Let’s All Wonder About Obama’s Religion Some More

Ah, the timeless question that has plagued mankind since the dawning of, well, 2007 or so: What religion is President Obama, really?

I think it’s a fairly silly question. But we have right-wingers who suspect, nay, insist, that he’s a Muslim. On the other side we have atheists like Bill Maher who are certain that Obama is one of us (though Maher also thinks the Pope is an atheist, which I think is quite a reach). For me, personally, I think it’s best to take the man at his word, that he’s a Christian, until some overwhelming evidence suggests something else. Like, for example, him saying “I’m actually an atheist.” That would probably convince me.

All that said, his particular version of Christianity remains murky to many who care about this kind of thing. As the holidays now pass us by, Ashley Parker at the New York Times notes that the Obamas have not attended any Christmas church services since coming to Washington, nor have they chosen an “official” church as their religious home in DC, choosing instead to visit a variety of them, and even then they haven’t gone all that often.

Perhaps, however, that’s how the president is most “representative” of America’s religiousness generally. As Parker notes, “his religious habits appear to be in step with a changing America,” one with fewer attending church generally, many folks coming in and out of faith traditions, and a rise in the unaffiliated. In that mix, the vagueness of Obama’s Christianity may fit right in.

Those within the president’s coterie are, of course, quick to point out that though Obama’s faith is hard to pin down, it is still deeply felt. Let no one mistake him for an atheist or a lapsed Christian! (See the previous post on atheism as a “poison pill” in politics for more on that.) Josh DuBois, who used to head the Faith-Based office and sends the president daily devotionals by email, told Parker:

He has a serious practice of faith even though he doesn’t necessarily wear it on his sleeve. . . . The important thing to President Obama isn’t where you worship God, but how you serve God by serving other people.

Sure, sure. And look, even if he is an atheist, or anything else for that matter, it doesn’t really matter unless he acts on those beliefs. It’s meaningless to speculate as to whether he’s a “secret atheist” or what have you if he still allows the Faith-Based office to let fund recipients discriminate in hiring, if he appears at the National Prayer Breakfast, or fights on the side of prayer at legislative sessions. If he’s the kind of Christian that DuBois describes, and that’s how he behaves, then fine. We could do far worse than someone who emphasizes “serving other people,” I suppose.

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  • http://youtu.be/fCNvZqpa-7Q Kevin_of_Bangor

    Praise Allah and sorry NSA for sending up a false flag.

  • momtarkle

    U R naughty

  • Lilly Munster

    Ah, there’s Kevin Rahe.

  • momtarkle

    I don unnerstan

  • Brian Westley

    Obama is from Unnerstan?

  • momtarkle

    No, silly. Kevin Rahe is an undergraduate at Stanford.

  • Michael R

    Egypt just declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group. So I guess that makes the guy in the fez a national security risk? Oh wait, we already knew that from Benghazi etc.

  • Pseudonym

    Fezzes are cool.

  • A3Kr0n

    How dare he visit various churches. I want to know who he likes best!

  • Malcolm McLean

    He real affiliation seems to have been with that radical black rights pastor whose model of Christianity was that whites were the oppressors. He had to drop him for political reasons because he couldn’t get the presidency on angry black votes alone, but he was reluctant to do so, backing him until it became untenable.

  • WallofSleep

    Rev. Wright is certainly a piece of work, I’ll grant you that. But at least Obama publicly threw him under the bus. I can’t recall a republican president/presidential candidate that did the same with the likes of Robertson, Falwell, Hagee, etc.

  • God’s Starship

    Republicans only like white religious fanatics, unless they’re deeply homophobic black religious fanatics.

  • WallofSleep

    Heh, good thing I’m just an atheist then.

  • Jack Hillburn

    Senator John McCain did it with Hagee in 2008.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    I have heard fundamentalist pastors say far more inflammatory things. I can’t believe no one bothered to get recordings of sermons from the McCains’ Baptist church. (Or ask Cindy McCain how she can be Baptist and run a liquor distribution company?) But I guess these issues are only a problem if you are a Democrat.

  • Pseudonym

    McCain is, I believe, Baptist, not Southern Baptist. So the sermons he listens to are probably not as inflammatory as you think. This also explains the alcohol thing.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    I had to do some digging to make sure, but yes North Phoenix Baptist Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. (I had to go through the Arizona Baptist Convention website to find that out, however, because the church’s own website does not have that information, at least not anywhere easy to find.) It is not uncommon for Southern Baptist churches outside the south (which would include the Southwest) to drop the Southern from the name. In fact the denomination has debated dropping the word southern because it limits the appeal of the church in other parts of the country (and world). Now, none of that tells us what is actually preached at that church about alcohol, sexuality and a whole host of other issues. You’d think someone would have done a little digging especially after the Jeremiah Wright controversy.

  • Pseudonym

    The Rev Wright thing caught Obama out, because he didn’t actually know what Wright had been preaching for a while, because Obama hadn’t been to church in years.

    This should not be surprising, because it puts him in the largest, and largest-growing, religious group in the English-speaking world: those who self-identify as some kind of Christian but who do not regularly attend a place of worship. They make up a decent proportion of the “spiritual but not religious” crowd and a lot of the famous “nones”.

  • Donalbain

    Whites? The oppressors in America? Where would anyone get THAT idea?!

  • phantomreader42

    Malcolm, I know you’re incredibly stupid, but if OWNING SLAVES isn’t enough to qualify as oppressive for you, what the fuck is?

  • Len

    I’m sure they were only renting them.

  • Sven2547

    Did Mittens ever drop, denounce, repudiate, or otherwise distance himself from that white-supremacist church of his? No?

  • LesterBallard

    Muslim/Socialist/Nazi/AntiChrist is a religion, right?

  • more compost

    We have to find a reason to hate the black guy, without admitting it is because he is black. I know, let’s call him a Mooslum, that way it’s OK to hate him!

  • God’s Starship

    Yeah it’s just about finding a reason to mark him as an “Other”, Except for Maher who thinks he’s too smart to be a Christian. Maher is wrong. Obama’s just too smart to be a fundamentalist.

    At any rate, his public persona is Christian, and that’s the one we deal with, so that’s that.

  • Pseudonym

    Bill Maher apparently went to the Christopher Hitchens school of comparative religion. If I think someone is okay, they must be an atheist regardless of what they say or do. If I think someone is a jerk, they are not only religious, but they are typical of all religion.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    well, i went to school with the president, and i agree with Bill. he’s an atheist. he’s a politician, and the ultimately successful one (2 terms as prez with clear margins of victory).

    but does he truly believe in the Virgin Birth, Christ turning water in to wine, Moses and God parting the red sea… etc? no. i sincerely believe he does not, and would say so in the private company of trusted friends, if he were asked about all that. at best, i can see him being marginally agnostic, or maybe one of these fluffy “there’s a higher power in the universe but i can’t really know its will and so the best thing in life is to try to be a good person in case there’s a next level we all move on to after death.” but Christian fundamentalist? hell no. even mainline Christian seems a bit of a stretch to me.

    the tell would be to find out what his religious habits were when he was an undergraduate. i’m guessing he hardly ever, if ever, attended a church. elite university culture is mostly devoid of religious practice (except for the wacko student groups who can’t get enough religion, and they are not at all a majority at places like Columbia, Harvard or Chicago). this is true at almost every level- undergrad, grad/professional school, and faculty.

    hell, more than 2/3 of the faculty at UChicago divinity school, where i got my degrees, are atheist and never set foot in a house of worship except as academic observers or researchers.

  • WallofSleep

    I think wingnut christians must be flummoxed by the modern American response to their usual cries of “HERETIC!!!”, which for the most part seems to be “Meh”.

  • God’s Starship

    He says he’s Christian. That’s good enough for me. It’s a bit silly to doubt his word on this, to be honest.

  • islandbrewer

    And it’s frankly downright rude not to take someone at face value for what they claim as their beliefs. Whenever someone (not going to name names) say “well, you really do believe [fill in belief I don’t have],” I just want to punch them.

  • God’s Starship

    Yes, it’s just bad manners. That’s absolutely right.

  • https://nowebsite.nolink.com Destroyer of Lies

    Are you President Obama? Have you ever been one, or held any elected public office? My guess is not, or that if you were it wasn’t for very long. THIS IS ABOUT THE ATTITUDES OF OUR HEAD OF STATE, and that means we have the right pry, with no obligation whatsoever to trust him on his word, nor to be particularly respectful of what he says. If you’re in that position, you deal with it, or you get out!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    normally i’d agree. but this is the intersection of american politics and religion: one of the most dangerous places in america to declare even the slightest disbelief.

  • Lark62

    Remember when Oprah told the swimmer that she really isn’t an atheist, even though she said she is an atheist. We were up in arms about how rude and disrespectful that was.

    Mr. Obama says he is a Christian. There is nothing to debate.

    I would love for a politician to openly admit to being an atheist. I would love for politicians who are smart enough to know that creationism is bunk to say so out loud. I would love for a lot of things to happen. But in the meantime, we have to take people at their word.

    And as for attending church, or any other public event, the presence of presidential security pretty thoroughly disrupts any event. I expect most churches are just as happy not to have the president in regular attendance.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    You’d be surprised how quickly they adapt. The Secret Service would have to approve of the church (structure, not theology) because some places would be easier to secure than others. I went to Foundry Methodist Church in DC several times in the 90s when the Clintons were in attendance. It wasn’t that much of a hassle (and I got to hear a very nice St John Passion there once).

  • Lark62

    That’s good. I remember the time that Mr. Clinton decided to go jogging and shut down the morning rush hour!

  • onamission5

    I live in a minor southern city (large-ish town, really), and when Biden last came to speak, traffic shut. the. fuck. down. The freeway was a parking lot for hours, and the alternate routes that savvy locals use to avoid rush hour were gridlocked, too, for miles, starting downtown and snaking out in every conceivable direction in every direction. It was a PITA, but also kind of amazing.

    (edit to strike out redundant redundancy)

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    Oh the traffic is a nightmare wherever the president goes. I remember once in the late 90s being 30 minutes late for rehearsal (a major no-no for professional gigs) because I couldn’t get across Park Avenue. (Rehearsal was near the Waldorf Astoria where FLOTUS stayed when she was in the city.) So, yeah there’s that. But that’s true no matter where he goes.

  • Pati Beardsley

    And “I” remember when Bush was on Longboat Key, Florida, Sept 10, 2001, and the entire beach was dredged so that he could jog in the morning before going to that gradeschool. Since I worked there as a cop, I know firsthand how a president’s visit disrupts daily life. It’s probably a good thing that Mr Obama doesn’t routinely go out to services. Or maybe he Does.. Friday night services at a synagogue would totally throw off the naysayers.. :-/

  • Donalbain

    199x < 2001 I suspect there may have been a major change in presidential security between those years.

  • Belaam

    I would think that the cash influx from visitors who want to attend the “President’s church” as well as having a bully pulpit to tell the President what you are concerned about would more than make up for having him there. I’d put up with a lot to be able to voice my personal concerns to the President for 15+ minutes a week.

  • onamission5

    I consider President Obama to be a nominal Christian who takes the more pleasant parts of the bible seriously and probably glosses over the rest as not applying any more. Other than that it’s none of my business, so long as he and his cabinet set policy according to facts and evidence rather than superstition. I know enough liberal, non-church attending Christians in my day to day life that I believe him when he says that’s his religion. I need the president to be in my club a whole lot less than I need him to be on my side, you know?

  • Matt Potter

    President Obama is not Muslim, Christian, or atheist!!!! Let’s do this Glenn Beck style, I’ve got my giant chalkboard out to connect the dots. Pres. Obama now owns two Portuguese water dogs. These ‘dogs’ just happen to be black and are from Portugal. Portugal in the lastest census ,circa 2011, happens to be 81% Roman Catholic. Do you know where a heavy concentration of Roman Catholics live? Italy of course! And what do Italians eat? Pasta!! Pres. Obama is a Pastafarian and for atheists who claim to follow reason and logic I am amazed that you couldn’t figure this out.

  • EdmondWherever

    Who’s having butt sex?

  • Matt Potter

    I’m not understanding, care to explain how you came to that question?

  • EdmondWherever

    Sorry, it was a South Park thing. A scientist reached an incredibly unrelated conclusion by jumping from one barely related topic to another, including a brief mention of butt sex, which was the only thing Chef was able to catch out of the list.

  • Matt Potter

    No worries, I love South Park! It all makes sense now.

  • Mario Strada

    He is a secret Pastafarian. I have a picture of him eating a noodle like meal once.

  • Lilly Munster

    They are Members of a United Church of Christ, who are essentially Protestant Christian, Liberal, Educated, Progressives, living without the Myths of Christianity.
    They fully understand that Christianity has been Weaponized by the Christian Taliban, and is in need of Rescue from the Crazies. A member of the United Church of Christ is a person who understands and opposes Bigotry, Homophobia,
    Misogyny, Bad Science and Bad Religion. They can be trusted with the welfare of ALL Americans. Obamacare will be hailed as successful, effective, and a Godsend to Poor and Working Class Americans.

  • cathouseumbrella

    Wow, that’s a lot of initial caps!

  • Lilly Munster

    I was raised as a Calvinist and a Jew. I am neither. When I had the choice, I rejected both for what they really are. Controlling, racist, xenophobic and Toxic.
    My Calvinist family insists I am STILL a Calvinist. My Jewish family insists that “once born a Jew, always a Jew.” No, dears, Religion should be an Adult Choice.
    NO ONE has the right to label me in any way. I am a Non-Theist, regardless of Opra, Grandma, Nanna, the Rabbi, or Rev. Potter. I belong to myself, not someone’s IDEA of me.

  • Pati Beardsley

    Well Put (and I love your hair) 😉

  • usclat

    Great post. Love you. Great luck.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    We have no way of knowing what other people believe. We know what they say they believe and we may have some evidence of their behavior. Beyond that we don’t know. Speculation is a pointless exercise. I do think it’s funny, however, that some make a big deal out of how rarely the Obamas go to church when the Bushes (43 not 41) attended no more often while W was president.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    3,562,991,402,335,686,227 parallel universes were traversed to find this image:

  • LutherW

    Hope its not true. Would make one of us a liar. And willing to have said anything to get ahead.

  • Ian Reide

    I would go with atheist, but then, I say that about most people who have triple digit IQs, and at least some sense of compassion.

  • Pseudonym

    Well, you know, there are people out there who say that anyone who has dark skin and is up the liberal end of the political spectrum must be a secret muslim. People say a lot of things.

  • Michael R

    I don’t sense any serious religious belief within Obama. The best description of Obama’s religion is Black Liberation Theology (BLT) i.e. an interpretation of Christianity that is favourable to an oppressed minority fighting for justice. BLT is a vehicle for racial solidarity. It allows folks like Obama and Jeremia Wright to roar racial solidarity from the pulpit while at the same time excluding themselves from any allegations of pure racism, because it’s wrapped in Christianity. Here’s a taste:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9o8z2VPQzw

  • Cnocspeireag

    Of course the pope is an atheist. Sorry to quote scripture but look at Mathew 18.6. He’s either practicing with millstones in the Vatican pool or he knows that it’s all bullshit.

  • Pati Beardsley

    I think it’s kind of cool that the Prez will not “commit”, as it were… I think that religion should never be brought into the mix, for a president. It further divides us as Americans. It’s the same as the debates on his race. What we Do know is, The President has two arms and two legs, he is a human being, and he has a wife and two daughters and lives in a large white house with a really big font yard. Unlike the Kennedys, who when in the White House, were from a totally different era, Mr Obama is a modern leader and it looks like he’s just trying to lead by example, not by affiliation. And even if one of his parents was muslim, it doesn’t mean that Barack follows the lead. My mother, by the time of her death, had gone from Catholic to agnostic to pentecostal, speaking in tongues, to Baptist, all in 69 years. And I am a positive atheist.

  • Ogre Magi

    I think Bill Maher is a bit of a nut

  • Finn Nicolas

    You’re right, but he is also a very funny and intelligent nut.

  • hamtension

    I’m really tired of this half assed, nit picking Christianity, either you believe it or you don’t, either everything is true in the book or its not, there should be no in between that is just an excuse. if the science text book has many problems in its context, we don’t just choose the bits we like and ignore the ones that don’t apply, equally the whole thing should be tossed out.

  • Pseudonym

    I’m really tired of this half assed, nit picking Christianity, either you believe it or you don’t, either everything is true in the book or its not, there should be no in between that is just an excuse.

    Spoken like a true fundamentalist.

  • Sandrilene

    I think you have to take someone at their word. If someone says they’re a Christian then they are a Christian.
    Otherwise you end up being like the evangelicals wittering on about how Catholics are not Christians. It was that sort of behaviour which put me off Christianity.
    Likewise, if someone says they are an agnostic, then they’re an agnostic.

    Contradicting how someone identifies is like telling a Welshman he’s British — even if you’re technically right it still comes across as obnoxious.

  • Lark62

    Years ago I attended a baptist church. They were collecting money for “home missionaries” to Indiana, because episcopalians weren’t “real” christians. Some things never change.

    If we can’t take people at their word, how can we expect that courtesy from others?

  • Beryl MacLachlan

    This is an extremely modern view of Christianity. Literalism as a widespread thing is less than two centuries old. So yes, spoken like a true fundamentalist.

  • James

    We had another president from Illinois who also declined to join a specific church. When asked what religion he belonged to, he said, “When I do good, I feel good, and when I do bad, I feel bad, and that’s my religion.” Words to live by, Mr. Lincoln.

  • Matt Ranson

    I’d like to think that the President has more important things to do other than going to church, even if he is a Christian (or Muslim)