Is Obama Adding to Our Culture of Religious Illiteracy?

Yesterday I criticized Christine O’Donnell’s “aggressive ignorance” of the First Amendment. I do not expect all politicians to have the Constitution memorized, but I do expect a basic familiarity with the most important parts such as the First Amendment, which enshrines some of our most basic and cherished freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peaceably assemble, and freedom to petition the government. Moreover, O’Donnell is a candidate for the United States Senate (for Vice-President Biden’s former seat) in an election to be held in less than two weeks on Tuesday, November 2. So, at this time, both the press and “We the People” need to be asking direct and important questions of candidates for high office.

At the same time, I feel like criticizing conservative candidates is sometimes like picking only the low-hanging fruit — such as when I read that “Of the 20 Republican Senate candidates in contested races, 19 question the science of global warming and oppose any comprehensive legislation to deal with it.” This statistic is disheartening to those of us who care both about the stewardship of Creation and about taking seriously the best science of our day.

Today, in an effort to be “fair and balanced,” I turn my focus to a Democrat and ask, “Is Obama adding to our culture of religious illiteracy?”  To point, I was disappointed to read the following headline in The New York Times: “A Question of Appearances: Obama Will Bypass Sikh Temple on Visit to India.” Because visitors to the temple in question are required to tie a piece of cloth on their heads, the White House is worried about fueling the ridiculous rumors that the President is a Muslim, to which I can only add the Seinfeldian caveat, “not that there’s anything wrong with that!”

As someone who has dedicated his life to the practice and study of religion, I know more than the average person about the field of religion; nevertheless, I will confess that if pressed before reading the Times article earlier this week, I am not sure I could have told you anything about the Golden Temple, much less that it is the “holiest shrine of the Sikh religion” or that it is “home to one of the largest free eateries in the world.” So I lament that President Obama has canceled his visit to this site, because a presidential visit would focus the world’s attention on this beautiful landmark and on the Sikh religion. By allowing fears to govern decision-making, a teachable moment will be missed to increase both tolerance and religious literacy.

To help counteract this missed opportunity, I invite you to spend two minutes learning more about Sikhism and the Golden Temple. Click here to view a free video produced by The New York Times titled, “Peace and Roti at the Golden Temple.”

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