Commander-In-Belief?: Americans Have A History Of Thinking The President Isn’t Christian Enough

By Simon Brown

It is well documented that the Religious Right thinks President Barack Obama either isn’t religious enough or is the “wrong” religion. But it turns out that when it comes to presidents and their personal beliefs, these sentiments are nothing new. As it turns out, Americans have a long history of claiming that the president just isn’t Christian enough for their liking.

In his new book Religion in the Oval Office, author Gary Scott Smith examined the theological background of 11 presidents from John Adams through Obama. Smith, who chairs the history department at Grove City College, concluded that the American public is never satisfied with the president’s level of observance.

Unsurprisingly, Smith found that the chief executive who drew the most suspicion about his faith was Thomas Jefferson – the deist and Founding Father who coined the term “wall of separation” between church and state.

Smith wrote that during the 1800 presidential race, ministers claimed that the future president prayed to the “Goddess of Reason” and sacrificed animals during services held at his home in Virginia. Then-Yale University President Timothy Dwight said if Jefferson were elected, “we may see the Bible cast into a bonfire.” (While Jefferson did make his own version of the Bible in which he removed all of the stories of Jesus’ miracles and references to his divinity, there is no evidence that he ever destroyed any religious books.)

Alexander Hamilton, another Founding Father who was also the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, even went so far as to argue that Jefferson should be barred from running for office because of his supposed atheist beliefs.


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11 COMMENTS

  1. Funny how, despite 200+ years of social and technological evolution, religion still hinders progress on the grandest scale. I can almost imagine that a homosexual Muslim woman married to another woman will be president long before any athiest person.

    • Mike

      In recent times in Australia, we’ve had two openly atheist Prime Ministers and no one blinked an eye. One was elected 3 times and the other once. This OCD about religion seems to be a purely American cultural oddity. I ponder how America came to this position, while the rest of the western world moved further and further away from religion. Today, it is an albatross around the neck of America’s future.

  2. Think of the dangerous Christian ideas a president may harbour:

    there is no need to worry about climate change. Christian prophecy says it is a hoax.
    Vaccinations are a hoax. The true cause of disease is demons sent by god to punish for insufficient burnt offerings.
    There is only one true religion. We should help people to the truth by forcing it down their throats, using waterboarding if necessary.
    No matter how we provoke other nations, even nuke them, they will never dare strike us back. We are god’s chosen people.
    Our abundance is god’s bounty. It has nothing to do with industry or education. To increase it we should convert education purely to bible study. God will reward us.

    Thank goodness Christianity is just a role presidential candidates play to get elected by a brain fried electorate.

      • ad nauseam
        May 8, 2015 at 6:14 pm

        I think you labeled some conservative and fringe ideas as Christian…just saying…

        I think that was the point – that many far right conservative ideas are fundamentaliat Xtian! – As are many far right conservative politicians.

        http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/bush-god-told-me-to-invade-iraq-6262644.html

        President George Bush has claimed he was told by God to invade Iraq and attack Osama bin Laden’s stronghold of Afghanistan as part of a divine mission to bring peace to the Middle East, security for Israel, and a state for the Palestinians.

        Strange, how an all seeing omnipotent god, can make a $6 trillion mistake and cause civil wars and massive suffering! – Unless of course we recognise the “god-delusion” is the reality!

        • I think that was the point – that many far right conservative ideas are fundamentaliat Xtian! – As are many far right conservative politicians.

          Yeah that was the point…but the point it is still wrong.

          Overlap doesn’t mean they are the same. Conservatism really doesn’t have much to do with religion…all conservatism means is that one believes the status quo should remain unchanged.

          Like the examples of vaccines, global warming, and waterboarding have nothing to do with religion.

          And the Iraq war… well, even Hitchens was for that…does that make Hitch (may he rest in peace) a fundie?

          • ad nauseam
            May 8, 2015 at 7:07 pm

            I think that was the point – that many far right conservative ideas are fundamentaliat Xtian! – As are many far right conservative politicians.

            Yeah that was the point…but the point it is still wrong.

            Overlap doesn’t mean they are the same.

            I said, “many” not “all”, so it clearly does say that overlapping areas are the same.

            Conservatism really doesn’t have much to do with religion…all conservatism means is that one believes the status quo should remain unchanged.

            Like religion, it is change-phobic, and looks back at the past, rather than forward to the future.

            Like the examples of vaccines, global warming, and waterboarding have nothing to do with religion.

            Certain sections of global warming denialists, are certainly religiously motivated, claiming that “God has given us the Earth to do with as we wish” and “would not let disaster happen to his “chosen followers”!

            http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/james-inhofe-says-bible-refutes-climate-change
            The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, where he repeated his frequent claim that human influenced climate change is impossible because “God’s still up there.” Inhofe cited Genesis 8:22 to claim that it is “outrageous” and arrogant for people to believe human beings are “able to change what He is doing in the climate.”

            it also shares delusional ideologies with fundamentalist religions.

            http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/the-green-dragon-slayers-how-the-religious-right-and-the-corporate-right-are-joining-fo
            The Cornwall Alliance has been enormously successful in recruiting Religious Right leaders to promote its anti-environmental cause. In 1999, the group started recruiting prominent Religious Right figures to sign the “Cornwall Declaration,” a document that attacks environmentalists, saying they “deify nature or oppose human dominion over creation” and promote “erroneous theological and anthropological positions.” Among its signatories were Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Chuck Colson of the Colson Center, D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association, Janice Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America, Daniel Lapin of Towards Tradition, and Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. The president of CFACT called himself “a driving force” behind the declaration.

            Recently, the group started collecting signatures for an updated “Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming,” which states that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming” and maintains that “reducing greenhouse gases cannot achieve significant reductions in future global temperatures.”

            The Cornwall Alliance’s board includes Religions Right notables David Barton of WallBuilders, Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Center, Jerry Newcombe of Coral Ridge Ministries and Joel Belz of WORLD Magazine.

          • Conservatism really doesn’t have much to do with religion

            This is pedantry that defeats opportunities for real insight. Lets at the start throw in the caveats to avoid the string of misdirections that will otherwise follow.

            Religion has its progressive manifestations, Liberation theology, Liberal Quakerism, Democrat Jimmy Carter…. These are all small scale or mould breaking and institutionally unloved. Progressive moral stances can come from religion but most often these are not institutionally favoured.

            Christianity, certainly by the 12th century, became closely entwined with the agents of state power in a symbiotic process of mutual legitimation and protection. In an age of writing and books, new ideas could not be added without the risk of undermining authority. Religion became the rock that licenses the divine right of kings yet held them in check. It became the conserving principle of political power.

            As Haidt has it whilst those on the left have morals centred on issues of harms and fairness, those on the right elaborate this with issues of loyalty, (acceptance of) authority and appeals to preserved purity (of institutions and individuals).

            The very essence and primary appeal of Christianity through the bulk of it medieval and modern history has been to act as the great conserver of social values, the underwriter of authority and a bulwark against upstart change.

  3. SaganTheCat
    May 8, 2015 at 7:13 am

    . . . . but oh no, they had to “elect” someone based on their ability to govern a country instead.

    That may have been somewhat true at times, but the ability to attract sponsorship with attached agendas, and support from the “mindless media”, seems to predominate recently!

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