Monday, September 13, 2010

A Question of Faith

Last week in the course of his presser, President Obama felt compelled to reiterate his Christian faith when making a broader point about intolerance toward the Islamic religion as contrary to our values:
“As someone who relies heavily on my Christian faith in my job, I understand the passions that religious faith can raise. But I also respect that people of different faiths can practice their religion . . . and they are still good people.”
This was not an impromptu remark, coming on the heels of a White House statement that affirmed the President’s faith:
“President Obama is a committed Christian, and his faith is an important part of his daily life. He prays every day, he seeks a small circle of Christian pastors to give him spiritual advice and counseling, he even receives a daily devotional that he uses each morning. The President's Christian faith is a part of who he is, but not a part of what the public or the media is focused on everyday.”
The White House was responding to a poll that found nearly 20% of Americans believe falsely that Obama is a Muslim and 43% aren’t sure. Not surprisingly, behind the rumors of the President as secret Muslim is the right wing smear machine driven by Fox, hate radio, and wingnut blogs perpetuating the myths of the President’s religion and birthright with a strong partisan component.

The issue was further soiled by wingnut evangelical Reverend Franklin Graham claiming Obama is Muslim by virtue of his father’s “seed” and so deemed by Islam. As if DNA is biological and religious destiny, too. (A novel religious twist to the theory of Evolution.) Never mind that Obama’s father was a committed atheist who abandoned the two-year-old child to his American mother’s care:
“My father was almost entirely absent from my childhood, having been divorced from my mother when I was 2 years old; in any event, although my father had been raised a Muslim, by the time he met my mother he was a confirmed atheist, thinking religion to be so much superstition.”
Blogger Ann Althouse eloquently put to rest the question that “genealogy is destiny:”
“Regardless of what the Muslim world may or may not believe, this whole seed fixation is profoundly un-American. It says that genealogy is destiny, that a man is Muslim regardless of what he espouses or believes. It’s all about descent—and nauseatingly close to the “one drop rule” of the post-Reconstruction South. That rule held that if a person had any African or Indian ancestry whatsoever, he or she was classified as “colored” and subject to anti-miscegenation laws, voter disenfranchisement, and segregation at large. At least eighteen states adopted some form of the rule; Virginia’s 1924 law, for instance, was called the Racial Integrity Act.”
This is America. Here, neither race or ancestry nor genealogy or DNA determines a person’s religion, spiritual path, and destiny. Incredibly, Newsweek’s Howard Fineman actually suggested on Hardball that President Obama should have joined a church in Washington for the sake of political optics:
“Can I say something here that‘ll probably get me in trouble? But I‘m going to say it anyway. Barack Obama probably should have joined a church here, OK? Now, I‘m not excusing any of the hatred or nasty language or any of the dirty strategy that we‘re talking about. But some things in politics you have to do at least for the symbolism.”
Fineman added, “after he came to town, a lot of this stuff would never have arisen.” Perhaps. But the reason President Obama did not join a church in Washington, D.C. had nothing to do with politics much less the religion of Islam. As recounted in Jonathan Alter’s book, Promise:
“Let’s be blunt,” Obama said. “We were pretty affected by what happened at Trinity and the controversy surrounding Reverend Wright. That was disturbing to us. It made us very sensitive to the fact that as president, the church we attend can end up being interpreted as speaking for us at all times.” To avoid that, the Obamas sometimes attended services at a tiny chapel at Camp David run by the military and used by a few military families. The navy chaplain there, Carey Cash, whose great-uncle was the singer Johnny Cash, was known for his compelling sermons. He had witnessed a lot of the action in Iraq and spoke of how a “wall of angels” protected the soldiers around him. The president found special comfort in church when responding to tragedies or weighing matters of war and peace, but like other presidents, he attended services irregularly, in part out of concern about the inconvenience it caused other worshippers.”
Any genuinely religious American should understand, respect, and accept the President’s Christian faith without qualification or reservation. This president has written more about his personal spiritual journey than many of his predecessors, certainly Ronald Reagan. The fact that he hasn’t trumpeted it with media photo-ops outside a church holding the Bible or with pictures of him worshipping in Camp David speaks well of his Christian faith. Religion, after all, is innately private and personal.

People forget, most don’t even know, that the President worships with family, friends, and colleagues of our military who are in harm’s way every single day. That he would not exploit this for political purposes, is admirable. That right wingers would question and exploit his Christian faith because the President has chosen to keep it private, is despicable.

No comments: