Barack Obama’s Faith

There are some atheists who despise Barack Obama’s faith and think he will use his Christianity to override good judgment.

I’m not proud of everything he says, either, but I recognize the need to pander to a religious audience to gain their goodwill and votes. Obama is a Christian; there’s no denying that. But his actions have shown us that he is not about to become a puppet to the Religious Right — or even the Religious Left. In fact, I have yet to hear how his faith was ever used as the sole reason for making a particular policy decision.

I just finished reading The Audacity of Hope (awesome book, by the way) and wanted to offer these excerpts from it. When you read them, consider how many other candidates you’ve ever seen be this inclusive of non-religious people in their remarks and how Obama’s views are in line with those of most atheists:

“I believe in evolution, scientific inquiry, and global warming; I believe in free speech, whether politically correct or politically incorrect, and I am suspicious of using government to impose anybody’s religious beliefs — including my own — on nonbelievers.”
(p. 10)

“… separation of church and state protects the church as well as the state…” (p. 37)

“There’s the religious absolutism of the Christian right, a movement that gained traction on the undeniably difficult issue of abortion, but which soon flowered into something much broader; a movement that insists not only that Christianity is America’s dominant faith, but that a particular, fundamentalist brand of that faith should drive public policy, overriding any alternative source of understanding, whether the writings of liberal theologians, the findings of the National Academy of Sciences, or the words of Thomas Jefferson.” (p. 37-38)

“We [Americans] value a faith in something bigger than ourselves, whether that something expresses itself in formal religion or ethical precepts.” (p. 55)

“The first and most difficult step for some evangelical Christians is to acknowledge the critical role that the establishment clause has played not only in the development of our democracy but also in the robustness of our religious practice. Contrary to the claims of many on the Christian right who rail against the separation of church and state, their argument is not with a handful of liberal sixties judges. It is with the drafters of the Bill of Rights and the forebears of today’s evangelical church.” (p. 217)

“Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.” (p. 218)

To be fair, I don’t agree with everything he says:

“Reason — and science — involves the accumulation of knowledge based on realities that we can all apprehend. Religion, by contrast, is based on truths that are not provable through ordinary human understanding — the “belief in things not seen.” When science teachers insist on keeping creationism or intelligent design out of their classrooms, they are not asserting that scientific knowledge is superior to religious insight. They are simply insisting that each path to knowledge involves different rules and that those rules are not interchangeable.” (p. 219)

Of course, scientific knowledge is far superior to religious insight, even though that’s not what Obama is talking about (Science has often overturned religious “truths,” but you’d be hardpressed to find an example of religion proving science wrong). But again, he’s trying to not to lose the religious vote.

In this passage, Obama gets the non-religious perspective completely wrong:

“If a sense of proportion should guide Christian activism, then it must also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach in the wall of separation; as the Supreme Court has properly recognized, context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed as a consequence of muttering the phrase “under God”; I didn’t. Allowing the use of school property for meetings by voluntary student prayer groups should not be a threat, any more than its use by the high school Republican Club should threaten Democrats. And one can envision certain faith-based programs — targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers — that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems and hence merit carefully tailored support.” (p. 221)

Saying the Pledge isn’t so much about being oppressed as it is being forced to speak against your beliefs. No child should have to do that. And I’ve never heard of an atheist (individual or organization) that said voluntary student prayer groups were a threat. Nor have I heard any atheist saying Christian groups should not be allowed to meet at a school — as long as that same privilege is extended to all faith/no-faith groups. Also, faith-based programs can be provided to those who wish to use them, as long as our tax money is not being used to fund them. The government must stick to funding religion-free programs; leave the faith to private groups with their own money. There are always secular alternatives that work just as well.

Let’s see one more example of Obama’s pandering compared to his actual beliefs.

The first comes from his speech at the Call to Renewal’s Building a Covenant for a New America conference:

… we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.

He doesn’t say he agrees; he just says that’s the way it is.

At the American Magazine Conference in 2006, however, he was more adamant about what he believed:

“It’s not ‘faith’ if you are absolutely certain,” Obama said, noting that he didn’t believe his lack of “faith” would hurt him a national election. “Evolution is more grounded in my experience than angels.”

You can find examples everywhere of Obama both defending his faith and defending church/state separation. He can have it both ways. We can’t expect him to brush off what he believes, but we can hope he doesn’t let his religion get in the way of his policies.

He’s given no indication that they will.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Aj

    When I read the passage about the pledge and the faith based iniatives, I couldn’t believe that someone who says they’re for the separation of church and state would think that’s consistant. It calls his genuinity into question, or his knowledge, he really needs to learn what it means, isn’t he in the senate?

    Hemant,

    In fact, I have yet to hear how his faith was ever used as the sole reason for making a particular policy decision.

    But he seems to be planning to?

    Obama,

    And one can envision certain faith-based programs — targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers — that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems and hence merit carefully tailored support.” (p. 221)

    I hadn’t seen this before, Obama:

    And by the way, we need Christians on Capitol Hill, Jews on Capitol Hill and Muslims on Capitol Hill talking about the estate tax. When you’ve got an estate tax debate that proposes a trillion dollars being taken out of social programs to go to a handful of folks who don’t need and weren’t even asking for it, you know that we need an injection of morality in our political debate.

    As if it wasn’t religious folks proposing it in the first place, or that religion is a source of morality which has many implications that sum of a pretty fucked up worldview.

  • http://groundedinreality.blogspot.com Bruce

    It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed as a consequence of muttering the phrase “under God”

    That’s the problem. Kids at a young age don’t feel oppressed by this because they don’t know any better. They are being indoctrinated at an early age to accept that America is “one nation under God”. You keep forcing them to say it over and over again and it soon becomes their reality. All these little things build up to make kids feel oppressed when they are finally old enough to realize that they don’t buy into religion.

    Besides, if it isn’t such a big deal, then why are these people desperately trying to hang on to a phrase which was inserted after the fact in order to show the Soviets that we weren’t godless Communists but rather God-fearing Christians? “Under God” was never intended to be a secular or civic motto but rather a show of religiosity. It’s an open and shut case and the fact that Obama can’t see that worries me.

  • Matt

    I’m a bit iffy on Obama, but he’s my favorite candidate so far. Aside from the fact that I don’t agree with his beliefs and I think he’s a tad out of touch with secular America, I think he has the best chance to be fair-minded in his decisions.

    Just recounting the fact that he openly admits his father was an atheist, and that he himself was more or less a nonbeliever for a good portion of his life. He admits his mom, who was no very religious, was still a very good person. In a lot of ways, he grew up like many of us (or at least me): where the household placed no special emphasis on religion, but you knew it existed.

  • Eliot

    As if it wasn’t religious folks proposing it in the first place, or that religion is a source of morality which has many implications that sum of a pretty fucked up worldview.

    I think Aj is misunderstanding the point of this quote. Obama is saying that politicians are not being true to the values of their religions. His appeal to morality is not based on religion, but on the values of social welfare and justice.

    It doesn’t matter to me that Obama uses religious rhetoric, because his vision of Christianity is one that I believe reflects my core values. His social values are much more important to me than his position on the existence of God–I would much rather be led by a Christian like Obama than an atheist like Stalin.

  • http://www.myspace.com/timandjeffrey Tim D.

    I’m no religious-fanatic-appeaser, but here’s how I view this election: We will have either John McCain, Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama as President. That’s what it’s down to, as far as I’m concerned. McCain is a lunatic in the vein of George Bush (though he’s a bit better at hiding it), and Clinton is just a bitch. I’m sorry — I’m all for a woman president, just not her. She’s fake. One minute she’s talking about how thankful she is to be joining Barack for a debate, and a couple of days later she’s mocking him in a sarcastic schoolyard rant (and need I mention her “fear button” campaign ad?). As far as viewpoints go, I’d take Hillary over McCain any day, but in that same respect I’d take Barack over Hillary any day.

    But the bottom line is this: Barack has very, very liberal views on church and state compared to most of the other candidates. Is he perfect? No. Does he 100% accurately reflect the views of the secular community? No. But no movement has ever achieved immediate and total political success/acceptance all at once. If we (atheists, humanists, etc.) want to be taken seriously in this world, we’re going to have to take what we can get. Let Obama get into office and put his more liberal beliefs into practice, give him some time to sink in and influence others who are either already in the political system or plan to be someday. Sooner or later, things will start to change — we just have to keep on the right path, and not get too greedy or judgemental.

    As far as I’m concerned, if we don’t elect an otherwise decent candidate just because of one small perceived flaw in his beliefs (as opposed to many other flaws, such as those of McCain), then we’re no better than religious zealots who condemn candidates for being pro-choice or “picking the wrong religion.”

    That’s just my two cents, anyway, for what it’s worth.

  • Karen

    Tim D., I agree with you wholeheartedly.

  • Aj

    I think Obama is the best candidate, and have so since the first debate. I can’t really understand your comment, Tim.

    Barack has very, very liberal views on church and state compared to most of the other candidates.

    I think the Democrats are uniform on this, they’re all as bad as Iraq. His views are liberal, on the separation, he doesn’t seem to support it, just says he does. The Republicans are scary on these issues, this is obvious; however, Obama in my eyes is no different from Hillary or the other Democrats.

    As far as I’m concerned, if we don’t elect an otherwise decent candidate just because of one small perceived flaw in his beliefs (as opposed to many other flaws, such as those of McCain), then we’re no better than religious zealots who condemn candidates for being pro-choice or “picking the wrong religion.”

    This part is far more confusing.

    a) This is not a small flaw to many secularists. This was certainly not a small flaw when the Republicans were doing it. Just like freedom of speech, just because power is being abused in ways we like, doesn’t mean we should abandon the principle of secularism. Faith based iniatives are to me a blatent breach of that principle, and one that’s damage is proportionate to the scale of it, in regards to public money. How does $2 billion a year sound?

    b) No one is saying that McCain or any other candidate is better than Obama in this regard. This isn’t an issue about which is the best, or should I say, least bad, candidate.

    c) Religious people who are anti-abortion may be zealots, but not for considering politicians stance on abortion and their religious views.

    To them, abortion is murder, and if they don’t vote against that they’ve gone from mistaken about something, to sociopathic. People who genuinely believe mammals suffer the same as we do, but are not vegetarians, would much scarier to me than the other way around.

    If we assume that the sect you belong to impacts your views, or is at least a predictor of the views a candidate has, then surely we must consider this relevant to our judgement on how they’re likely to act, and thus we should use it to predict how good they would be in their job. Am I a zealot for thinking that I’d much prefer certain religious people over others in a position of power?

  • Mriana

    What’s even worse, Hemant, is that there are some people who believe that IF he gets into office the Muslims will take over the U.S. and enslave us all, and will kill Obama for being an apostate via his father. :roll:

    I don’t think he is as religious as people try to make him out to be either. So I doubt he will run this country like the Shrub’s Theocracy government.

  • http://www.jaredmlee.net jared

    (Science has often overturned religious “truths,” but you’d be hardpressed to find an example of religion proving science wrong).

    give it time – it will – and it will be undeniable
    :)

  • ash

    jared, ok, let’s wait and see…not going to hold my breath tho…

  • http://www.myspace.com/timandjeffrey Tim D.

    I think the Democrats are uniform on this, they’re all as bad as Iraq. His views are liberal, on the separation, he doesn’t seem to support it, just says he does. The Republicans are scary on these issues, this is obvious; however, Obama in my eyes is no different from Hillary or the other Democrats.

    I have to admit, I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “they’re all as bad as Iraq.” How so? Do you mean their positions on Iraq?

    As for the difference between Obama and Hillary….I’m not going to try and convince you to believe he’s any better than her, because (to me, at least) it’s a matter of perception. In a basic sense, Obama and Hillary are very similar on many of their positions. However, I much prefer the way Obama handles himself, as opposed to Hillary (I believe tact is a very important part of being President), and I lend him a lot of credibility for being one of the senators who actually voted against the war in the first place. And on top of that, he has actually said that he supports the separation of church and state, even if he hasn’t actually had a real chance to act upon that yet. Hillary crosses me as the type who would sooner bow to the church-and-state-fusionists if it secured her the Presidential election.

    But like I said, I’m not hardcore about this or anything. I’d still take Hillary over McCain any day. But I’d also take Barack over her just as easily.

    This part is far more confusing.

    (a) Alright, pardon my use of the term “small flaw.” It’s a big deal, yes, and I agree with you in differing with him on the issue of faith-based initiatives. But I’m not aware of a candidate who has exhibited a clear plan to completely dissolve faith-based initiatives in America, and so the candidates are all basically void on this issue to me. Thus, I turn to other issues to help me decide.

    (b) Well, I think it should be about who is the best, because a perfect candidate does not really exist at this point. I simply don’t believe we are going to have a candidate who is openly supportive of the secular community in every way (or even in 90% of ways). The bottom line is that all the current candidates are religious; instead of calling them off for (I guess the word I should have used is “single issues”) that I disagree with, I prefer to find candidates with whom I agree the most. And to me, Barack is the best candidate out of the three we have, with regard to the Iraq farce, separation of church and state, and the overall act of representing our country to the world with his demeanor (I still cringe over Bush’s “bring it on” quote).

    (c) I don’t mean (necessarily) that someone is a zealot just for being anti-choice; I’m talking about people who, in a situation similar to this one regarding the presidential candidates, choose to not vote for a candidate who agrees with them on more issues than any of the other candidates just because of one particular issue. For example: gay marriage. I would think it strange if an evangelical voter would choose to elect a more liberal, pro-choice candidate over a different candidate just because that different candidate supported gay marriage. Or vice-versa. It just doesn’t make sense to me to consider Obama anything but a friend to the secular community, simply because he doesn’t agree with us 100% on all of the issues.

    If there were a candidate — say Hemant, for example :) — running for president on the platform of “destroy faith-based initiatives,” I highly doubt he would garner enough public support among this nation’s largely Christian populus to become the President. So yes, I’m willing to take what I can get with Obama. As far as I’m concerned, he can just sit on his ass and do absolutely nothing in office for the next four years, and he’d still be a better president than Bush Jr. (I exaggerate, of course…).

    give it time – it will – and it will be undeniable

    I don’t know….physical reality is pretty insistent upon itself….

  • Aj

    Tim D,

    And on top of that, he has actually said that he supports the separation of church and state, even if he hasn’t actually had a real chance to act upon that yet. Hillary crosses me as the type who would sooner bow to the church-and-state-fusionists if it secured her the Presidential election.

    And Bush said he doesn’t support torture, if he’s then going to say he supports water boarding people. I don’t care whether he said he doesn’t support torture, those words are empty. When Obama goes onto to say he also supports conflicting policy, I don’t see how those words mean anything.

    I’m highly cynical of professional politicians, so accusing one of switching policies to win a presidential election is not shocking to me, although I would extend such a perception to Obama, another professional politician. However, I don’t see Clinton or Obama shifting on their positions, that are almost the same, and have been their positions for quite some time.

    I’m talking about people who, in a situation similar to this one regarding the presidential candidates, choose to not vote for a candidate who agrees with them on more issues than any of the other candidates just because of one particular issue.

    What do the number of issues matter? This “single issue voter” rhetoric, doesn’t make any logical sense. People are going to value issues by importance, some issues are more important than others. I certainly have single issues that are more important than hundreds of other issues to me.

    It can also be a gambit, voting for the best candidate doesn’t have to be tactfully prudent. Candidates court voters, with concessions, to get their vote, if they don’t think they have to, they won’t, they’ll try to get the voters they don’t have. Is campaigning about setting out the policies you believe in, and then voters vote for the candidate that’s most like them? That doesn’t seem to map onto reality for me.

    What’s the support for faith-based iniatives? I don’t think every religious person wants the fusion of church and state, I’d say there’s a majority who vote Democrat that don’t want that. Do other groups have this trouble? It seems candidates don’t care how much they stamp over what we find important to get those votes. Yet, aren’t the non-religious the biggest voting block for the Democrats with the most uniform support of policies, not the least being the ones that support secularism? There’s something gone awfully wrong.

    It just doesn’t make sense to me to consider Obama anything but a friend to the secular community, simply because he doesn’t agree with us 100% on all of the issues.

    You have conceded that faith-based iniatives are a big deal. The only way Obama is a “friend” to the secular community is in the way that enemies of your enemies are, which I would prefer to describe as mutually interested allies.

  • http://www.myspace.com/timandjeffrey Tim D.

    My point was that, out of all the available candidates, I think Obama is the *most* representative of the secular community. Even if he is just, as you put it, a “mutually interested ally,” that’s something. I don’t know about you, but seeing as how I can’t find another candidate whose policies are closer to mine than Obama’s, I’ll stick with voting for him. Like I said, I’ll take what I can get.

  • http://www.atheistspot.com/ Lenny

    Considering all the poll’s we’ve seen over the years, this is probably as close as we’re going to get to an atheistic president.

  • http://www.SecularDignity.net Secular Dignity

    Lenny said,

    Considering all the poll’s we’ve seen over the years, this is probably as close as we’re going to get to an atheistic president.

    Maybe not in our lifetime, but never say never. Have you read (or listened to) American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips? The full title is American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21stCentury.

    He talks about the history of religion in the Southern USA, and how oil, religion and finance got together to shape the Rethuglican Party in the 20th century.

    Then he talks about other world powers: Spain in the 15th-16th centuries, Holland in the 17th and 18th centuries, and Britain in the 19th and early 20th. He compares them with the USA in the mid-late 20th/early 21st centuries and sees a lot of similarities: a reliance on new energy technology (wind for the Dutch, coal for the Brits), the increasing financialization of each culture, the growing burden of public and private debts, the emergence of radical religion and the blurring of the line between church and state, militarization, and eventual decline.

    Towards the end he predicts that we will see a decline in the standing of the USA relative to other countries (I think this is happening now) and a decline in religion in the USA. I do not think he explicitly states that we will see an atheist president, but he seems to hint that it could happen.

  • Maria

    It doesn’t matter to me that Obama uses religious rhetoric, because his vision of Christianity is one that I believe reflects my core values. His social values are much more important to me than his position on the existence of God–I would much rather be led by a Christian like Obama than an atheist like Stalin.

    I agree

  • Bill Baker

    It would be nice to see an Atheist finally get elected; but I’m not holding my breathe.
    It would be nice to at least see an Agnostic though, or even a Deist…better yet Agnostic-Deist, I mean the founders whom made the constitution a godless document and insured seperation of church and state were Classic Deists…actually if one looks at Jeffersons private beliefs- and public too{beeing the principle author and signer of the contitution} he was actually an Agnostic-Deist himself, he was anti-revealed religion just like the heretical and iconoclastic contrarian revolutionary Thomas Paine…whom he as good friends with.

    If only todays politicians, especially democrats and left-wing ones, in the U.S. actually had REAL knowledge about Americas founding and founding fathers and their views{the prominent founders}… they’d realize..”oh, shit… all our pandering to the Abrahamic faiths and our constant joining with the right wing in talking about our faith in the Christian God- even if from a liberal political perspective… spits in the face of the beliefs,character, and INTENTIONS of the freethinking and deistic founding fathers… whose nature was much closer to that of todays Atheists and Agnostics and Modern Anti-theistic agno-deists… than to Revealed religionsts of anykind…including liberal christians and liberal thiests; shit… we’re pussywhipped,hypocritical, morons!”

    Obama passes himself off as a friend to secualrists and non-belivers{rationalists, including deists,atheists, and agnostics}…but I wonder…is he just dooing so to gain their votes? Will he turn on them? Maybe not to promote fundamentalism but still semi-right wing evangelical so-called charities and movements, and of course liberal christians. I mean, he panders to the religious as much as any other{even more than Hillary from what I can tell…I mean, I searched in vain for “faith” crap on Hillaries site and found nothing, but Obamas is chalk full of faith based bullshit!}…yet only “briefly” mentions that “oh yeah…none belivers exist here too”- but does he really give a shit about them or any of the rationalist community{including modern anti-theist AGNO-Deists?}
    I’m skeptical. I think Obamas just the same hypocrite as the rest and will eventually prove it.

    Be contrarian… don’t vote for anyone, It’s time for rationalists and the faithless community to quit kissing ass…to stand up and be counted and DEMAND the EXACT same regards and respects and pandering that christians or the rleigions and theistic and faith-based of ANY kind get. Or nothing will change.
    STAND UP, STAND UP FOR YOURSELVES AND BE COUNTED FELLOW FAITHLESS RATIONALISTS!

  • Jillie

    I happen to be a Hillary supporter. Obama has had a cocooned life, even now he is hardly been challenged by the press.

    We don’t know how he would react in a stressful situation, or even if he can withstand an onslaught from the right wing. His followers worship him like a preacher from a pentecostal meeting.
    Even under contant fire, Hillary fights back, also her democratic values are very sound.

    I can’t believe the media will be kind once Obama gets the nomination, after all, it is not in their interest to support the democratic cause. His followers will be the first to drop him once the attack machine starts.

    Obama isn’t any more for change than any other democrats, neither is he a Washington outsider.

    We still hardly know anything about him and already the right wing are calling him the Anti Christ.

  • Jillie

    I happen to be a Hillary supporter. Obama has had a cocooned life, even now he is hardly been challenged by the press.

    We don’t know how he would react in a stressful situation, or even if he can withstand an onslaught from the right wing. His followers worship him like a preacher from a pentecostal meeting. His followers will probably be the first to drop him once the attack machine starts and the dirt starts flying.

    Even under contant fire, Hillary fights back, also her democratic values are very sound.

    I can’t believe the media will be kind once Obama gets the nomination, after all, it is not in their interest to elect democrats.

    Obama isn’t any more for change than any other democrats, neither is he a Washington outsider.

    I too would like an atheist as president, but cannot allow McCain to continue on the same path as we are now.

  • Jillie

    Oops…sorry thought I’d cancelled the first one.

  • http://www.skepticshop.com Darren Gates

    I think it’s pretty clear that Obama is an atheist, saying what it takes to appease the ignorant religious masses, who wouldn’t be able to handle having a skeptic in office during this age of religious revival. It’s what I (an avowed atheist) would say if I wanted to get elected in this country.

    Obama is way too smart and educated to be anything but a skeptic when it comes to religion, especially given that he was raised in a secular household. It’s refreshing to finally have the prospect of a free-thinker in office. I wish atheist politicians had the guts to come out and speak more critically about religion, and more openly about their doubts.

  • Ronald Gates

    If I as an atheist decided to run for office in this country, (US) I would first attend a church service and come out of the church waving my hands in the air shouting
    hallelujah, hallelujah hallelujah!!! I been saved! I am born again. That’s the way it is when you are in politics! Enough said?

  • Ronald Gates

    But, why do most Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim?

  • Ronald Gates

    How can you be a christian, or, a Muslim, or, a Jew if you say you believe that life on earth evolved

  • http://www.dunham.com John Dunham

    Obama is an atheist.His mother was my relative.