Obama’s Religion

I had a go at this topic in last week’s Radio Derb:

. . . there’s been some shock and horror expressed at the finding by a Time magazine poll that 24 percent of Americans think the president is a Muslim. My own impression, speaking as one of the eleven Americans who has actually read Obama’s autobiography, is that he’s no more interested in the supernatural than he is in higher mathematics. True, he sat very happily in the pews at Trinity United for twenty years listening to Jeremiah Wright preaching how “white folks’ greed runs a world in need,” but that was just, you know, politics. My guess is, Barack Obama caught a lot of z’s in those pews.

“Interested in supernatural matters” is a human trait, strong in some, weak in others, altogether absent in many, probably mostly congenital.

“Identifies as a [name of religion]” is a social tag that can identify a very wide range of habitual behaviors, from churchgoing atheists like Sir Martin Rees (“I attend church out of loyalty to the tribe”) to St. Francis and Mohammed Atta.

Obama is deeply uninterested in supernatural matters. He identifies as a Christian because politicians in the U.S.A. who do not so identify, get nowhere.

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7 Responses to Obama’s Religion

  1. Mark says:

    So, in other words, he’s not all bad.

  2. A-Bax says:

    Some thoughts:

    Derb is almost certainly right that Obama is privately irreligious. As Razib noted above, Obama needed to ingratiate himself with “the community” – since he wasn’t naturally black enough culturally – and associating oneself with a fire-breathing preacher is a necessary condition for doing that. (Though perhaps not sufficient. Blacks remained skeptical of Obama until Clinton dissed him in the SC primary. That sealed it. Once a powerful white man took shots at him, BO’s blackness was authenticated.)

    In the article Stuttaford highlighted over at the Corner, the point was made that Obama just seems to be from an alien culture, period. His values, mores, and driving impulses just seem very different from the average American. Those of us who real blogs like Secular Right can easily identify his home culture as being that of the academic/legal/journalist/post-modern insular hothouse, but I’d guess that a regular Joe on the street isn’t as familiar with academic gasbaggery as readers of this blog might be.

    So if one understands the idea of being a “Christian”, or a “Muslim” as having less to do with belief in a well-defined set of supernatural claims, and more to do with group-identity and membership within a particular culture, the rise in % of people who think Obama is a Muslim begins to make sense. Most Christians go to church. Obama doesn’t, and hasn’t since he threw Revvum Wright under the bus. Most Christians are culturally Western. Obama doesn’t really seem so. He’s upended many of the core-principles of Anglo-Saxon individualist culture, and is trying to replace it with something foreign and unseemly to most Americans.

    Last, we have Obama’s Muslim sounding name, his Muslim father, his time spent in Muslim Indonesia as a child, his fond reminiscences of the call to prayer, and his relentless puffing up of Muslim culture, often at the expense of tacitly denigrating Western culture. (Cairo speech, etc.). Then, at a Ramadan dinner, he expresses support for a thumb-in-your-eye Mosque at Ground Zero. All this adds up to people thinking that he has more sympathy for a culture which houses virulent elements bent on our destruction than he has for (our, American, Western) culture.

    Bottom line: People can sense that his world is not their world, that he is kind of an alien. They’re vaguely aware that he has Muslim roots/sympathies, and they never see or hear about him going to Church. So yeah, he might be a Muslim.

  3. Rich Rostrom says:

    “Obama … identifies as a Christian because politicians in the U.S.A. who do not so identify, get nowhere.”

    Not entirely true.

    A practicing Sikh (Dalip Singh Saund) was elected U.S. Representative from California in 1956 and re-elected twice.

    A practicing Moslem (Keith Ellison) is a U.S. Representative from Minnesota.

    And of course numerous Jews have been elected Representatives, Governors, and Senators. One Jew came within a hair of being elected Vice President. There are at present 12 elected Jewish Senators, several from states with no large Jewish constituency. Minnesota has had a Jewish Senator since 1978!

    I would certainly agree that non-identification as a Christian would be a handicap in politics, especially in the past when Obama began his career, and for a black. But it does not appear to be an insuperable handicap.

  4. Meng Bomin says:

    @Rich Rostrom:

    I agree that it’s not insuperable at the level of the House of Representatives. Districts can have wildly varying demographics. If you look at Keith Ellison’s 5th district of Minnesota, you’ll find that it is centered over Minneapolis, the liberal center of Minnesota and home to a relatively large community of Somalis (who are themselves Muslim).

    Obama’s career track took him to the Senate and the Presidency, both of which have much higher hurdles for non-religious candidates.

    So, I would say that while “nowhere” is hyperbole, Representative of a demographically strange district may be the ceiling for how high an avowedly non-Christian American politician can go.

  5. cynthia curran says:

    Well in the Repub party you have to be christian to reach high office. Granted, there are some atheists or pagans more conservative than christian folks like Jim Wallis. In the Dem party its the oppose, the more secular the better off you are except with some blue collar whites or blacks.

  6. Pangloss says:

    “Well in the Repub party you have to be christian to reach high office.”

    Goldwater’s family name was Goldwasser – they were Lemko Jews (though his mother raised him Christian).

  7. D says:

    Goldwater could not win a Republican primary today.

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