The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama

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Overview

The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, an acclaimed look at the spiritual beliefs of such iconic Americans as Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson, established David L. Holmes as a measured voice in the heated debate over the new nation’s religious underpinnings. With the same judicious approach, Holmes now looks at the role of faith in the lives of the twelve presidents who have served since the end of World War II.

Holmes examines not only the beliefs professed by each president ...

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The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama

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Overview

The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, an acclaimed look at the spiritual beliefs of such iconic Americans as Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson, established David L. Holmes as a measured voice in the heated debate over the new nation’s religious underpinnings. With the same judicious approach, Holmes now looks at the role of faith in the lives of the twelve presidents who have served since the end of World War II.

Holmes examines not only the beliefs professed by each president but also the variety of possible influences on their religious faith, such as their upbringing, education, and the faith of their spouse. In each profile close observers such as clergy, family members, friends, and advisors recall churchgoing habits, notable displays of faith (or lack of it), and the influence of their faiths on policies concerning abortion, the death penalty, Israel, and other controversial issues.

Whether discussing John F. Kennedy’s philandering and secularity or Richard Nixon’s betrayal of Billy Graham’s naïve trust during Watergate, Holmes includes telling and often colorful details not widely known or long forgotten. We are reminded, for instance, how Dwight Eisenhower tried to conceal the background of his parents in the Jehovah’s Witnesses and how the Reverend Cotesworth Lewis’s sermonizing to Lyndon Johnson on the Vietnam War was actually not a left- but a right-wing critique.

National interest in the faiths of our presidents is as strong as ever, as shown by the media frenzy engendered by George W. Bush’s claim that Jesus was his favorite political philosopher or Barack Obama’s parting with his minister, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Holmes’s work adds depth, insight, and color to this important national topic.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[Holmes] is politically and confessionally nonpartisan, which allows him to write impressively balanced accounts of such matters as Nixon’s betrayal of Billy Graham’s trust and Obama’s connection to Jeremiah Wright, who, on the evidence, was an excellent pastor who’d never been 'controversial' before the media started sound-biting his sermons. Only Kennedy emerges from Holmes’ presentation as less sympathetic than current opinion considers him. Another interesting take on the presidency."—Ray Olson, Booklist

"Holmes, professor of religious studies at the College of William and Mary (The Faiths of the Founding Fathers) examines the backgrounds of our presidents since WWII by delving into their families, the people who influenced their religious beliefs, and their patterns of attending Sunday worship. . . . [I]t is well-researched reading for the reader who wants to know about the presidency."—Publishers Weekly

"This is an admirable and colorful yet balanced look at our recent Presidents and their religious beliefs. It will have wide appeal for all readers and particularly for those interested in presidential history." —Nancy Richey, Library Journal

"Holmes provides us with a broad personal and historical narrative that brings into the conversation family, social, cultural, and political dynamics. What we learn about some figures might surprise us, especially those whose presidencies have faded into the recesses of our memories. . . . Holmes's book is a fascinating read. It's insightful, authoritative, and revealing of the spiritual dimensions of American political life."—Robert Cornwall, Ponderings on a Faith Journey blog

"A distinguished and long-tenured professor at the College of William and Mary, Holmes has crafted an excellent narrative of post-World War II presidents and how religion or faith may have influenced their devotional, social, and political lives, as well as the nation's. . . . The Faith of the Postwar Presidents is easy, informative, interesting, and a balanced presentation of each president."—Worth E. Norman, Jr., The Living Church

“A distinctive element of American politics is its unofficial yet vital link with religion. . . . Holmes shows the personal side of this dynamic by examining the faith lives and patterns of the 12 American presidents who served after WW II, from Truman to Obama. . . . It offers a number of illuminating insights into the private lives of these very public leaders.”—M.A. Granquist, Choice

"Holmes’s book is truly an outstanding study of the twelve presidents in recent history." —Michael Ashcraft, Journal of Southern Religion

"David Holmes . . . makes a meaningful contribution with this timely book, examining the role that religion played in the lives of America's most-recent presidents. . . . [He] devotes equal attention to the spiritual journeys of presidents that other authors have frequently overlooked. . . . Holmes has written a valuable reference for scholars working on a variety of topics relating to both religion and the presidency."—David O'Connell, Political Science Quarterly

Publishers Weekly
Holmes, professor of religious studies at the College of William and Mary (The Faiths of the Founding Fathers) examines the backgrounds of our presidentssince WWII by delving into their families, the people who influenced their religious beliefs, and their patterns of attending Sunday worship. Through the last six decades, evangelist Billy Graham was a prominent, and with certain presidents frequent, visitor to the White House; Holmes examines those different relationships, including Graham’s well-known relationship with Richard Nixon and less well-known influence on Lyndon Johnson. He traces the footsteps of presidents as they campaign for office and as they serve the country. Because he uses so many sources that differ in their opinions about the spiritual hearts of these men, he never reaches a conclusion about most of their religious faiths. He concludes by counting how frequently each president went to church. Holmes writes more of a history book than a religious studies book; it is well-researched reading for the reader who wants to know about the presidency. (Mar. 1)
Library Journal
While faith and politics may make strange bedfellows, religion seems an inescapable part of the American political scene. Holmes (religious studies, Coll. of William & Mary; The Faiths of the Founding Fathers) closely examines the moral allegiances of the 12 Presidents who have been elected since the end of World War II, offering a look not only at their professed beliefs or lack thereof, but at how those beliefs were molded by their families, education, church attendance, and spouses. He also notes how their worldviews, shaped by faith, played out in their foreign policies with such countries as Israel and Russia as well as on other issues such as abortion and the death penalty. Notably, through Holmes's thorough research and use of anecdotes, such iconic Presidents as John F. Kennedy lose some of their appeal. However, the author maintains impartiality throughout. VERDICT This is an admirable and colorful yet balanced look at our recent Presidents and their religious beliefs. It will have wide appeal for all readers and particularly for those interested in presidential history.—Nancy Richey, Western Kentucky Univ., Bowling Green
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Product Details

Meet the Author

David L. Holmes is Walter G. Mason Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus at the College of William and Mary. His books include the The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, A Brief History of the Episcopal Church, A Nation Mourns, and The Life of the Rev. Devereux Jarratt.

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Table of Contents


Preface ix
Introduction by Martin E. Marty xi

Harry S. Truman 1
Dwight D. Eisenhower 24
John F. Kennedy 45
Lyndon Baines Johnson 76
Richard M. Nixon 99
Gerald R. Ford 124
James Earl Carter Jr. 143
Ronald Wilson Reagan 173
George Herbert Walker Bush 197
William Jefferson Clinton 215
George W. Bush 240
Barack Hussein Obama 270

Notes 321

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2012

    Highly recommended

    At a time when there is so much distortion about Presidents--and calumny hurled at sitting Presidents--this nicely written and book is a thunderclap of insight and reason. Each of the 12 chapters is a delight to read. Each has surprises and revelations that amplify our understanding of these complex and accomplished men. I found myself anxious to read more.

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  • Posted July 8, 2012

    A Highly Recommended Look at the Beliefs of our Modern Presidents

    A must read for anyone interested in either American political history or religion—or both! David L. Holmes‘s exploration of the faiths of the post-World War II presidents from Truman to Obama provides a penetrating look at the spiritual character of our recent chief executives. In light of Holmes's analyses, many hitherto murky presidential actions suddenly become clear and understandable. Holmes’s graceful prose and arresting point of view allows an understanding of these presidents that a more conventional history would miss. In short, the book provides an insightful picture of our modern presidents from an unconventional vantage point

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