Asking hypothetical questions of dead presidents helps understand where our current one is taking us
Niels C. Nielsen believes it is time to revisit one of the most controversial issues of the recent presidential campaign – Obama’s religious beliefs and background – and how they influence his day-to-day decisions. God in the Obama Era (Morgan James Publishing) begins and ends with chapters on Obama for relevance and interest, but the integral part of the book is actually a history of successive presidencies. Nielsen’s book is non-sectarian, positive and critical, and leaves the subject of Obama’s possible accomplishments and success open since it is too early yet for definitive judgments.
Understanding that nations which ignore their past live in a narrow time period, discounting the fact that what has gone before tells us much about what is going on now and what will happen in the future. Historically, religion – as both a positive and negative force – has influenced economics, international statecraft, as well as individual and social ethics. This brings up the question of where Barack Obama is taking this country – politically, religiously, economically and ethically. Comparing our current president with past presidents, from Washington through Bush, Nielsen wonders what they would say to each other as contemporaries. Since the election of 2008 turned out to be a watershed contest, looking to crucial decisions of policy change on the war in Iraq, the international economy, global warming, social security and immigration, it is the main intention of the author to help bring objectivity and perspective to the much-debated issues.
This brilliantly enlightening book offers guidance to evaluate what an ambitious new leader has done, and may do, in the longer setting of the history of his office. At the beginning of each chapter the author uses a narrative and chronological approach to show both the similarities and the differences between our current president and one of his predecessors, then asks a number of hypothetical “what if” questions of many past great leaders in an attempt to see how history could have been dramatically changed by their answers. Visit his informative website at: www.presidentsreligionandethics.com.
Niels C. Nielsen, Jr. is the J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Philosophy and Religious Thought emeritus at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He is well-recognized for his earlier book, The Religion of Jimmy Carter, also translated into German. The author’s daughter is the only non-native faculty member of her department at the University of Vienna, where she is intensely involved in explaining the Obama phenomenon to her students who have a varied interest in the transition from Bush II to a very different sort of presidency. Nielsen’s Religions of the World is a widely used college and university textbook.
Ron Highfield, Professor of Religion, Pepperdine University: “…this erudite, lucid, enlightening book brilliantly illuminates the central icon of American culture … In the aftermath of the election, in which religion played a greater role than in any election since 1960, we are fortunate to receive this book…rich in insight, lively in style and wide-ranging in scope…penetrating analyses of 20 presidents … a “must read” for anyone interested in the presidency, the place of religion in American history and culture, or religion in the Obama campaign and presidency.”
Rev. George M. Atkinson, Director emeritus, Perkins School of Theology, TX: “Nielsen has written an unusually fine examination of the role of religion in the life and work of our presidents… comprehensive, balanced, puts into shadow any comparable books on the subject…students of American history will especially appreciate his careful treatment of this understudied topic, since it reveals ethical issues and nuances not examined in conventional studies … students of religion will appreciate the connections between the personal piety and the social justice efforts of each president studied…heartily recommend this book!”
Bishop Andy Doyle, Houston Diocese, Episcopal Church: “…very much enjoyed the book…captured the virtue of American presidents and their particular and faithful understanding of our country’s civil religion. While no one president…Nielsen wrote about reflects each citizen’s faith or lack thereof…it represents them well as faithful men who have believed in a providential God. As for President Obama, I was intrigued and challenged by …(the) comment that “the responsibility of his presidency reaches out beyond the external history to the internal history of the soul, spirit, intention and vision” …words will stay with me for some time as I think about the topic of virtuous leadership both secular and religious.