Why Do Presidents Need Religion? August 25, 2010

Why Do Presidents Need Religion?

Tony Norman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a fantastic article about why our country’s presidents don’t need faith to do their job:

Two centuries of American democracy has come to this — a de facto religious test for the highest office in the land. That’s why many people, believers and nonbelievers alike, pray for a sincere skeptic in the White House. An agnostic or an atheist would have the latitude and political freedom to tell our nation’s ayatollahs to go to hell.

A non-theist president would be free to weigh in on controversies such as the “ground zero mosque” according to the Constitution, without fear of being judged insufficiently Christian. Mr. Obama is constantly checkmated by his enemies because he wants desperately to be accepted as a Christian on their terms.

Honestly, it would be better for the president to say to his critics that he may not be a Christian in the way that they define it. There would be no shame in such a confession. It is obviously the case with Mr. Obama.

Many of us look forward to the day when a president will be sworn in with hand firmly planted on the U.S. Constitution and nothing else. The Bible is too sacred to be used as a prop.

Actually, I think a non-theistic president would face even more criticism when weighing in on any religious issues at all. If the president were on the side of the state in church/state separation cases, it would never be because of the law, it’d be because the president “hates religion.”

Right now, no non-theists really have the ear of the president. Obama’s “faith council” (PDF) consisted of religious individuals and community leaders — no open atheists in the bunch. It’d be nice to see that changed… and it wouldn’t even take an atheist president to make that happen.

Norman also talks about Rev. Franklin Graham‘s recent devious and ignorant statement that President Obama was born a Muslim:

“Now it’s obvious that the president has renounced the prophet Mohammed and he has renounced Islam and he has accepted Jesus Christ,” Rev. Graham said. “That’s what he says he has done. I cannot say he hasn’t. So, I just have to believe that the president is what he has said.”

Since when do Mr. Obama’s critics on the religious right, including Rev. Graham, give him the benefit of the doubt on any issue? Even if clergy like Rev. Graham pretend to be reasonable, they’re not discouraging the less discerning folks in their congregations from believing all sorts of nonsense about Mr. Obama being a Kenyan-born Manchurian candidate. This is the kind of double-dealing nonsense Mr. Obama has to put up with every day.

Well said.

Can we get more articles like this in the mainstream media?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • That’s why many people, believers and nonbelievers alike, pray for a sincere skeptic in the White House.

    Non-believers praying? How does that work?

  • Ron in Houston

    Ideally, Presidents should be decidedly non-religious.

    However, the reality and the political reality are decidedly different.

  • Ben

    An agnostic or an atheist would have the latitude and political freedom to tell our nation’s ayatollahs to go to hell.

    Not if they want to get elected, or reelected. Just look at here in Australia: we had an atheist Prime Minister who didn’t vow to shake things up but instead promised to maintain the status quo and even encouraged the religious zealots by providing more funding to put chaplains in our schools. And not only denouncing gay marriage but forcing their only openly gay Senator to denounce it too.

    All to get reelected.

    Not that it did her much good, mind you; our election on the weekend just gone has resulted in a hung parliament and minor party (the progressive Greens) control of the Senate. Both good things, as far as I’m concerned.

  • Dan W

    That was a great article, and I too would like to see a non-theist President elected. Unfortunately, this is unlikely right now, as most Americans would not vote for a well-qualified openly atheist candidate running for any federal office. I hope this will change soon.

  • Fundie Troll

    An agnostic or an atheist would have the latitude and political freedom to tell our nation’s ayatollahs to go to hell.

    Ben said it right. Politicians must be all things to all people, and therefore they are slaves to the almighty VOTE.

    Many of us look forward to the day when a president will be sworn in with hand firmly planted on the U.S. Constitution and nothing else.

    I also look forward to the day that we can skip arm in arm through smurfland and pet the unicorns and care bears.

    Got news for ya – it’s not gonna happen.

    Politicians serve the interests of corporations and lobbyists. They are money whores. If you have any doubt, just look at how Obama is covering up for BP in the gulf. And you thought G.W. Bush was an oil good ‘ol boy?? BP is committing nothing short of environmental genocide in the gulf, and not only is this administration NOT doing anything about it, they are also complicit in the cover up.

    Man is utterly incapable of governing himself, and history has proven this fact time and time again. We are not on the cusp of a golden era, as many believe, but on the verge of a time of unprecedented subjugation and oppression, as the despots finally have the technology and wealth to subdue the entire planet.

  • L. Vellenga

    the kind of president many of my fellow christians think they want is someone like jimmy carter. sigh. he was maybe a nice guy but terrible on foreign relations. i think all this hoo-ha about obama is ridiculous. it’s filler during a slow news cycle. the job of president is too complex for any one factor to carry the day when it comes to policy-making. and besides, if i hire a mechanic, i’m more concernd with her abiliy to fix my car at a reasonable rate than her religious persuasion.

  • Ex Partiot

    I would vote for a non relgious president if one ever came along, but I doubt it will ever happen in my life time. I now live in a coutry where religion is not mentioned in the race for president or prime minister as the people really only care if he or she can do the job.

  • muggle

    I don’t know. Sounds great on paper but what I think would be the most ideal is if the President’s (or anyone running for office) religious views were unknown to the public at large. Ain’t gonna happen. But it is the only way that we’ll ever see someone neutral on religious affairs.

    I fear Fundie Troll is right. I’d like to think not but wishing doesn’t make it so and I fear he is. I also wish I’d wake up one morning free of my crippling arthritis, fibromyalgia and IBS. Neither’s going to happen.

    I find myself lately wishing for something between majority rule and tyranny. Some input from the people but where those who govern temper that with common sense and an adherence to the Constitution. Recent events make me despair of ever seeing that happen. Not just with the Ground Zero Mosque but when NY Representative Scott Murphy thought long and hard and asked for input from the people before voting for the health care reform bill (something I thought most refreshing and defended saying I wish more elected officials would think long and hard about the pros and cons before deciding how to vote on legislation), he was villified. I’m not in his district which is extremely conservative and when he voted for the bill, the rage on local blogs and in the media was unreal. He even got death threats.

    In that kind of atmosphere, how can we possibly hope for good government?

  • I gotta say that from this side of the pond the American obsession with the religion of people holding political office is… weird.
    Deeply weird.
    It’s not that we think political leaders shouldn’t be religious around here. It’s just… none of anyone’s business. Religion’s a personal thing. Politics is a job thing. Querying someone’s religious affiliation would be like, oh, asking about whether they get enough fiber in their diet, or whether they floss regularly. Sure, I think that it is generally preferable for people to be of a secular bent, floss regularly and eat plenty of fiber, but when it comes to casting votes I can’t see it as being any way as relevant to the vast majority of people than what the f*ck they’re going to do about the economy, like yesterday.

  • Jordan

    How would a non-theist president avoid cries of “STALIN!”

    Religious people aren’t likely to trust outside their cults so it’s a bit of a necessary evil. Like British parents swapping religions or pretending to be religious to get their children into faith schools.

  • Teri

    Wow I was only thinking about this stuff today! I’m a junior in high school, and I consider myself an atheist/agnostic. Today I asked my English teacher if an atheist president would have to put their hand on the Bible and he said yes, because it doesn’t mean anything. After all, he says, swearing on the bible never stopped any of our presidents from lying.

  • SickoftheUS

    An agnostic or an atheist would have the latitude and political freedom to tell our nation’s ayatollahs to go to hell.

    Yes, and also our nation’s rebbes, and our nation’s Inquisitors, etc. etc. Again, with the taken-for-granted singling-out of Islam as our favorite rhetorical authoritarian religion. The recognition of particular religious cultural bias is an important part of understanding religious bias, period.