Friday, August 20, 2010

Someone Needs to Ask This Question

You may have heard the news that a lot of American's are confused about what religion our President adheres to. If not, here's some information from a recent poll you might find interesting:

A substantial and growing number of Americans say that Barack Obama is a Muslim, while the proportion saying he is a Christian has declined. More than a year and a half into his presidency, a plurality of the public says they do not know what religion Obama follows.

growingnumberchart-01 10-08-18A new national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) now say Obama is a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009. Only about one-third of adults (34%) say Obama is a Christian, down sharply from 48% in 2009. Fully 43% say they do not know what Obama’s religion is. The survey was completed in early August, before Obama’s recent comments about the proposed construction of a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center.

The view that Obama is a Muslim is more widespread among his political opponents than among his backers. Roughly a third of conservative Republicans (34%) say Obama is a Muslim, as do 30% of those who disapprove of Obama’s job performance. But even among many of his supporters and allies, less than half now say Obama is a Christian. Among Democrats, for instance, 46% say Obama is a Christian, down from 55% in March 2009.(Read the whole thing here)

The poll results have provoked a variety of responses. The White House has responded by emphasizing the President's Christian Faith. Evangelical leader Franklin Graham has tried to explain American's confusion about the President's religion on CNN. Rabbi Brad Hirshfield comments on the issue of fact vs. fiction. And the blog Race Wire reminds us that there are other poll numbers to keep in mind right now.

The question I think that someone needs to ask is, "What difference does it make what religion the President is?" This is important because it could shift the discussion in the direction of facing squarely and without evasion the issue of religious prejudice. Religious prejudice, like racial prejudice, is something Americans need to talk about. The Baha'i Writings make consequences of prejudice, whatever form it takes:

"Ye observe how the world is divided against itself, how many a land is red with blood and its very dust is caked with human gore...Nay, even worse, for flourishing countries have been reduced to rubble, cities have been levelled with the ground, and many a once prosperous village hath been turned into ruin. Fathers have lost their sons, and sons their fathers. Mothers have wept away their hearts over dead children. Children have been orphaned, women left to wander, vagrants without a home. From every aspect, humankind hath sunken low. Loud are the piercing cries of fatherless children; loud the mothers' anguished voices, reaching to the skies.

And the breeding-ground of all these tragedies is prejudice: prejudice of race and nation, of religion, of political opinion; and the root cause of prejudice is blind imitation of the past -- imitation in religion, in racial attitudes, in national bias, in politics. So long as this aping of the past persisteth, just so long will the foundations of the social order be blown to the four winds, just so long will humanity be continually exposed to direst peril."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 246)

The need is urgent and the opportunity awaits us. We must engage our fellow Americans in conversation about the implications of religious prejudice, particularly the anti-Muslim attitudes that have come to epitomize such prejudice. We must do what we can to stand up for religious freedom and equality for all Americans. We must reject unequivocally the notion that a person's faith should determine whether they should serve in public office, including the Presidency.


  1. Interesting post...

    As far as I am concerned whether President Obama is either Muslim, Buddhist,Christian or ATHEIST is IRRELEVANT... To Paraphrase Rev Martin Luther King Jr... It is more important to be concerned with the CONTENT of HIS Character than religious affiliation...

    I remember attending an NAACP seminar at a University about 1987 and the conversation was focused on race relations... And I asked the panel what was their view of religious prejudice???

    They appeared to not understand the question because they focused on Christian Church denominational issues instead of the REAL ISSUE that is now a topic of the conversation...

  2. Well said Terry. I agree.

  3. Perhaps the President's professed religion or belief is neither here nor there - particularly in the US, where there is a (theoretical?) constitutional separation of church and state.

    But I wonder if his operational beliefs (which may be more covert and which may be specifically religious or not) actually do have a bearing on how he conducts himself as President? To what extent is he constrained by the constitutional and political structures and processes within which he operates?

    These are genuine questions. I'm not asking them to make a point. It's a very interesting point of difference between the US and the UK, where the Head of State must be a member of the Church of England and is labelled 'Defender of the Faith'. Here state and religion are intertwined in all sorts of curious and not always clear ways.

  4. Barney, I think it is fair to say that anyone's belief system or world view is relevant to the degree that it influences how they think and behave. In that context, the religion of the President is a relevant issue. My question was more in the line of why it matters to those who believe he is Muslim rather than Christian. What meaning do they give to what his religion is or is not. When you look at this question in the context of the poll mentioned by Race Wire and the other controversies surrounding Islam in America recently, it would appear that the issue is not what religion he is but that people have a problem with Islam and thus would have a problem with a Muslim President of the U.S. If this is true, it should be addressed head on and discussed for what it is.

  5. Anonymous5:46 AM

    The president, no matter his or her own personal belief system, must act as a representative of the America, and that means separating himself/herself from any sort of bias. While many think one's faith would affect the president, this is incorrect. There are guidelines that may present themselves in a president that might stem from a certain belief, but ultimately some of these are just naturally human and universal.

    Obama is thinking as to how to satisfy and protect the needs and rights of the people. This transcends any sort of belief system as it is secular in origin.

  6. Anonymous11:42 AM

    The idea that a person's--especially the President's--religion is irrelevant is nonsense.

    For any person of faith, religion represents their deepest convictions, the ground on which all other beliefs and attitudes rest.

    Can you imagine a Christian as ruler of Saudi Arabia? Could a Christian represent and implement the belief system of a majority of Arabs?

    Is the reverse possible? Tolerance is a good thing when it means not persecuting or harming someone because they are different from you. But to all too many in our society, it means giving up who you are and what you are in favor of deferring to that which is alien. A society that does this cannot survive for long.