Were Any of our Presidents Closeted Atheists?

Melanie Cornell at the Illini Secular Student Alliance offers her take on which of our presidents might have been closeted atheists:

Considered Lincoln’s closest acquaintance, William Herndon attempted to describe the sheer complexity of Lincoln’s religious views, stating Lincoln was “at times, an atheist.” He also claimed Lincoln was a follower of Darwin (before it was cool). But Lincoln’s many speeches often contained references to the lord Almighty, providence, and all that jazz. Was it just a front?

Make sure you read to the bottom for the Honorable Mentions list :)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://twitter.com/TominousTone Tom Lawson

    Lincoln’s mentioning of the almighty in the Gettysburg Address and Emancipation Proclamation have been credited to his Secretary of Treasury, Samuel P. Chase. His first drafts contain no God-talk.

  • Greg

    ‘Follower of Darwin’?

    That sounds… um… stalker-ish?!?! ;)

  • Guest

    What about Jefferson.  He eddited his own version of the bible that removed all supernatural references

    • Guest

      I am an idiot for posting before actually reading the whole thing, my bad

  • Scott

    “I do not believe in the Divinity of Christ,” – US President William Howard Taft.

    http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2011/10/quote-for-the-day-.html

  • Stephen Goeman

    I don’t like trying to claim the dead for any cause when they weren’t explicit about it. Even if those mentioned actually were atheists, they nearly all folded and pandered to the religious with godtalk. Brooke Allen’s “Moral Minority” is a fantastic account of the nontraditional religious views of our founding fathers (even suggesting that Hamilton used Christianity to justify his shady workings). To go further than this and specifically ascribe atheism to historical figures is not worth the effort (but, to be sure, they were great ‘doubters’).

  • Xavier Morrison

    I paraphrase Lincoln when an advisor told him God is on our side. “That is all well and good, but I’d rather have Kentucky.”

  • Annie

    Well, that’s embarrassing. Am I the only one who never knew we had a president named John Tyler?  Where the hell did he come from?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-A-Anderson/100000016895400 John A. Anderson

    I suspect a rather large percentage of our presidents were religious skeptics, including the current president.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t forget U.S. Grant

  • Tim

    As an outside (I am English) the thing that strikes me most about US atheists trying to claim their founding fathers as one of their’s is simply that for many of the FF we do not know.  Some were clearly thiests but for others their statements on religion were vague and contradictory and it seems to me that at the time they lived it was just not such a big deal.  The weird american tendancy for politicians to try and claim, truely or falsely, the mantle of belief had obviously not yet begun.  If you look at 20th Centruary UK politicians (with the chief exception of Blair, that most “american” of prime-ministers) , can you really say with any certainty what their beliefs are/were.  What did Churchill really think of religions?   John Major?  Thatcher?  Many of them were nominaly “christian” but as to what they personally thougt we do not know because they simply kept it to themselves.  The idea of proclaiming your belief is an American phenomenon and a fairly recent one at that.

    To try and pigeon-hole the Founding Fathers in terms of belief if trying to crow-bar them into an unusual  modern american politics which is not how it was when they were alive.

    • http://twitter.com/TominousTone Tom Lawson

      Mark Twain said it best:

      “What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself.”


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