A Brief History
On July 25, 1593, Henry IV, King of France, converted from Calvinism back to the Catholicism of his birth. Henry had been raised Protestant, although he was baptized Catholic. His conversion back to Catholic came in the midst of the Wars of Religion, battles between Catholic and Protestant Europeans.
Was Henry’s re-conversion a political ploy or a sincere action of conscience? It would seem to be a move made for political expediency, something monarchs and other national leaders have done throughout history. Napoleon Bonaparte did not think highly of religion, but he recognized the usefulness of organized religion in controlling the masses and manipulated religion for political purposes. He dressed and acted as a Muslim to pacify conquered Islamic people, and made a show of his superiority to the Catholic Church by crowning himself emperor. History is full of leaders that said one thing about religion in public and acted quite differently on their own.
In England, the reigning monarch is tasked with being the “keeper of the faith.” When Henry VIII wanted a divorce that the Catholic Church would not grant, he gave England a new Protestant religion, creating the Anglican Church with himself as “keeper of the faith.” To this day the British monarch retains this title.
So why do we doubt Henry IV’s sincerity? For one thing he was a famous philanderer, siring numerous children out of wedlock with multiple mistresses. For some reason the deeply religious, “family values” American politicians seem to be prone to fathering bastards and keeping mistresses (or engaging in homosexual behavior that they publicly denounce as “Un-Christian”).
President Obama had to overcome his father having been born into Islam and living his adult life as an atheist (both parents), something American voters seem to have a problem with.
Declaring himself a Christian and belonging to a Chicago church, his real ties to the church and his faith were taken into question when it became apparent that he had no idea what sort of sermons the pastor had been preaching.
President George W. Bush changed religions twice, and Newt Gingrich changed his religion as well. Mitt Romney on the other hand was born and raised Mormon and has stuck with his church even though the LDS can be a political liability in a national election. John Kennedy’s Catholicism almost kept him out of the White House.
We have never had a Jewish president, although we have had plenty of Jewish Supreme Court Justices. When Barry Goldwater (Jewish) ran for president he got walloped. When Al Gore ran with Jewish Joe Lieberman as his vice presidential running mate he lost an election he seemed sure to win. History and Headlines trivia: Who were the 2 Quaker presidents of the US? Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon.
In communist countries, public leaders have to give the appearance of being atheists, whether they believe in God or not. It seems like religious conformity is mandatory for running a country, although sincerity is not. Question for students (and subscribers): Is the United States ready to elect an atheist? Do you think that will ever happen? If so, when? Let us know what you think in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Van Kley, Dale K. The Religious Origins of the French Revolution: From Calvin to the Civil Constitution, 1560-1791. Yale University Press, 1996.