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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Obama's Faith: Personal and Political

President Barack Obama gave a heartening speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, held every year on the first Thursday of February, about his hopes for the future, such as Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ recovery from the shot to the head as well as her husband’s adjusting to the near death experience. He also wished for the situation in Egypt to play out peacefully and in favor of the people protesting against the one party system persisting for around 30 years since Hosni Mubarak’s replacement of Anwar El Hadat after his assassination in 1981. But throughout the rest of his speech, he spoke very candidly and publically for the first time about his faith, which many people continue to be skeptical about, due to various groups propagating the notion that he is a closet Muslim pretending to be a Christian.

While there is no absolutely conclusive evidence that Obama isn’t lying to millions of people about his faith, I fail to see what justification or benefit he could see in doing so, and why people would believe that someone would try to maintain such an elaborate ruse, when the President doesn’t get paid much more than others, not to mention his job is already quite taxing on the body and mind. His spiritual aspirations should be the least of people’s concerns; not to mention he has had plenty of associations with Christian preachers, including Rick Warren and Billy and Franklin Graham. Not to mention that Obama’s general reticence regarding his faith can be seen as a sign of discretion in times when the religious affiliation of a president should be very low on the list of concerns of the governed as opposed to what are more pressing issues of politics, economics, foreign policy, etc.
As divided as Obama admits many people might be on the issues like healthcare, the federal deficit and foreign aid, he at least strives to emphasize in this speech that he shares the Christian faith on some level with the majority of people in the United States. Some comments on the article inquired about theological specifics, but this is hardly relevant for a person that represents a diversity of millions, not all of them even finding Christianity’s story of salvation compelling in the slightest. With this unification under some theistic civil religious principles in mind, he calls for a focus on at least this common ground he has with most Americans even if there are very polarizing divisions that exist on other issues.

But the fact that people, educated or otherwise, continue to buy into the rumors of Obama’s true faith as a Muslim being deceptively disguised as God fearing and Jesus following to the majority demographic of Christians is what continues to divide people across political spheres. We still seem to want our representatives in politics to share the same faith as us, even though we can also feel sympathy and pray for Gabrielle Giffords, a Reformed Jew. But those same Christians, who eye Obama with distrust and accuse him of being both a Muslim and a Communist/Socialist/Marxist (which I can’t imagine are internally consistent with each other), will say that they can’t be anti-semitic because the Jewish people are their spiritual family, since they are also in a covenant with God, albeit they always would emphasize that it’s the Old one, not their New (and improved?) one with Jesus, who happened to be a Jew himself; which most people conveniently leave out.

I don’t have to agree with Obama’s politics or religion to still respect him as a person and as someone who represents the country in all its diversity, Christians and varied non Christians like myself as well (which he has spoken on occasionally in his speeches, giving him kudos from me that no other president to my knowledge has gotten yet). I could ramble on more about how religion and politics need a radical separation and, more importantly, a shifting of priorities. Being religious has become a negative label in my own area of the South, equated to following rituals and rules without any spirit or conviction behind their substance. And then there’s the allegation that the president needs a faith, usually a conveniently Christian faith that makes the person involved feel privileged. But the president neither has to be religious or faithful to any particular religion or faith; but at the very least should admit that he, like any politician, is dependent on those who vote for them and also has an obligation of fidelity (related etymologically to the word faith, ironically) to those constituents to follow through in some way.

Now, I admit I’m using something of the rhetoric and method that many conservative Obama critics and Tea Party followers use, but only because when communicated without politically vitriolic venom, it speaks volumes to what ought to be a reform of politics on some level, however unrealistic it might actually be to put into practice. If anything, people need to look past what people tell them and investigate those claims as individuals. But they shouldn’t let their own judgments about Obama determined through research be the end of the discussion. Exchanging opinions with others is a way to check against isolated politico-religious decisions. If you judge Obama simply by what everyone else says, there’s a problem in that you aren’t willing to think critically and objectively. However, judging Obama purely on what you think critically and “objectively” about is also a difficulty, because you dismiss any criticism as being “un-American” or “un-patriotic” or any number of other negative associations that only drive a wedge further into what is already a fragmented system, exacerbated by blind loyalty to party lines instead of choosing people based on alignment with your own political policies, regardless of being Democrat, Republican, or anything in between.

If we started accepting that we won’t agree on everything and try to find both common ground (the governed under the government) and principles of governance we share in common (benefitting people without coddling and spoiling them into becoming co dependent on any government subsidies or aid), then perhaps there wouldn’t be the need to question Obama’s faith either as individual believers or as communal citizens. We’d at least accept that when the facts point to Obama being a Christian (Methodist or Baptist or whatever) that we should take them as they are without succumbing to the media as the only source of information for our daily lives. Whether Obama is a Muslim or Christian or agnostic shouldn’t matter as long as he is honest with America. And again, I see no reason why he would need to lie about such a personal conviction when there are plenty of people that could counter any deception he might speak in a speech or prayer. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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