Presidents and their Faith
As we consider the political climate of 2012, it seems hard to believe that many US presidents of the past did not lean on their faith as a factor in their electability. Either they ran in times when the public was less concerned with religion or they had other ideas that merited greater consideration.
America wonders what religion and the upswing in Christian fundamentalism means to our present and to our future. Some are greatly comforted by the trend; some are terrified that we are becoming a nation of religious fanatics.
We watch with great interest as a Mormon candidate vies for acceptance and many wonder what exactly Mormonism is, how it differs from mainstream American Christianity, and how it may influence important decisions and policies.
According to many sources, in times past, there were many notable presidents who were defined as “Deist.” A Deist believes in a supreme creator, but not in one who interferes with human affairs. Miracles, the trinity, and other standard fare for Christians are not a beliefs common among them. We count some big names among them, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and John Tyler. According to americanhumanist.org, many of these “Deist” presidents may also be considered “humanists.”
Among our founding fathers there were many Deists, including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine.
Some past presidents, while raised in certain Christian communities may have later moved into no religious affiliations at all. James Madison, James Monroe, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Chester Arthur are often mentioned as having been “irreligious,” perhaps religion is not a constant for everyone.
The religion that claims the most US presidents is Episcopalian, followed by Presbyterian. So far we’ve had four Methodists, four Baptists, and four Unitarians. We’ve had two Quakers, two Dutch Reformed and two Congregationalists. We’ve only had one Roman Catholic president.
This year, as we watched the possible republican candidates, it seemed that religion was more closely being watched. We had what appeared to be an outspoken, conservative Roman Catholic, intent on reversing progress on gay rights and enthusiastic about blasting the daylights out of Iran, as well as two Mormons who at times appeared to have morphed into Christian Evangelical conservatives. How strange and interesting to see faith on public display.
It could be argued that any candidate cannot change being born into a certain faith system. But, by the time they are ready to step up and run for president of the United States, to lead some three hundred million diverse people, that they should have formed their own opinions. Perhaps women and minority voters would be more comforted to know that these candidates completely disavow aspects of their religions that are discriminatory and completely support their progress in equality.
To date we have never had an atheist president, not one Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or a Sikh.
At this moment, if a minority candidate emerged with great ideas about fixing the economy, catapulting our education system to the top spot globally (we are currently rated 26th), developing a new and visionary health-care program, spearheading peace throughout the world—perhaps an individual who has hammered out solutions to age-old crises such as these that continue to play in the Middle East, and those at home such as poverty and violence, would she or he be given full consideration?
Abraham Lincoln presided in uncertain times, times that really mattered to the survival of our country. We hold him up as an example of great leadership and courage. Anyone who enjoys the benefits of civil-rights progress owes a debt to him. On religion he said, “The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession,” according to Joseph Lewis. In a letter to Judge J.S. Wakefield he later wrote, “My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.”
With views like his, would Lincoln stand a chance of election today?
Tags: American Presidents , Religion , World Religions , Opinion
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