Is President Obama’s Religion Relevant?

August 31st, 2010

By Dan Miller

and if so, to what and why?

According to this blog article,

In a major liberal initiative to curtail discussion of President Obama’s religious identity, over 70 Christian leaders and denominational heads have signed a letter saying that questions about the religious philosophy of the President of the United States should be ignored and suppressed by the major media.

The letter demands that the media “offer no further support or airtime to those who misrepresent and call into question the President’s Christian faith.”

Barack ObamaObviously, the media should not spread lies about President Obama’s religion whatever if anything it may be. Neither should the media embargo news about it or make judgments about what is or is not misrepresentation based on its  proclivities for or against President Obama; media filters of that sort are inappropriate. If X percent of the people “believe” he is a Muslim, or Y percent question his Christian faith, that’s news; whether their beliefs are true or false is a wholly different question.

According to this screed,

Yesterday [August 28, 2010], a nut-job demagogue held a huge rally in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, a majority of Americans object to the building of a peaceful cultural center in New York and one in five “believe” that the president is a Muslim, as though someone else’s professed religion is a matter for national referendum.

With Labor Day around the corner, it’s time to admit it.

The country has gone bonkers. We’re as feverish as a bad heat wave. Folks, behold the summer of our raging insanity. …

Of course, now is the perfect poison atmosphere for the fear-mongering Glenn Beck and his bizarre “Restoring Honor” rally. While it was held yesterday on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I suspect that Rev. King would have considered this racist radio host and his inflammatory rhetoric a nightmare. Yet, despite his habit of breaking into tears and positioning himself as a revivalist in a pre-apocalyptic land, Mr. Beck remains wildly popular among conservatives, even though he is, in all likelihood, a lunatic.

Read the thing and others like it; no comment seems appropriate beyond that, if not intended as a satire, the author seems to be rather passionate in her hated of Mr. Beck and probably Mrs. Palin — not to mention hundreds of thousands of other folks who don’t share her views. The dirty filthy rotten Nazi Fascist scum even cleaned up after themselves. How very thoughtless and inhumane! This may mean unemployment for sanitation workers; think of the poor pigeons! Won’t some caring person at least go dump some garbage cans around? Cleanliness is a sure sign of godliness anti-environmentalist sentiment. They must all be right wing Christian nuts, as distinguished from those sane and rational Christians who agree with her. I wonder whether she would agree with my thesis that religious views are important.

Like it or not, religion plays a big part in forming our world views and is, therefore, relevant to them. Offhand, I can’t think of anything (except maybe insanity) more relevant to understanding or anticipating what a president is likely to do or how he is likely to do it than his world view and therefore in large part his view(s) of the United States. In addition, we have “freedom of religion” and we (at least adults) can pick whatever religion or no religion as we wish. Not only that, we can vote for or against candidates based on our perceptions of their religious views, their race, whether they have freckles, how they style their hair and anything else we wish. In the voting booth, we need to be no more politically correct or rational (a very different thing) than we feel like being.

The attorney still lurking in me would draw a technical but significant distinction here, the difference between relevance and materiality and therefore evidentiary value. It is entirely possible for a fact to be relevant to something which is not material and therefore not admissible in evidence. If Mr. A is tried for assaulting Mr. B, whether Messrs A and B were simultaneously present at point C when and where the alleged assault occurred is a material fact; if they were not, Mr. A cannot very well have assaulted Mr. B, at least at point C as charged. Whether Mr. A was wearing a leather jacket at the time of the assault may be relevant to that material fact if there is evidence that the person who assaulted Mr. B was or was not wearing a leather jacket. If there is no evidence as to what the alleged perpetrator was wearing, whether Mr. A was wearing a leather jacket at the time of the alleged assault is not relevant to a material fact; Mr. A’s guilt or innocence cannot properly be determined by the jurors on the basis of their fancy or disdain for leather jackets.

At trial, attorneys often try to cover all bases in their objections to make a record in case should there be an appeal; hence, it is common to object that proffered evidence is “irrelevant, immaterial and incompetent.” (Incompetent means that the person offering the evidence lacks the requisite basis to provide it.) So much for the distinction between relevance and materiality, except to note that while President Obama’s religion is not particularly relevant to whether he should be the president, his religious views can be highly relevant to the material question of his world view and how it is likely to illuminate his future behavior. Ditto the types of people with whom he has close personal connections and/or upon whose advice he relies.

Is President Obama a Muslim? Is he a devout Muslim? I don’t know and don’t much care, except for the high probability that to the extent that he is he would very likely discharge the duties of the presidency in ways I would find less than congenial. And that’s exactly what he has done. Does that mean that he is a Muslim? No, but it does mean that his world view and his view of the United States are very different from mine. Maybe “Muslim” is just a cuss word, sort of like “@#($* asshole.” Still, as Roger Simon argued here, there are rational bases for Islamophobia. As Norma Zager noted here, it ain’t necessarily so; mileage may differ in heavily Muslim Azerbaijan, an ally of Israel. Is President Obama a devout Roman Catholic, bound by the various pronouncements of the Pope and other high church authorities concerning such topics as abortion? No, he almost certainly isn’t. Were he, he would have to put those views aside in performing his duties as president. Some manage to make the separation, as the late Senator Kennedy did vis-a-vis abortion, as to which he was a proponent of expanded access. That led me to question his claims to be a devout Roman Catholic and therefore his personal integrity; he claimed to be one thing and advocated policies as though he were something else.

If a candidate claims to be “religious,” I want to know what religion and what he means by “religious.” If he is being honest, rather than just whoring for votes by proclaiming his religiosity, he should tell us. We (at least enough of us to decide who should be the President) should be smart enough to decide whether his views, be they based on his proclaimed religion or lack of thereof, are what we want. Single-issue voters who consider increased abortion access the supreme issue probably should not vote for a truly devout “pro-life” Roman Catholic or other truly devout “pro-life” Christian. Single-issue voters who favor religious freedom and tolerance probably should not vote for a truly devout Muslim. Those who despise all of the social and economic values of a few decades ago probably shouldn’t attempt to revive them by voting for a Glen Beck or Sarah Palin clone or for anyone who agrees with them on the point.

A candidate’s religion is important, even to those who like me have none, because his religious views are often predictive of his behavior if elected; we ignore them at our peril.

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4 Responses to “Is President Obama’s Religion Relevant?”

  1. Tom Carter |

    In the American constitutional system, where we try to maintain a separation between church and state, a politician’s religion should be irrelevant, unless he permits religious belief to inform his performance of duty. As a good example, President Bush’s constant references to his personal religious beliefs and his reliance, as he made plain, on divine guidance was troublesome.

    The problem with mixing religion and performance of duty in political office is obvious — it mixes irrational personal beliefs with the necessity for making decisions and taking actions that require rational thinking.

    My perception is that President Obama isn’t religious at all; he attended Rev Wright’s church for all those years because it was politically useful to do so. However, he will always claim that he’s a Christian because like other politicians (especially presidents) he knows that saying he’s agnostic or atheist would mean that he’d have no chance of getting elected.

    I agree with you that we can’t ignore a candidate’s religious views. What’s most important, though, is his/her behavior. Obama has smacked down Israel and offended our important European allies, all the while sucking up to the Muslim world. It doesn’t matter whether he’s behaved that way because of his religious beliefs or his political beliefs — it’s wrong, and that’s one of the reasons he should be defeated in 2012.

  2. Lisa |

    I agree. Actions speak louder than words and Obama has actually created the environment, through his foreign policy efforts and his reaction to war on terror, for people to wonder whether he is indeed a Muslim.

  3. Dan Miller |

    When someone seeks high office, we need ways to anticipate what he is likely to try to do if elected. Even before he is elected there are indicators, but the words and symbols he uses are not often the most reliable. If he has previously held office, his conduct there can be very important. If he has done little or nothing in public office, there is not much there upon which to rely.

    Once he is elected and assumes office, we have multiple bases upon which to form judgments, but by then we are stuck with him for his term of office. To the extent that a candidate’s religion and his religious views (not always the same thing) suggest his world view and his view of the United States, I consider them highly relevant to what he will try to do and how he will try to do it. There are other factors to consider, as suggested in the article.


    You are right about everything. i think that the whole porpouse in Obama is to destroy Israel. Why?. Because he is a muslim. Troughout history Israel has been the forbidden apple that every ruler wants to destroy and Obama is not an exeption. BUT HOW? Simply by bringing down the worlds main supporter and financer, Israel will be left totally unprotected and an easy prey for all its enemies.

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