Keeping the faith: Professor David L. Holmes delivers lecture on the religion of post-World War II presidents

Jay Kasakove

United States’ Presidents have been heavily influenced by religion and their faith in their political thinking, according to a lecture held earlier this week.

Professor David L. Holmes, professor of religious studies at the College of William and Mary, began his lecture with a discussion of Richard Nixon, who was born to Quaker parents and was later introduced to Evangelical Christianity. Despite renouncing the supernatural elements of Christian thought in college, Nixon, according to Holmes, “was religious in the White House.”

Unlike Nixon, Bill Clinton was raised as a Southern Baptist, Holmes said. Clinton used religion to find solace from his tumultuous childhood. According to Holmes, there are “two sides” to Clinton: the crafty politician and the religious personage.

Holmes continued his talk, speaking about George W. Bush, who attended church as a child to avoid “upsetting his mother.” In his early days, religion to Bush was more of a traditional element than a spiritual one; however, religion took on a more significant role in Bush’s life after he swore off alcohol and turned to Evangelical Christianity. Bush went on to become the most religious president in the modern era, Holmes said.

Holmes began speaking on Obama, whose mother was a secular humanist and his father, whom he never knew, was a Muslim. As an adult, Obama was baptized in the Trinity United Church of Christ. Holmes argued that Obama has always been a “genuine Christian,” despite various allegations that he is actually a Muslim.

Two days before Holmes delivered his talk, an article appeared in the New York Times about how Obama’s political activism can be traced to his work in the Catholic community in Chicago. Just as in that article, Holmes stated that Obama has always been heavily influenced by religion. He said it is possible that a number of Obama’s polices, including the Affordable Care Act, could be a result of his religious feelings.

President Obama met with Pope Francis at the Vatican Thursday, the first meeting between a U.S. President and a Pope in thirty years. According to early reports of the meeting, Obama will attempt to develop common ground with the Vatican regarding issues of social justice.