Obama and Faith

There’s an article in today’s New York Times about Barack Obama’s search for faith. It details how Obama came to find the Christian God through the help of Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

It won’t be long before some atheists use this as another reason to criticize Obama for being too pious.

What might they use against him? Here are some excerpts from the article:

The Christianity that Mr. Obama adopted at [Trinity United Church of Christ] has infused not only his life, but also his campaign. He began his presidential announcement with the phrase “Giving all praise and honor to God,” a salutation common in the black church. He titled his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” after one of Mr. Wright’s sermons, and often talks about biblical underdogs, the mutual interests of religious and secular America, and the centrality of faith in public life.

The day after the party for Mr. Wright, Mr. Obama stood in an A.M.E. church pulpit in Selma, Ala., and cast his candidacy in nothing short of biblical terms, implicitly comparing himself to Joshua, known for his relative inexperience, steadfast faith and completion of Moses’ mission of delivering his people to the Promised Land.

“Be strong and have courage, for I am with you wherever you go,” Mr. Obama said in paraphrasing God’s message to Joshua.

In “Dreams from My Father,” Mr. Obama described his teary-eyed reaction to the minister’s words. “Inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones,” Mr. Obama wrote. “Those stories — of survival, and freedom, and hope — became our story, my story.”

Mr. Obama was baptized that year, and joining Trinity helped him “embrace the African-American community in a way that was whole and profound,” said [Maya Soetoro-Ng], his half sister.

In the 16 years since Mr. Obama returned to Chicago from Harvard, Mr. Wright has presided over his wedding ceremony, baptized his two daughters and dedicated his house, while Mr. Obama has often spoken at Trinity’s panels and debates. Though the Obamas drop in on other congregations, they treat Trinity as their spiritual home, attending services frequently. The church’s Afrocentric focus makes Mr. Obama a figure of particular authenticity there, because he has the African connections so many members have searched for.

Yes, Obama is religious. That’s not a surprise. But we cannot forget that he was also a constitutional law professor who understands and respects the necessity for separation of church and state. He shares the values that most atheists hold and he’s not about to kowtow to the Religious Right.

Before attacking him for allowing a church to play such an important role in his life, don’t forget these passages from the same article:

While [Obama] has said he shares core Christian beliefs in God and in Jesus as his resurrected son, he sometimes mentions doubts. In his second book, he admitted uncertainty about the afterlife, and “what existed before the Big Bang.” Generally, Mr. Obama emphasizes the communal aspects of religion over the supernatural ones.

As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama is reaching out to both liberal skeptics and committed Christians. In many speeches or discussions, he never mentions religion. When Mr. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, does speak of faith, he tends to add a footnote about keeping church and state separate.

Mr. Wright, who has long prided himself on criticizing the establishment, said he knew that he may not play well in Mr. Obama’s audition for the ultimate establishment job.

“If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me,” Mr. Wright said with a shrug. “I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen.”

I’ve written before that Obama may be the best candidate that atheists have had in recent history. It’ll be some time before we have one of our own able to run for such a high office, but Obama isn’t one to condemn. We’re not at the point where we can criticize someone for simply being religious. As long as our rights are respected, scientific progress is prioritized, and critical thinking is favored over religious intuition, we’re going to be better off than where we are now. And Obama embodies all that.

[tags]atheist, atheism, New York Times, Barack Obama, Christian, God, Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Trinity United Church of Christ, The Audacity of Hope, Dreams From My Father, David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, Maya Soetoro-Ng, Harvard, Religious Right[/tags]

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