we all have Mormon harems? Cuz I'm cool with that.
I am constantly amazed at exactly how much time you seem to have to devote to spreading lies and your personal hatred. Very, very, sad.
Sure it matters to me. But hey, currently you have a president that spent the better part of his adult life listening to vitriolic race-baiting hatred and claims he's a Christian and then a guy who claims he's a Christian but is a member of wacky cult. Not much difference between the two.
Prayer changes things *
No amount of prayer can change what Obama is, and isn't. (Spawn of welfare trash and illegal citizen.)
that is one ugly, hateful reply
Then why did you post it?
The Truth must be allowed if you are referring to prayer,
Sadly even the klan has a right to their opinion if you are referring to the bigot.
Stupid will out if you are referring to yourself !
Oh, knock it off, you lying pos. You wrote it. You own it.
How could anyone think that a President's religion does not matter? Anything that is a part of your life influences how you see the world, the events that unfold, and the people in it. I can shape it differently depending on faith, belief or practices of belief in a higher power. It's become an issue because of Romney, which is silly in the same way it was when JFK ran for President. People did not want faith to be a factor, but it's one of many things that shape a person's character (or lack of.)
Obama is a "pulpit" President – he'll say what it takes to get a smile and a vote or a dollar in the tip jar, so to speak. He's void of any principles and continues to dodge basic questions over a birth certificate. I have mine, and I've had it since I had a Social Security number was assigned to me as a child – because I was born in the U.S., and so were my parents. I was not raised by welfare trash and with an absentee set of values and father figure. That factors into who you are also and no one demonstrates it better than the You Tube-elected current President. I cannot wait until November. I have faith on my choice and having this faith has guided me well in life.
Go to the garage. Turn on the car. Sit there and breathe deep. America thanks you.
You've had your birth certificate since when?
As if anyone cares. Do you really think Obama wasn't born in the USA? If so...
YOU MIGHT BE AN IDIOT!
Time to enter the 21st century starting with a prayer:
The Apostles' Creed 2012: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)
Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??
I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)
Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,
He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.
(references used are available upon request)
References? You made most of this into what you wanted.
Bull sh it alert avoid all reality garbage
Saving Christians like Camping from the Big Resurrection Con/Disease:
From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."
Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.
From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:
"Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.
Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.
Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.
The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.
Only Luke's Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "
"In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."
The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.
Of course, we all know that angels are really mythical "pretty wingie talking thingies".
With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:
o An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,
o "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."
o p.168. by Ted Peters:
Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "
o So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.
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.