Finding Faith in the Oval Office

While writing “Presidential Courage,” I discovered that one of the biggest hidden influences on the nine Presidents in my book … Continued

While writing “Presidential Courage,” I discovered that one of the biggest hidden influences on the nine Presidents in my book was religious faith – a faith that most of them concealed.

One story I tell is of Harry Truman deciding whether or not to recognize Israel in 1948. He had the power to decide whether the new Jewish state would survive. Truman’s Secretary of State, George Marshall, was threatening to quit. I discovered that Truman’s wife Bess was privately so bigoted that she would not even let Jewish people into her house in Missouri. On the other side, Truman’s old Jewish haberdashery partner, Eddie Jacobson, tearfully begged him to help his people resist another Adolf Hitler.

Truman never wore religion on his sleeve. His grandfather had warned him that if someone prayed too ostentatiously, “you better go home and lock up your smokehouse.” But as a quiet Baptist and Bible-reader, Truman was much affected by his favorite Psalm, Number 137: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.”

Another of my stories reveals Ronald Reagan showing the guts to turn his back on some of his oldest hardline supporters to try to end the Cold War. Few people knew how much Reagan was moved by the memory of his cherished mother Nelle, a saintly lay preacher, who had insisted to young Ronnie that Soviet Communism would one day be swept away by religion. Reagan’s daughter Maureen recalled that Nelle “had the gift for making you believe that you could change the world.”

Reagan feared that Armageddon was near. When the President told a Korean visitor that the Messiah’s second coming would be preceded by “armies invading the Holy Land” and a plague in which “the eyes are burned from the head,” aides begged him to keep his views to himself: he was scaring people!

When Reagan survived his near-fatal shooting in 1981, he felt God had spared him so that he could abolish the world’s arsenal of “immoral” nuclear weapons – which he and the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev almost achieved in their 1986 Iceland summit.

Although Nelle died in 1962, Reagan’s mother was always on his mind. This is clear from a heretofore-unknown conversation I discovered between Reagan and Gorbachev in Moscow during their next-to-last summit in 1988. Reagan said that now that he and Mikhail were “friends,” he wanted to tell him something in secret. If it ever leaked, he said, he’d deny he had ever said it.

Reagan told Gorbachev it was his “kind of personal dream” that Gorbachev would let all Soviet citizens attend “the church of their choice.”

Disgruntled, Gorbachev insisted that the Soviets had “evolved” beyond such primitive practices as religion. Taking the offensive, he asked Reagan why Americans did not give full rights to nonbelievers.

Reagan retorted, “They do.” He said his own son Ron was “an atheist, although he calls himself an agnostic.”

Gorbachev tried to change the subject by proposing a joint mission to Mars.

Smiling, Reagan changed it back, saying that Mars was “in the direction of heaven,” but not as close as what he had mentioned. He told Gorbachev he’d always yearned to serve his atheist son “a perfect gourmet dinner, have him enjoy the meal, then ask him if he believed there was a cook.”

Tired of arguing, Gorbachev said, “The only possible answer is yes.”

Of my nine courageous Presidents, the one whose private religion I found the most captivating was Abraham Lincoln’s. Through his 30s, Lincoln was a religious skeptic and had to assure voters that he was not “an open scoffer at Christianity.” The trauma of the Civil War and the deaths of his sons Eddie and Willie pushed him toward reading the Bible as President. He told an old friend, “Take all of this book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier and better man.”

Lincoln did not cite God as authority for his policies. Quite the opposite. He felt his moral duty was to discover what God wanted him to do. In a handwritten, undated note found in his desk after his assassination, Lincoln gave us the best clue to his religious faith.

Lincoln scrawled that while “the will of God prevails,” he was struggling to understand His attitude toward the Civil War. The Almight “could have either saved or destroyed the Union” without a civil war: “And, having begun, he could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.”

Lincoln observed that it was “quite possible” that God’s purpose is something different” from either North or South. Thus as Commander-in-Chief he must keep on trying to discover what it was.

Throughout American history we have never had a more eloquent expression of how religious faith can empower and guide a moral and courageous President.

Michael Beschloss is a presidential historian and author of several books, including Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989 (Simon and Schuster).

Michael Beschloss
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  • Tom Conway

    A thoughtful, interesting piece, and parents will identify with the sentiment that led the very successful Mr. Reagan with many plaudits to his name to raise his son’s demurral on religion at a summit with Gorby. Many of us know that feeling, that the really big thing is the little simple thing, after all.

  • Gandalf: to Jacob

    Jacob, you say “Yes It’s True; “Let there Be Photons” Gen: 1:1.”

  • Anonymous

    Our nation has been blessed with leaders who have a Christan faith. For to be a Christian is to attempt to follow Christ. Can anyone think of a better role model for those who hold positions of power than Jesus who was the servant of all.

  • Asim

    Truman did not recognize the “jewish state” because of his faith, he said openly “that he recognized the “jewish state” because he had hundreds of thousands of zionist constituents/voters but had no such Arab voters.” His advisors were much wiser and visionary than he was to advise him against establishing a jewish state especially George Marshall and on the ruins of the Palestinian people. We have seen for the past sixty years the destructive results of Truman’s disastrous and biased decision, at the expense of the indigenous Palestinians who were either driven from their homeland by Zionist ethnic cleansing and living like sub humans in refugees camps every where OR living in a big prison called Gaza/West Bank with an imposed state of Apartheid by the same people who claimed they wanted to avoid “Another Hitler!!!.” What will Truman and his jewish voters tell their GOD about the untold suffering he and his jewish voters inflicted and continue to inflict on those miserable Palestinian souls?

  • staffy

    Interesting. Yet Reagan’s administration was the most corrupt in U.S. history, judging by number of high administration officials indicted for crimes. And what Christian virtues are exemplified by its sponsorship of vicious death squads in Central America? The current administration, with its pious pretensions, would be in the same category if Congress would do its job. It advocates torture, uses its power to punish truth tellers who expose its lies and distortions, allows its cronies to steal from the public, gives its cronies tax breaks while not giving its troops the equipment and medical care it needs, and on and on. We see graduates of “Christian” colleges corrupted in our Justice Department and turning it into a hit squad for the Republican Party. Its seems religion is used to excuse their greed and corruption.I’ll take an honest atheist any day.

  • Andrea

    Staffy,In the words of Anonymous:”Our nation has been blessed with leaders who have a Christan faith.”- Yes, truly blessed.”I’ll take an honest atheist any day.” – I second that.

  • Peacetroll

    The facts:The Jewish-Zionist organization made a deal with Brittian in WWI to obtain the support of America to attack and take over the German/Axis forces of the time and win the war…IFIF Brittian would sign the Balfour declaration.Brittian had no more right to give away the Palestinian land then Irish have a right to give away Hawaii.All facts.

  • BB

    It is Satan who gives power and authority in this world.So why do you suppose these men of power (presidents and such), actually have any faith in Jesus Christ?Your all taking wooden nickels.Your all asleep.

  • Tonio

    “Lincoln did not cite God as authority for his policies. Quite the opposite. He felt his moral duty was to discover what God wanted him to do.”As much respect as I have for Lincoln, I have qualms about any president believing he knows what God wants him to do. There is no safeguard for preventing such a belief from turning into a messiah complex, or turning into “citing God as authority for policies.” Reagan’s premillennialism is unimaginably scary, because he conceivably might have been tempted to start World War III to bring about the events in Revelation. Assuming that God exists, what is the basis for any claim as to what God wants? It’s possible that Lincoln was really communicating with his inner moral sense or his conscience, instead of with a supernatural being. “parents will identify with the sentiment that led the very successful Mr. Reagan with many plaudits to his name to raise his son’s demurral on religion at a summit with Gorby.”I have two children and I don’t identify with that sentiment. It sounded like Reagan never truly accepted his son’s atheism. Otherwise, why would he yearn to change his son’s beliefs? At some point all parents have to let go, to let their children follow their own paths.

  • Joe Nash

    This Michael Beschloss sounds like a guy who would support George W. Bush and his genocide in Iraq. Tell me…where was Truman’s God when he dropped the Atom bomb, not once but twice, and wiped out millions of innocent Japanese civilians? Truman’s God was satan. And Michael Beschloss is a retard.

  • Jim

    Dear Staffy & Andrea, I quite agree that Reagan, in his self-righteousness, sought to end communism any way possible, even by illegally supplying death squads in El Salvador and a ruthless army in Nicargua. I imagine that he saw the Sandistas as too much of an ungodly threat to democracy and worse to his religiously laden capitalism. Reagan and Bush seem in their simplistic way to combine Christ and capitalism, that Smith’s “invisible hand” is God, not the collective consciousness of stock-holders. If the marekt is up or down, it has much more to do with how investors collectively “feel” about their futures, not if Christ sees IBM as morally justified so that it rises 3/8ths of a point. The real distinction that is missed in Central America is the role that religion almost played for the good of the people, not the various pro-American juntas. When Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was murdered in San Salvador, that hope was dealt a mighty blow because he had called for social justice based on Christian ideals of charity. So a nominally Christian president inflicted great damage on God’s people in the name of Christo-Capitalism, much as W is now doing in Iraq and Afganistan — killing in the name of God, his unholy “Crusade.” Good Christians would have turned their cheeks and sought to help the poor, not with arms but by removing the US military from its imperialistic occupation of Islam’s Holy Lands.

  • Manohar

    Joe Nash: Well didn’t Japan first bomb Pearl harbor and then the crimes that it committed against China and other countries aren’t innocent. Well, I’d agree that the N-bombs were an overkill but surely stopped all the killing.BTW, why does US (GWB) get all the credit for what’s going on currently in Iraq. They flopped trying to do something and now it’s Iraqis killing Iraqis. GWB is actually trying to stop the bleeding, but these guys just don’t want to give themselves a chance.. minority of the Iraqis I hope.Great article Mr. Beschloss. I especially like what Lincoln said “Take all of this book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier and better man.”

  • Travis

    If the story of Reagan’s blatantly fallacious cook/god argument is supposed to demonstrate some sort of clever, faith-based folk wisdom, I’m afraid it falls way short. It just makes him sound like a rube and proves only how quickly a non-believer can tire of such an inane conversation.These are the rhetorical tactics he employed to win important policy arguments with his cold war opposite? Still, I guess it worked in this case. But not for the right reasons.

  • Steve Novak

    Our country has had good Christian presidents, and bad ones. Those of you in this forum gushing over the Christianity of our presidents obviously are blinded by their faith, ignoring their delusions. Whether a person is a christian or not has zero to do if they’re a good person or not.

  • Gaby

    Religion is religion and politics are politics and the two should never ever mesh.Unless, of course, we will have O.U.R.S. via the ECLATARIAN (ECLATi-ON) faith.

  • Mike

    Give me a break. Seriously. Besides, who cares where a president’s courage comes from? Also, too much “courage” becomes arrogance and self-righteousness. Separation of church and state is essential to a democratic society. Otherwise, you have a theocracy, like in Iran, and all of the wonderful, godly things that go with a theocracy–draconian laws, honor killings, lack of due process, etc. Just what we should aspire to! This is not to say that the historical Jesus wasn’t a person worthy of emulating–but one cannot seriously argue that Bush, Reagan, et al. really emulated Jesus at all. Using Jesus to add unwarranted legitimacy to unwise and/or corrupt policies is not the same as emulating or living as Jesus would. It is the opposite.

  • Marion

    I admire Dr. Bechloss immensely, but he did not “discover” private faith as a common thread among courageous presidents. Based on his analysis, he “constructed” personal faith as a common element. As a researcher, Dr. Bechloss needs to tell us of his own personal experiences so that we may ascertain the effect of his life’s experiences on his analysis. But the important factor here is that the faith of these men was a personal faith. They did not try to impose their faith on all people, not did they try to blur the line between religion and the state. I suspect that not one of these presidents would have supported the current drive by fundamentalist Christians to establish theocracy as a form of government.

  • Zeus!

    We need a lot less faith in the Oval Office and a lot more truth! Frankly, there is no faith in the oval office at all; if anyone still believes in this corrupt regime they are brain-dead or sychophants; neuther requires faith only ignorance or greed is required.

  • Mr Mark

    Dear Mr Beschloss -Thanks for confirming that Ronald Reagan was a faith-based idiot. Fearing Armageddon? Thanking god that his life was spared when he was shot? What about Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady? He got the worst of that shooting, didn’t he? I’m sure Reagan looked at poor Mr Brady and thought, “there but for the grace of god go I.” What that actually translates into is, “there BY the grace of god goes James Brady.” – thanks to Christopher Hitchens for that one.His exchange with Gorbachov – which even in your accounting was won hands down by Gorby – just adds wood to the pyre. I, too, would tire of arguing with a man who uses the “someone musta cooked this meal” gambit as “proof” for a creator to counter the beliefs of his agnostic son (sorry, Mr President, but your son gets to define himself, not you. If he says he’s an agnostic, he’s an agnostic).And Mars is “in the direction of heaven?” God help us!Still, thanks for uncovering this little nugget of national embarassment. I knew Reagan said some outrageous things to world leaders, but this is one is along the lines of a world leader talking to a 5th-grade Sunday School student.This country is still suffering from the destructive Reagan years. Without Reagan, there would have been no bush Junior. ‘Nuff said.Seems to me that Ronald Reagan’s naive religiosity was a big part of the problem with Ronald Reagan.BTW – is anyone surprised that Reagan had faith in god? As I recall, he pretty much wore his faith on his sleeve. His speeches are littered with references to god, Jesus…even Mary & Joseph. Just because the man never went to church doesn’t mean he wasn’t a card-carrying Xian.

  • Joe Nash

    Hey Manohar,How many women and children died in Pearl Harbor? Brace yourself…..the number is zero, which is far less than the ethnic asian US born women and children died in concentration camps set up by…yes the good old U.S. Government. Pearl harbor was a purely military attack on a military base and killed only soldiers who had signed on for war. Unlike the A-bomb attacks on civilian cities that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent women and children who were protected by the Geneva Convention. So take your BS and peddle it somewhere else. The biggest joke is GWB trying to stop Civil war in Iraq. So where was this civil war before Bush invaded Iraq? What? It didn’t exist? You don’t say! GWB is in Iraq for one thing and one thing only: OIL. Manohar…go peddle your BS else where. Unfortunately for your type, some of us have memories longer than six months.

  • Confidence is a game

    If humility is too difficult you can always just quit and become faithful.

  • Jack

    I enjoyed your article very much Mr. Beschloss. I miss hearing you on Imus also.To me the premise is that we all like to believe (and I’m not sure if atheists want to be included here) God-like. We were made in the image of God, but not perfect. Everyone has their faults whether we want to believe that or not. And when we make decisions that involve more than just yourself, you look for guidance in order to make that decision, whether it’s your Uncle Fred or God. I guess some people may conclude you would have received better advice from Uncle Fred.

  • Your Conscience

    Manohar,Who would Jesus premptively invade?Who would Jesus Waterboard and Torture?Who would Jesus snatch up in rendition and wisk away to an illegal black prison for torture?Would jesus yell the constitution is just a g*damned piece of paper?Who would Jesus wiretap without warrants?Your failure in Chief and fellow Christian Taliban are delusional in not recognizing this country as a secular society. Only a fascist brownshirt and apologist like yourself would support such failure and place party before nation.How heavy is the water today?Truth be told, there are consequences for supporting, enabling, and excusing a dry drunk AWOL male cheerleader who pretend to be a leader.

  • Your Conscience

    Manohar,Who would Jesus premptively invade?Who would Jesus Waterboard and Torture?Who would Jesus snatch up in rendition and wisk away to an illegal black prison for torture?Would jesus yell the constitution is just a g*damned piece of paper?Who would Jesus wiretap without warrants?Your failure in Chief and fellow Christian Taliban are delusional in not recognizing this country as a secular society. Only a fascist brownshirt and apologist like yourself would support such failure and place party before nation.How heavy is the water today?Truth be told, there are consequences for supporting, enabling, and excusing a dry drunk AWOL male cheerleader who pretend to be a leader.

  • Rob Adams

    Mike – well put.The fact that a person believes in any particular religion does not add legitimacy to his actions. His actions demonstrate how well he understands / follows his faith.

  • Bill

    A man goes to the store, buys a terrarium, and stocks it with various small animals and insects. What’s unusual about this group is that they can read and talk with one another. Also, they’re all near-sighted and can’t see you looking at them from a few feet away. So they argue about how they got there, while you listen. You gave them a book at the beginning that explains how they got there. Some read it and believe that you put them there, and some scoff. But just because the scoffers scoff doesn’t mean that you didn’t put them there.So to those of you who post your dislike of all things pointing to God — you don’t change anything. You just reveal the darkness within you. It’s not too late to change though. Read the gospel of John in the Bible – it’s only about 25 pages long.

  • Jack

    Ohhh Bill,You’ve opened a hornets nest !

  • Terrence

    Notice that these presidents CONCEALED their religion. Why? Because religion is an illogical, unverifiable base of beliefs that when challenged, buckle. Simply put: religion explains the unexplanable. The church said that the sun revolved around the earth. Copernicus believed otherwise and was labeled a heretic. Many years later the church agreed. Anybody ever hear any church or any of it’s members support the Big Bang theory??? The point is that religion is useful if used in the correct way, as it appears these presidents did. When used introspectivally it can be a powerful tool. However, when religion is used in the way that George Bush uses it, it is nothing more then a corrupting force. One final point, nationalism can be used very similarly. Who amongst us doesn’t love our country??? Who amongst us wants to be labeled evil??? Unfortunately for us, Bush uses both and the sheep follow.

  • Roy

    One poster wrote: “Our nation has been blessed with leaders who have a Christan faith. For to be a Christian is to attempt to follow Christ. Can anyone think of a better role model for those who hold positions of power than Jesus who was the servant of all.” While I agree with the last statement I take umbrage that our nation has been blessed with so called “Christian” faith. Christianity has been hijacked by extremists who, rather than attempting to follow Christ, have used his name for greed, power and control. This includes some of our presidents and the malicious men behind them.Bill wrote: “So to those of you who post your dislike of all things pointing to God — you don’t change anything. You just reveal the darkness within you. It’s not too late to change though. Read the gospel of John in the Bible – it’s only about 25 pages long.” I agree that John is the best part of the Bible. But other parts contradict the love of Chirst. Most of the old testament and Revealations (someone’s the bad acid trip) divide, judge, condemn, scare and control. You want to find darkness? Read the other parts of the Bible. Christian extremists including those in the present administration cherry pick these scriptures for their anything but Christ-like ambitions and their politics of fear and hate.

  • nilwenc

    I must wonder how some of the above contributors make decisions in their daily lives. They continually plead that there must be a decision making process that is detached from the decision-makers own faith and perspective. That’s like asking a mechanic to fix your car, but requesting that he not consult any previous experience or rely on any automotive training and education. We all have a faith, or perspective on life, that allows us to perceive the world in which we live. Even an atheist has faith that there is no God; no one can prove for certain that God exists. When we ask a president to make a decision with complete disregard for their faith and experience, then you are asking for the impossible. It shouldn’t be suprising that presidents share the common thread of a strong personal faith. Great leaders are great decision makers and have excelled at using their perspective to make decisions. What should be suprising, is that people actually ask them to ignore that faith in their duty as president.

  • Ryuho

    It was a lovely article about how personal faith can be a source of strength for an American President, especially in times of struggle. Sadly, it did NOT address what to do when the President is quite mad and believes that the voice of Wormtongue Cheney is that of God. Nor does it address what to do when religious zealotry hardens the heart of a man to the point that he refuses to acknowledge that his actions are responsible for the death and dismemberment of his own people. Or how the belief in his own personal infallibity can blind him to the fact that his actions are achieving the goals of his enemies for them. Perhaps the next book.

  • Anonymous

    Asking god what to do about the mess you created means you’re already waste deep in a pile of Texas pasture patty. We’re spinning around on a rock, armed to the teeth with the delusion we have a god given right to push everyone into being us. Except for a bit of luck in having our forefathers land on the most habitable piece of the new world, engage the native culture and exterminate it for the greater good, we’d be those piss-poor wretches we seem to take such pleasure in moralizing to about democracy before we shoot ‘em. The Texan in the White House said today he fears the Nation is losing its soul–that pesky little fella–let’s ask him if understatement can be separated from irony. God can wait.

  • Tonio

    “We all have a faith, or perspective on life, that allows us to perceive the world in which we live.”Nilwenc, the type of faith you describe is not the problem. The problem is the idea of a supernatural being giving orders to humans. That actually goes against a reliance on experience and perspective for decision-making, because it means that the highest priority is pleasing that supernatural being. Hypothetically, anyone can claim to be a proxy for such a being and invent with any sort of divine command for other people. And there is no safeguard against someone being convinced that pleasing that being means harming other people. That’s different from people harming others for their own gain, because the people with divine missions are honestly convinced they are doing the right thing.

  • Anonymous

    Joe Nash- the far leftist that can’t see past his nose . Been reading those Daily Kos or like websites to get you all whipped up, huh? If this thing in iraq was about oil, we’d be protecting all the oil fields and letting the people just get killed even to a higher degree than now. Concentration camps – what are those? the internment camps? Nothing like what happened to the Jews.The Japs would have fought to the end and we we wanted to end a long, long war. Were you alive back then or what revisionist history are YOU reading?

  • Mr Mark

    nilwenc writes:OR – how about this:If Nilwenc needs his car fixed, he goes to a mechanic. He expects that the mechanic has the proper training. He may even ask to see his license and credentials, because Nilwenc’s car is too important to him to have some unlettered idiot working on it.The same applies to Nilwenc’s doctors and the schools he sends his kids to – they better be properly accredited, or they’re not going to get his business.However, when it comes to the “truth” of the Bible, it’s all a “matter of faith.”

  • jhbyer

    Thank you, commenters, for speaking up for reality, which by definition, is not based on faith.

  • tiger woods

    Mr. Beschloss looks as awful lot like Reverend Ted Haggard. Appears to have the same Bush man-crush as well.Best of luck to you my confused right wing friend. You’re going to need it.

  • Anonymous

    “I must wonder how some of the above contributors make decisions in their daily lives.” Dear Clueless,Ummm, let’s see: Have sex or coffee? Definitely both.Have sex with the Mechanic or the dog? Really neither, unless the dog is Lindsey Lohan on all fours. Have sex with god? To ethereal.Go to science class: Clone a stemcell or make a man out of mud? Profane huh. Really DS, just start off by deciding not to kill anyone or send anyone in your place to do it. Since you gotta live here, might be a good idea to treat the place and people who live here too fairly well. The rest comes naturally. Really a tough question, but I got by without believing in or asking god for help.

  • Jkoch

    Only one US president has written or spoken much in candor about faith. He is also the one the Religious Right shuns because he dares challenge the propopensity to confuse nation with God or to admit national sin. This was, of course, Carter, whom the author ignores, prefering instead to offer an apocryphal reason for Truman’s decision. and delve at length into the fuzzy supernational musings of Reagan. Now if our current Decider had never seen the light and had, instead, dedicated his life to golf and good times, would our nation or world have been any the worse?

  • Terrence

    Bill, Bill, Bill you are such a simple man, evidenced by your hypothetical example. You wrote: A man goes to the store, buys a terrarium, and stocks it with various small animals and insects. What’s unusual about this group is that they can read and talk with one another. Also, they’re all near-sighted and can’t see you looking at them from a few feet away. So they argue about how they got there, while you listen. You gave them a book at the beginning that explains how they got there. Some read it and believe that you put them there, and some scoff. But just because the scoffers scoff doesn’t mean that you didn’t put them there.Where to begin?? First, this hypothetical situation ASSUMES that there is a God (the man who set up the terrarium). Bill, I challenge you to prove to me that there is a God. And don’t give me the old, “How do you think you woke up this morning” response either. Secondly, prove to me that everything in the Bible is fact. You see Bill, you can’t. One last question for you Bill; did John write his entire gospel, HIMSELF. Do me a favor, read the last chapter and you will notice that it says, “…this is the disciple who testifieth of these things and WE know HIS testimony to be true”. That’s WE and HIS Bill. Why would John refer to himself as WE and to the author of the gospel of John in the 1st person?? Save the religious propaganda for Sunday School or come with a real argument. BTW, that bit about John crosses the Jehovah’s Witnesses eyes when they stop by my crib to have a chat. The proof is in the pudding.

  • jhbyer

    Anonymous, for the Bushies to get at Iraq’s oil, it’s never been enough for them to secure the fields. The Iraqi government must sign off on contracts giving U.S. companies the rights to pump it out. These contracts have been ready for years, but Maliki’s government is stalling. Are Iraqis too smart for the Bushies? Stay tuned…

  • Asim

    Michael,

  • Anonymous

    nilwenc wrote: “What should be suprising, is that people actually ask them to ignore that faith in their duty as president.”Whether it’s surprising or not (to you) my friend, the US Constitution orders our government officials to ignore their religion in all sorts of ways, which is to say they’re required by law to do so.You state the obvious, that, “When we ask a president to make a decision with complete disregard for their faith and experience, then you are asking for the impossible.”But that’s not really what we’re asking for. We’re asking that when their beliefs INTERFERE with their ability to make the reasonable and correct decision for the good of the country, then those beliefs should be ignored.If the president makes a decision to start a war based on the fact that he believes The Rapture is coming, that is clearly a bad thing, no? Would you not concede that it’s better for him to ignore his beliefs in this case? Do we not require him to set aside his beliefs to do what’s best for us as citizens (i.e. not get us all blown up)?

  • Joe

    Mr. Bechloss’ most illuminating point regards Lincoln. He at least recognized that it is illegitimate for a leader to invoke religious faith as authority for any public act, regardless of its strength. Even as he struggled with what God was doing, or not doing, he did not make the mistake of appealing to God’s will as discerned by him as his authority for anything. He recognized that whatever a person’s resources for “soul searching,” whether faith based or not, once the personal search for what you believe is the right course is ended, you announce your position and defend it on its merits using reason, period. Lincoln had it right.

  • jwest

    AnonymousPart of our military in Iraq do nothing more then protect the oil fields. JHBYER is 100% correct. The Maliki government will not sign off on this dividing up the oil fields to all of bushes cronies. Where do you think bush and cheney come from… OIL!

  • Joe Nash

    Speaking of presidents, at least one thing we can all agree on….George W. Bush is, beyond reasonable doubt, the worst president in U.S. history.

  • Mar Patalinjug

    The American people, nay the whole world, are lucky in having President George W. Bush who has a direct line to God. He gives the impression that he routinely receives advice and guidance from God on the many vexing domestic and international issues and problems. This explains why he never admits to making a mistake. Does God ever make a mistake? Of course not. This explains why he is the sole Decider when it comes to issues of war and peace. Iraq may on the surface seem a terrible and expensive failure, which is the impression most Americans now have–but they are all wrong. The US is encountering some problems in Iraq, but these are transitory in nature. Iraq will be turned around–with George W. Bush, the Commander-in-Chief,knowing exactly what to do. The American people will need only to have patience. This is a President who believes in himself and his ability to succeed in anything and everything that he does. He is faith-driven.

  • Terra Gazelle

    Religion does not have a thing to do with a man’s courage or wisdom. Men have gone to church then killed their wife or raped someone. A pastor down here and a few members of his flock…including a town cop was arrested and indicted for child molestation…24 kids. Then there are the Catholic Priests… Then all the men like David Keresh and Jim Jones and the Heaven’s Gate folks…they were religious, read the bible, believed in Jesus. But did horrible things.There are Pagans that do bad things, Muslims and Jews, Budhists and Hindus…Then there are those who walk their talk…they are good people of all faiths and creeds…It is the heart and head, not the way they pray. When John Kennedy was asked about his being a Catholic, who would he listen to…the Pope or the constitution? He said…that if the constitution ran against his religion, he would step down. We have someone in office who has never read the constitution…and his favorite philosopher is Jesus. He has never been to war, yet lied us into it. Even though he did not even fulfill his own commitment. What the president is supposed to do is follow his oath:There is nothing in there about “protecting” the people, the constitution does that. He is to protect the laws of the nation. Our leaders need to fulfill their promises not their egos.terra

  • Joe Nash

    I wonder what the Catholic God said to Kennedy about committing adultry with Marilyn Monroe and killing women and children for an immoral war in Vietnam. I bet you that Kennedy didn’t make it to Heaven, and is probably spending his days with Hitler and Mussolini.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah St. Reagan, who gave us homeless people when he cut the federal money for state mental hospitals and the VA. Carter was is and ever shall be 10,000 times the christian Mr. Reagan played in the movies. Reagan dreamed of eliminating nuclear weapons, a cause forgotten by his ideological offspring, who are busy following his 11th commandment “thou shalt waste money on everything military”…

  • David

    Why such hostility to faith in general, and Christian faith in particular?I suppose I could understand if many of the more hysterical posters had a family member burned at the stake, stoned in the market place, or killed in a suicide attack. But what is it about the faith of others, in and of itself, that incites such intolerance and hatred?We all have to make sense of the world we live in, and the events that take place within our lives. Most, if not all have natural explanations. But some are questionable. What do I (or you) care if someone sees the hand of Providence at work?As for the constitution, remember that the Establishment clause goes hand in hand with the Free Excercise clause:”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

  • Ron B

    Anonymous states (quite arrogantly “my friend”) that the US Constitution demands government officials ignore their religion in all sorts of ways. I’ve read the document but must have missed that article.The Constitution prohibits the establishment of a state sponsored religion. It does not, nor could not demand that officials check their religion at the door.A true Christian faith is completely personal. I have not yet found a passage in which Jesus commands a government action. They are always personal. You feed the poor. Not, vote for Romans that will do it for you.It is very biblical for someone to say, “God has placed me here in this position for a reason to carry out his purposes”. Then you use all of your abilities and resources as best you can to do whatever job is in front of you. It is my sense that US Presidents that have religious belief more or less take that approach. I don’t know of any major action that has been taken with the President saying “God has called me to….. (drop the A-bomb, preserve the Union, implement the Great Society, invade Iraq, etc.). A biblical world view certainly shapes how we think about these issues, but you don’t see those kinds of specific instructions in the bible.

  • J D’Alessandro

    Mr. B. knows his religious types; he was a bosom buddy of The I Man, slipping plugs for his popular histories in between menstrual cramps jokes about Hillary Clinton.

  • Robin

    The facts:Jews should have a “jewish state” until arabs begin allowing non-muslims to live in their “apartheid” countries (e.g., Saudi’s).The notion that any president of the usa relied on religious inspiration or prayer for making policy decisions is one of the scariest things I have ever heard.

  • O. R. Raymond

    Mikhael Gorbachev certainly sounds a lot more intelligent and reasonable than does Ronald Reagan. And Armageddon …? That’s more than frightening. Consider what that allows, or even compels, a politically powerful believer to do in the name of faith and the expectation of “the end times.”

  • O. R. Raymond

    Mikhail Gorbachev certainly sounds a lot more intelligent and reasonable than does Ronald Reagan. And Armageddon …? That’s more than frightening. Consider what that allows, or even compels, a politically powerful believer to do in the name of faith and the imminent expectation of “the end times.”

  • Mike

    Do the athiests here think they are any different than Jerry Falwell? I mean, he hated people who didnt share his religious views. He accused others of immorality for not sharing his religious views. He would make absurdly broad statements about thosw who did not share his religious views.Bottom line is Jerry Falwell was a very intolerant man. His intolerance is matched by the athiests on this board.

  • Gaby

    Jacob a/k/a ECLATi-ON,please e-mail me at nevermore53@yahoo.comI need to talk to you!

  • Anonymous

    “The notion that any president of the usa relied on religious inspiration or prayer for making policy decisions is one of the scariest things I have ever heard.” Robin: I hope you are sitting down. I don’t want to frighten you but -America was founded by refugees seeking religious freedom. The belief in God is deeply rooted in American principles and history.Sorry. I hope you’re taking this well..

  • tiffany

    A modest proposal: When our side takes over in 2008 a few steps to make America better for us and the rest of the world.

  • Paul R. Cooper

    Timid Bechloss hesitates to offend, but I regret that he mentions only the “good” decisions made by Presidents with strong religious faith. I have no difficulty named “evil” deeds by true believers in most religions. Christianity almost leads the pack in evil doing going back to the Crusades and the Inquisition, to say nothing of wars without provocation.

  • Bruce

    The problem with WAR TODAY, is that in order to deceive one’s enemy, one must often also deceive one’s own people.Take Iraq for example. Most Americans believe that we are in Iraq to preserve our future access to oil and many Americans do NOT REMEMBER the gas lines going all around the block, the possibility of even after waiting sometimes for over a hour, the station might run out anyway.EVEN IF WE ARE THEREFORE IN IRAQ TO PRESERVE AMERICA’S FUTURE ACCESS TO OIL —- SO WHAT !!!LETS WAKE UP FOLKS AND BEFORE WE DECIDE TO GIVE UP OVER THERE, TRY WALKING EVERYWHERE FOR A MONTH, OR RIDDING A BIKE EVERYWHERE.AND EVEN IF YOU DON’T MIND PERSONALLY DOING THIS AND ++++IF+++++ YOU ARE IN A POSITION TO PERSONALLY DO THIS, OUR AIRLINES, BUSES, SUBWAYS, MILITARY AND HEATING SUPPLIES CURRENTLY REQUIRE OIL.WHEN WE THREATENED TO BLOCKADE JAPAN MONTHS BEFORE THEIR ATTACK ON PEARL IN 1941, THEY ATTACKED TO PRESERVE THEIR ACCESS TO NATURAL RESOURCES ELSEWHERE.IN WORLD DEMOCRACIES, OIL AND OTHER NATURAL RESOURCES CAN BE BOUGHT AND SOLD — IT IS THE DEMOCRATIC WAY — BUT WHEN ZEALOTS AND ESPECIALLY ALLEGEDLY RELIGIOUS ZEALOTS CONTROL TERRITORY RICH IN NATURAL RESOURCES +++++WE KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT +++DON’T WE !!!So we pray, study, work AND MAKE SURE THAT NEVER HAPPENS AND IF THAT REQUIRES WAR, THEN SO BE IT.

  • Bruce

    The problem with WAR TODAY, is that in order to deceive one’s enemy, one must often also deceive one’s own people.Take Iraq for example. Most Americans believe that we are in Iraq to preserve our future access to oil and many Americans do NOT REMEMBER the gas lines going all around the block, the possibility of even after waiting sometimes for over a hour, the station might run out anyway.EVEN IF WE ARE THEREFORE IN IRAQ TO PRESERVE AMERICA’S FUTURE ACCESS TO OIL —- SO WHAT !!!LETS WAKE UP FOLKS AND BEFORE WE DECIDE TO GIVE UP OVER THERE, TRY WALKING EVERYWHERE FOR A MONTH, OR RIDDING A BIKE EVERYWHERE.AND EVEN IF YOU DON’T MIND PERSONALLY DOING THIS AND ++++IF+++++ YOU ARE IN A POSITION TO PERSONALLY DO THIS, OUR AIRLINES, BUSES, SUBWAYS, MILITARY AND HEATING SUPPLIES CURRENTLY REQUIRE OIL.WHEN WE THREATENED TO BLOCKADE JAPAN MONTHS BEFORE THEIR ATTACK ON PEARL IN 1941, THEY ATTACKED TO PRESERVE THEIR ACCESS TO NATURAL RESOURCES ELSEWHERE.IN WORLD DEMOCRACIES, OIL AND OTHER NATURAL RESOURCES CAN BE BOUGHT AND SOLD — IT IS THE DEMOCRATIC WAY — BUT WHEN ZEALOTS AND ESPECIALLY ALLEGEDLY RELIGIOUS ZEALOTS CONTROL TERRITORY RICH IN NATURAL RESOURCES +++++WE KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT +++DON’T WE !!!So we pray, study, work AND MAKE SURE THAT NEVER HAPPENS AND IF THAT REQUIRES WAR, THEN SO BE IT.

  • Faye Kane, homeless smartypants

    Keep religion and politics in different places!

  • Viejita del oeste

    Thanks, Faye. You got right to the point on this one.

  • Gaby

    Terra Gazelle,As always, your post is the voice of wisdom and reason!Jacob,Talk to me!

  • JJ

    Ya?

  • D.B.

    I followed a thread from RealClearPolitics to this quite lovely article, and then was curious about the threads. Wow! I’ve never seen such a relentlessly negative/hateful/incoherent/NUTTY train of comments before in all my blog following. Is this the usual for this website? I sure hope that there are a lot of repeat contributors so that the total number of people out there blinded by pride and hatred is a bit fewer. I’d be tempted to close down and restart under another name to see if I could shake the riffraff and the nut cases! “On Faith” seems to attract only the faithless. I hope Mr. Beschloss has some other opportunities to write for a more rational audience.

  • JJ

    Att: D. B. Welcome to the “Twilight Zone” so to Speak herein and there Of OUR “Cyber friend”, WELCOME! P.S. Forgott the Huggs n Kisses, and Koochi pooch is not here thing! Gots what WE is ga saying Brother(s) Sister(s) D. B., et al?

  • Christopher

    My question for you athiests out there…You don’t believe in God. You therefore must believe man, Earth and all existence is due to the random and accidental forces of nature.You believe that all of natural history is an evolutionary, not intentional, process whereby stronger (better adpated) species prevailed over weaker (less adapted) ones. Humans have ascended to their role on Earth through such process…certainly not through any devine creation or even occasional intervention.If evolution (natural selection) explains human development, and by extension the social interaction of humans, then how could the “attrocities” of the United States and the West (Iraq, Reagan’s activities in Central America, the formation of Isreal, etc.) be considered wrong? Are these not merely examples of natural selection playing out? The “stronger” group is exerting its will over the “weaker” for the sake of its own perceieved self-preservation?Wouldn’t concepts such as “mercy” or “restraint” on the part of the U.S. be as ridiculous as the hungry lion sparing the gazzelle out of pity? In fact, in order to fullfill natural selection, aren’t the stronger powers *obiligated* to suppress or destroy the weak in order to prevent the propagation of their inferior stock?When athiests condemn Christian presidents for murder and other crimes, what is their moral basis for this?

  • staffy

    Christopher,There is a tension in our interactions with others between an individual’s self-interest and his altruist sense which has him sacrificing for the good of the group. This can arguably be extended to interactions between social/political groups such as nations and religions. The “fittest” group is not necessarily the strongest or most brutal. It can be the one in which individuals cooperate peacefully and are willing to tolerate differences and not steal from or oppress their neighbors. Therefore “mercy” and “restraint” could be excellent evolutionary strategies. That could explain the relative toleration of other religions that arose out of the religious wars of the Middle Ages, and could be part of a successful strategy for social survival in a world with weapons of mass destruction available even to small actors.

  • rick

    We are extremely superficial in our evaluation of the weight of Christian faith in our leaders and the actions they take. It’s nice to know that Lincoln wanted to know God’s will about the civil war but there is no way of knowing God’s will in not only war nor any other incident in our life. Except to love each other, including our enemies. It is not only presumtuous but racist at its most basic level to assume that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were God’s will. Or any other aspect of that war. Where do we think that we can find God’s approval for killing so many thousands of people, discarding them as if they are not our brothers and sisters because they are Japanese? God would rather have us fight the war on terror in Iraq than New York because at least then Iraqis are being killed not Americans? What is the Christian justification for such actions–the words of Christ that would sanction such actions?We think that when high officials speak of God or presume to take actions that are based on his will, we need to be, as most serious academic religious leaders are, skeptical at best, analytically critical at the least.It’s easy to toss God’s name/will around to justify our actions, but too simplistic to label it faith. If Faith has any meaning at all, that meaning is destroyed when it becomes self justification. Rick

  • Staffy

    ChristopherYour last point: “When atheists condemn Christian presidents for murder and other crimes, what is their moral basis for this?” is not purely an Atheist/Christian controversy. Rather, I think it arises from concern over the hypocrisy of professed Christian leaders who claim to have a superior moral code, yet apparently torture, lie, cause the death of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in other countries, let their cronies steal from the public and pollute the commons, and subvert our constitutional checks and balances to lay the basis for an American authoritarian police state. Many thinking Christians are concerned about this, as well as atheists. Their use of religion to justify their corruptions and/or deflect attention from their crimes is not something we should tolerate, if we wish to maintain our free society. These leaders are very, very dangerous. We must judge our leaders by what they do, not by what faith (or any faith) that they proclaim.

  • JJ

    Att: R I C K, Et Al; Do not Use Your Own Eclat”i” in vain! Think America! WE are, Forever Together with Source-ONE!”It’s easy to toss God’s name/will around to justify our actions, but too simplistic to label it faith. If Faith has any meaning at all, that meaning is destroyed when it becomes self justification”.It’s true, “Let there Be” Gen: 1: Et Seq. Ya!

  • Patrick

    As A Nichiren Buddhist. Just because we do not believe in God, does not mean we believe in man. I believe in LIFE, all life equally possess both good and evil.Life is an ever-changing eternal entity that all life ebbs and flows from; like the great oceann. One yet not one.Karma explains the suffering and misery all life experiences. Karma is a collecttion of all of our past causes and effects. Our karma plays out in each of our lives equaly, based on our past acts towards ourself and others.All life equally inheriently possess the highest life-state attainable; enlightenment; even trees and flowers, as well as people and animals. All life equal.

  • Patrick

    As A Nichiren Buddhist. Just because we do not believe in God, does not mean we believe in man. I believe in LIFE, all life equally possess both good and evil.Life is an ever-changing eternal entity that all life ebbs and flows from; like the great oceann. One yet not one.Karma explains the suffering and misery all life experiences. Karma is a collecttion of all of our past causes and effects. Our karma plays out in each of our lives equaly, based on our past acts towards ourself and others.All life equally inheriently possess the highest life-state attainable; enlightenment; even trees and flowers, as well as people and animals. All life equal.

  • Mandy

    For anyone to remain silent in any “religion” is not right. Since I am a Christian, my beliefs not only have everything to do about me but it influences everything and every decision that I make. I am not going to just throw it all out there “I’m a christian and blahh blahh” no you don’t do that. You have to be mild tempered. You don’t have to be loud and obnoxious about it. But what people have to also know is that the Government doesn’t sit under the same authority as the Christians do. Read the bible in the OT and NT. It states that the government is not under the law as the people. Meaning there will be times the government can and will do things that don’t seem godly, i.e. war. Although christians aren’t to kill, going to war doesn’t sit under that same law. Meaning it is ok to go to war and if someone dies in the war so beit.

  • Anonymous

    Michael Beschloss, in his study of American Presidential courage finds that many of our Presidents concealed their strongly held religious faith and its influence on their decisions. Concealed is probably a poor choice of words. Most people I know, including myself, who have faith are not presumptuous enough to want to push this out front, like we have some direct line to God. In Christian humility we understand that we try to be like Christ and we can try to discern His will but we can never be confident that the decisions we make are fully in accord with God’s will. To announce to the world that we made a decision based on some scripture or meditation is to imply we are some how in direct contact with the almighty. So there is not some much concealment but more like being realistic about things. This is a very different from the kind of government you get with a theocracy, like Islam. In this arrangement the leaders will be happy to tell you that they are carrying out God’s will because they actually believe they do speak to God directly. They don’t conceal or keep quiet out of humility but they issue and enforce religious decrees, called Fatwas. How presumptuous and arrogant these people are. We should be thankful that our leaders have more respect than that for God than to think that they can perfectly discern his will. It is good that we have leaders who do not push the religious aspect of their decision making to the forefront out of an understanding that they are only civil servants and not messengers of God or Allah or some other Deity.

  • Tonio

    Anonymous,Thanks for your perspective on the issue. You have a good point about humility. From my perspective, many of the fundamentalist leaders are lacking in that humility, and it’s no coincidence that their agenda often sounds like theocracy. Does the concept of “trying to discern God’s will” open the door to the arrogance of believing that one speaks to God directly? If the only thing separating the two is the believer’s humility, that barrier doesn’t seem reliable enough to me. I don’t understand how one would even go about trying to figure out what God wants, or how one would even determine if an idea came from God and not one’s own head. There are numerous conflicting claims from the various religions as to what their deities want.

  • mark

    Jscob,”Photons”?It’s “Light” and it’s Gen 1:3, or to be more accurate, Moses 2:3 from which Gen 1;3 was extracted. (genesis is not a complete copy of the original text.)Yes, light is now measured in photons, but the concept of a photon was not known when the original scrolls/codex’s were inscribed by Moses.

  • Lu Franklin

    To Anonymous (who commented “Our nation has been blessed with leaders who have a Christan faith. For to be a Christian is to attempt to follow Christ. Can anyone think of a better role model for those who hold positions of power than Jesus who was the servant of all.”)Great sentiment. Too bad that our current President who professes DEEP, FUDAMENTAL, BORN-AGAIN CHRISTIAN FAITH, never acts like a Christian.

  • D.B.

    Thanks to J.J. for that weird but heartfelt welcome into the thread! Are you all aware that the Bible teaches two parallel truths which can be substantiated with many, many verses in both Old and New Testaments: that God is sovereign, and moves both unbelievers and believers to achieve His will, AND parallel to this, that the actions that people do are also motivated by their own (evil or good) desires, and that they are therefore accountable before God and will be judged for those actions at the end of the world (or their own lives, whichever comes first)? A very good illustration of this is the life of Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery out of jealousy and hate and he was as a result a slave in Egypt and then imprisoned in Egypt for many long years? God arranged through a series of events that he should not only be released but would be appointed to oversee Egypt’s preparation for a famine, and ultimately to have his brothers reappear to grovel before him (not recognizing him) for food? And when he ultimately forgave them, he told them that, they had meant to do him harm, but that God had meant it for good, that many lives would be saved.

  • SAM

    God needs no mediators between himself and the creatures he has created. After all, millions of innocent human beings were tortured and massacred in the name of our current religions.

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