A couple new polls just released are causing quite a bit of eye rolling and aggravation among President Obama’s supporters. The numbers show that an increasing percentage of Americans believe the president is Muslim; a decreasing amount that he is Christian; and a growing plurality who are unsure of his religion altogether. Those who believe he is Muslim, 18% in one poll, are wrong (and I suspect many who say they believe this do so just to irk liberals, much in the same vein of Republicans during the Bush years who referred to their opposition as members of the “Democrat party”). 34% take Obama at his word, that he is Christian, while 43% are unsure.

Many, including a Christian pastor who has known Obama for years, claim that the misperception about the president stems from the GOP media machine that subtly fills the airwaves with misinformation, and the fact that the president does not attend church services as publicly, or as frequently, as Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. They may be correct, but what I find is interesting is the 43% percent who are unsure, and I wonder if it has less to do with whether Obama is Muslim and more to do with what we mean by Christian.

There are still pockets of Evangelicals who don’t consider Roman Catholics to be Christian; I remember being asked once if I was a Christian, to which I replied yes, only to have my interlocutor correct me. I was in fact Catholic, not Christian. There are also some Catholics who don’t believe that some mainline Protestants to be fully Christian (our own Church refuses to call Protestant churches what they are: churches). So even within our own Christian family, there is not a consensus as to who is actually Christian and who is not.

We have a president who does not go to church regularly, if at all. He is the son of a Muslim man from Kenya, and who spent his formative years in predominantly Muslim countries, and who speaks of religion in such vague platitudes, one does begin to wonder what in fact he is getting at. Consider the words he spoke before lighting the national Christmas tree last December: "[Christmas] represents a tradition that we celebrate as a country--a tradition that has come to represent more than any one holiday or religion, but a season of brotherhood and generosity to our fellow citizens."

Now the president says he prays each day, and we are well aware of his membership at a UCC church in Chicago, where Jeremiah Wright was his pastor. Obama calls himself a Christian. As a nation, we would do well to leave it there, and let the president get back to being commander-in-chief, not theologian-in-chief. But those who are inclined to believe the president, and I count myself among them, must not dismiss those who are unsure as crazed conspiracy theorists intent of bringing down this administration. Rather, let’s offer some benefit of the doubt to that 43%, many of whom perhaps struggle to see people whose Christianity looks quite different from their own as brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, this is a challenge that still plagues even in our own family of faith.

Michael O'Loughlin

 

Comments

Bain Wellington | 8/22/2010 - 6:39pm
Here's something which has passed without comment:- "There are also some Catholics who don’t believe that some mainline Protestants to be [sic] fully Christian (our own Church refuses to call Protestant churches what they are: churches)."  The clear implication is that the two issues are logically connected (they aren't) and that the Catholic position on the second is indefensible (it isn't).
 
Although the ecclesial communities arising from the events of the European Reformation are not recognised by the Catholic Church as "Churches" in the full sense (and some of them repudiate that term for themselves), their members are certainly accepted by the Catholic Church as baptised Christians: see Unitatis redintegratio, n.3.   CDF clarifications on the meaning of "Church" and "sister Churches" do not bear on that issue.
 
Maybe it never occurred to the writer that Catholics and Protestants use the word "Church" in different senses.  There are not inconsiderable differences between what Catholics and "some mainline Protestants" mean by the "eucharist" and "sacraments" (and some of them reject episcopacy), so it wouldn't be surprising, would it, if "Church" had a different meaning too?
Anonymous | 8/22/2010 - 2:36am
Mr. McCrea,


You seem not to understand what I have been saying.  I do not believe Obama is a Muslim though he probably has sympathies with Islam since he was raised as one as a child and had several Muslim friends as a young adult and traveled with them and has continued to have associations with Muslims right up to his presidential campaign.  His father was a Muslim and he admired his father.  The post above was about why people have perceptions that he is a Muslim.  The most recent poll indicated doubt amongst a fair number of people.   I provided several facts that could lead to that perception.  But I never said I believe he is a Muslim.


I honestly do not know what he is.  If I had to guess I would say he is not very religious at all like most politicians.  They all have a religious identity but that is as far as it goes with most.  I personally have no admiration for the man after I found out what he did in Chicago all those years.  Essentially he did nothing while his associates made money off the system and screwed the people he supposedly represented.  A religious person would not have stood by like he did and watch Chicago corruption play out right before his eyes.
JIM MCCREA | 8/21/2010 - 7:07pm
'I mean, c'mon Cosgrove-his college roommate was a Muslim?! Just throw everything up and see what sticks, right?'

Gosh:  what does it mean that JFK's best friend throughout most of his life, a man who was invited to the White House many times and actually slept there, was a - gasp - Homo-Sex-You'all?
Peter Lakeonovich | 8/19/2010 - 2:56pm
You have to take the president at his word that he considers himself a Christian. 

Whether the president is really a Christian, in the real sense (i.e., in the Christological sense, which acknowledges that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word Made Flesh, is the center of History), is between the president and God, and impossible for us to know.  We can (should) hope that he is.

We can deduce from his statements, such as the whopper of a statement quoted by the author about Christmas, that it appears that he is probably not a Christian in the Christological sense.  That much is not rocket science. 

Obama: "[Christmas] represents a tradition that we celebrate as a country-a tradition that has come to represent more than any one holiday or religion, but a season of brotherhood and generosity to our fellow citizens."

No mention of Jesus Christ.  No mention of the Word Made Flesh.  No Christian.  But that's just a "best guess" and should in way be asserted as simply a fact because we just don't know.  Let's pray for the best.
Anonymous | 8/19/2010 - 1:46pm
I think this post gets that the real issue; the problem (for the President) is not that people don't know his religious affiliation, its that there is still a question about this matter still lingering.  The cause of this, I think, is that, more than anything, Obama is the product of Harvard/Cambridge/University of Chicago culture where open religious affiliation and expression is rare.  And no, having attended an Ivy Leaque institution on the East Coast, I can attest there is no "conspiracy" or "attack" on overtly religious people; its more a product of apathy than anything.  As David Hauerwas correctly points out, the religion departments have to portray themselves as scientists or come up with all the "Religion ands ________" to stay relevant in the current university.  I think Obama is more intune with this academic culture than anything else, and is the reason there is still such a "disconnect" between him and the heartlands in particular.  I think this is a better explanation than all the liberal conspiracies that most Americans are just racists and that's why they don't like Obama or think he's a Muslim.  Liberals do themselves no favors beating that dead horse.
Helena Loflin | 8/20/2010 - 7:28pm
TeaParty-TV, hate radio, right-wing blogs, right-wing "foundations" and "institutes," highway billboards, supermarket tabloids and spam - all very effective at portraying President Obama as "The Other."  It's sad but true that lots of people in this great nation are willfully ignorant.  They believe the lies and innuendo they hear 24/7 from these disinformation sources.  The "Obama is a Muslim" goofiness is simply piling on top of the equally laughable "Obama was born in Kenya" goofiness.  Before long, Obama will be some other "Other" on TeaParty-TV.    
Martin Davis | 8/20/2010 - 12:39pm
I like the comment regarding “theologian in chief.” 

I fail to understand why the President feels he has to respond and get involved in non-government social issues - i.e. the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” debate. Which surely is a matter that should be handled by the city of New York.

Unfortunately, I think the reason for this may be, for the most part, due to the fact that the community of faith seems to have lost much of it’s authority. Nowadays, if people don’t agree with the moral standards of the faith of their fathers, they simply change religions to suit THEIR standards. Truth has become democratic, and not absolute. So it falls on the government to try and enforce the sliding scale of morality that appeals to the masses.

Whether Obama is a Muslim or Christian should not be the question. The better question may be, why aren’t the Christians and Muslims better examples for society in general?
Gerelyn Hollingsworth | 8/19/2010 - 4:58pm
''Charles Dickens's Christmas Carol is quintessential Christmas in our culture and says nothing about Jesus.''

-
 
Local theater companies are replacing their tradition productions of A Christmas Carol with A Christmas Story, and making more money.  No mention of Jesus in that one, either. 
Peter Lakeonovich | 8/19/2010 - 3:57pm
Barbara, you express some very nice sentiments. 

As you well note, however, politicians do open the door to discussions of their faith when they openly campaig as members of a particular faith.  Besides, the issue is important to Americans.  Therefore, it is fair to consider whether a politician is what he says he is.  Hence, this discussion on the president.
As for “love thy neighbor” not being a suggestion, I agree.  But it is absolutely necessary to point out that it is the second commandment, after the FIRST and GREATEST, which is to love God above all things.  

Not that we could ever really know, as I said in my first post, but this gets to the Obama Christian or not-Christian issue.
Here’s a paraphrase from the Matthew:
One of the Pharisees tested Jesus by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"  He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Gail Grazie | 8/19/2010 - 3:36pm
I think it is sad that a person's relationship with God is now a matter for political discourse and judgment even if that person is the President of the United States. Aren't we all at different places on our faith journey? Mr. Obama has publicly stated that he is a Christian. He campaigned and I believe governs with Christian princples in mind, especially the Lord's command set forth in Matthew 25:34-40. He conducts his life as a perfect role model for men as a loving, faithful and respectful husband who honors his wife and a loving, devoted and involved father. He is a perfect family man even while experiencing the daily and constant pressures of the Office of President of the United States. He has led and is leading a more Christian life than some of our Priests. I am amazed that he is questioned in these comments for having Muslim friends or for reaching out to those of the Muslim faith. ''Love thy neighbor'' is not a suggestion - it is a command from Our Lord and an obligation of all Christians. It seems that many hearts have been hardened regarding this President who works very hard for this country. 
Michael Bindner | 8/19/2010 - 2:40pm
To set the record straight, the Obama family did not join any parish in downtown Washington.  Rather, their "home church" is the faith community at Camp David.  What they do when not in Maryland is none of our business, however it is untrue to say they are not the members of an established congregation.

Michael, please print a retraction.
Tom Maher | 8/19/2010 - 2:17pm
Don't blame the public's preceptions of what President Obama's religious convictions are on the "GOP media maching that subtly fills the airwaves with misinformation".    What mysterious "media machine" exists that can influence two thirds of the public to not identify Obama with Christianity?  "Media machines" under GOP control is a poor explaination for how Obama is precieved by the public.  

President Obama is his own worst enemy on who he is.   His own actions and word or lack of actions or words define him.   He is an open book in the public eye and people react accordingly.  All data from all people shows  he is not seen as being particularly Christian.  On the other hand, Obama's  efforts toward Moslims are noteably extensive and even heroic.  Why for example did he direct the head of NASA to make it his number one priority to perform outreach to Moslems?  What does the NASA mission have to do with making Moslems feel good about scientific accomplishmnets of Moslems?   Why  should top priority efforts be directed toward one paticular religious group or any group ?  Obams's  conspicuous patronage  toward Moslem's is excessive,, makes no sense and causes the public to wonder why does Obama pay so much attention to Moslems?      

we vnornm | 8/19/2010 - 1:09pm
Good thoughts & clear thinking, JR Cosgrove.

Perhaps your ideas can help those who don't agree with the President express specifically the policies they are against rather than sowing doubts about his religious heritage.

The survey cited could have gone a step further and quizzed the 43% how they felt about various policies. This same extension could be used with the other two groups-and comparisons made to see how each of the three groups viewed various policies. Social science can be helpful somnetimes!

This might be one way to gather more data for your hypothesis....which I think is extremely insightful. 

Much more constructive to talk abiut issues apart from one's heritage, personality, etc.  (except those who have Jesuit education get high marks :-) :-) :-)   bvo
Anonymous | 8/19/2010 - 12:43pm
I do not think most of the objections to Obama have to do with his religion, whatever it is.  Most who object to him would change their attitudes if he changed how he governed.  I personally would not care if the president was an atheist, a Buddhist, hindu, Christian, Muslim etc as long as he governed from an ideology of freedom, good economic principles and kept America strong and acted as we were strong.
 
Given that, the leaning over backwards to accommodate Muslims gives the appearance that he may be unduly favoring them and may also communicate a sense of weakness.  This leads one to suspect his ulterior motives.  His background with Muslims reached into at least his early 20's as his roommates in college were Muslims.  He traveled to Muslim countries during that time also and it is not quite clear what passport he used.  The church he attended in Chicago has alliances with Black Muslims and has some rather un Christian dogma.  He associates with Muslims at fundraisers and a prominent one helped get him into Harvard.  So he has all these issues that cloud just what are his intentions or his real religious beliefs.  But most would forget about them if he governed differently.

Michael Bindner | 8/20/2010 - 12:26pm
While I am attacking religious commemorations, I need to point out the irony of doing ashes on Ash Wednesday and keeping them on when the Gospel reading for the day states that we should only pray privately and when fasting should comb are hair and wash our faces - since doing otherwise is its own reward - but fasting in secret is what gives true benefit.  The reason for that, by the way, has nothing to do with pacifiying God, but in seeking personal humility.  You can't find humility by turning Ash Wednesday into a celebration of Catholic tribalism - which is essentially a triumphalist exercise and why I never, ever, ever get ashes.
Michael Bindner | 8/20/2010 - 12:21pm
One final comment.  When the President is lighting the national Christmas tree, he is not engaging in a religious act, but a cultural one - and must therefore use inclusive language.  In the quiet of his Chicago home or his Hawaiian vacation home on Christmas eve, I suspect that he and Michelle likely tell the nativity story, like most Christian families (which is odd, considering that Jesus was actually an Aries, born April 17th, 7 BCE - BC would obviously be incorrect, since Christ can't be born 7 years before his birth).

In reality, Christmas is tradition for most northern people in higher latitutudes to banish the mid-winter darkness.  Other faiths commemorate similar things this time of year, even if the events commemorated did not originally occur in December.  In other words, the holiday is thoroughly pagan, because it deals with how mankind responds to the natural phenomenon of dark in a spiritual way.  Spiritual responses to physical phenomena are the essence of paganism - and Yule would still be celebrated if Christmas was moved to its correct date.  Moving the commemoration of Christ's birth to mid-winter simply gives Christians an excuse to do so without feeling guilty about it - and that is why hard core literalists don't celebrate the holiday at all.
Kang Dole | 8/19/2010 - 9:52pm
Nobody will be wasting their breath with all of this ''Is the president a Christian'' meshugas in 2012 when Cthulhu takes the election.

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn! Pray that you are eaten first!

JIM MCCREA | 8/19/2010 - 7:13pm
Why are Americans so quick to forget that Article 6 of the US Constitution provides that "no no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States".
Who among us is qualified to determine if Obama is a practicing (whatever THAT means) Christian of any persuasion?  If he was not, then so what?  What if he was a Moslem?  Or are we saying that all religions are created equal, but some are more equal than others?

Did anyone really care the JFK was, at best, a nominal Catholic?



This obsession with Obama’s religion smacks of hypocritical religiosity and churchianity at its very worst.
 
Wait til we get an atheist running for POTUS!
Anonymous | 8/19/2010 - 7:00pm
This is getting a little ridiculous,  I say something and then it is distorted so I feel obliged to correct the distortion.  This is a very common occurrence on this site.  It is rare that after pointing out the distortion is there any acknowledgement but instead an attack from a new direction usually with a new distortion.  Interesting phenomena on a Catholic site.
 
 
I didn't say perceptions aren't really relevant. They certainly are when one is trying to figure out just what his religious beliefs are.  Actions are usually considered more important than statements.  So that he had Muslims as college roommates, freely associated with them, traveled with them would add to what ever perceptions people had.  The fact that a prominent Muslim and Muslim sympathizer helped him get into Harvard would be something that added to people's perceptions.  The fact that a close business associate and fund raiser came from Syria would be relevant.  The fact that other prominent Muslims helped in fund raising.  The fact that friends are active in pro Palestinian causes would affect people's perceptions.  Now I will ask anyone a question.  If those facts were brought up about anyone else, what would religion would say the person was?  That is the problem he has with some people.  You could substitute Catholic or Hindu or some other religion for Muslim and get the same perceptions but the religion would be different.  You could substitute Irish or Brazilian and one would make conclusions but they would not be about religion.  You could substitute political ideology and come to a different conclusion.
 
 
I then said that his religious beliefs are not important to me unless they are somehow interfering in how he is governing the country just as Jack Kennedy's religious beliefs were theoretically not relevant either.  I have no basis for making the conclusion that Obama's religious beliefs are affecting his governance and do not hold it but I have suspicions as to his attitudes on Israel.  I tend to look at what he does to make my evaluation of him as president.  Is that clear.  That does not mean I think he is a good guy and has character.  I didn't think Clinton was a good guy and has character but I was mainly interested in what he did as president.  If he produced good results for the country, I would be happy with him.

Dale Rodrigue | 8/19/2010 - 6:54pm
Lets just say Obama is a Christian because he says he is. 
Who are we to argue with him on that. It's between him and God.

But...
I just wish he was more Christian and less ''Christian Lite'' because he is concerned about ruffling feathers to protect his political standing among other religious. 
''Keeping Christ in Christmas'' would be a powerful message from the bully pulpit!

Seeing Joe Biden at a press conference with ashes remaining on his forehead on Ash Wednesday spoke volumes.

p.s. ??.? ? ?????I?'?m?  not here to argue how Catholic Joe is but rather he wasn't ashamed to leave the ashes on?.
Vince Killoran | 8/19/2010 - 5:55pm
I'll sign off after this, but your argument seems to be that the "perceptions" aren't really relevant but, since you don't support BO, you'll go ahead and pile on by repeating innuendo and trying to connect unrelated facts. You can do better.


As your write, "THAT is my point and I stick with it." 
Anonymous | 8/19/2010 - 5:54pm
I think everyone, including posters I otherwise agree with, is missing the point (respectfully).  What the comments show is that we're letting our political commitments examine the a) salience of the issue and b) truth of the matter.  Thus, when Bush was in office and was overtly evangelical, liberals scoffed at him, said he was nothing but a cokehead or a drunk or a rich fratboy or (now) a war criminal who conveniently found religion & used it to divide the nation, etc.  Now that Obama is in office, his political supporters rush to portray him as a deeply religious man (albeit in his own way) or as attacked unjustly by conspiratorialists hell-bent on destroying him.  I think all this misses the fact of the matter, which is that Obama has failed to connect on a gut level with most Americans.  As Peggy Noonan often says, this really matters because Obama is in our living rooms, restaurants and just above everywhere else so darn much that we have to be comfortable with him. If I were the President's political team, I would be very much concerned that he's still coming off as a law professor or as a Chicago pol rather than blaming racism or some such other thing.  I think that's the point of the original piece.
Anonymous | 8/19/2010 - 5:36pm
''So why bother commenting on his religious identity, and not, say, his love for hamburgers? If you disagree with his policies then argue against those, not throw out the fact that one of his college roommates was a Muslim?''

The opinion piece at the top is about perceptions of Obama's religion not about his hamburger preferences.  And more than one of his roommates was Muslim and that is pertinent to perceptions.  I made the point more than once that most would not care about his religion, and I certainly would not, if he was governing responsibly.  The real issue is what he is doing as president.   That is my point and I stick with it.
Vince Killoran | 8/19/2010 - 5:33pm
. . . and his vice-president is Catholic, and his chief of staff is Jewish, and the Interior Secretary is hispanic, and his list of childhood friends, other college roommates, and Chicago friends includes WASPs, Jews, African Americans, et al. 

So what?!  
Anonymous | 8/19/2010 - 5:21pm
''I mean, c'mon Cosgrove-his college roommate was a Muslim?! Just throw everything up and see what sticks, right?''
 
 
Are you doubting this?  Am I making it up?  I believe when he transferred to Columbia from Occidental (where he had at least one Muslim roommate), his roommate there was also a Muslim, one he met at Occidental.  And I believe he traveled to Pakistan with his roommate and friends, all in his early 20's.  These are facts and his roommates will vouch for him as a good guy and do gooder and idealist.  But was it a coincidence that he had Muslim roommates and traveled with them?
Vince Killoran | 8/19/2010 - 5:06pm
 "And whatever his religious beliefs are they would not mean much if I thought he was acting responsible as a president."

So why bother commenting on his religious identity, and not, say, his love for hamburgers? If you disagree with his policies then argue against those, not throw out the fact that one of his college roommates was a Muslim?

Now, back to Michael's argument.  I was unclear when he wrote, "let’s offer some benefit of the doubt to that 43%, many of whom perhaps struggle to see people whose Christianity looks quite different from their own as brothers and sisters in Christ" what he proposes.  Perhaps these people who hold these beliefs about BO aren't struggling at all to understand other Christians or anyone of another faith for that matter.  I don't "dismiss" them-I'm worried as hell about what they might do! 


Anonymous | 8/19/2010 - 4:42pm
Mjr.  Reidy said,
 
''This strikes me as a particularly insidious employment of innuendo.''
 
 
That is twice in two days he used the same word about a post I made.  I do not think I said anything that was untrue (If I did I will retract it) and was explaining why people suspect Obama's motives.  I also said it wouldn't matter much to me or to many others if he behaved differently as president.  We can debate whether he bends over backwards to Muslims but I believe the evidence supports this especially in regards to Israel.  
 
 
I can understand trying to have good relations with Muslim countries and George Bush tried to do the same as he walked a tight rope of defending Israel and encouraging good relations with Muslim states and fighting Muslim extremism.  So that is necessary for diplomacy.  No one is accusing George Bush of being a Muslim.  By the way the left is pleading to have George Bush come out and defend the Mosque at Ground Zero.
 
 
I could have said things much worse (all true) about Obama if I thought it was appropriate.  I was sticking to the topic the author had laid out which is apparently based on a new poll.  And whatever his religious beliefs are they would not mean much if I thought he was acting responsible as a president.  And I do not believe he is doing that.
Marie Rehbein | 8/19/2010 - 4:31pm
A nation that prides itself on religious tolerance and assures that there is a legal separation of church and state should not be expecting it's top official to talk about Jesus, even at Christmas.  Christmas is a cultural holiday, not strictly a religious one, and in this cultural context, it is a season in which virtues that we like to call Christian are embraced by all citizens.  Charles Dickens's Christmas Carol is quintessential Christmas in our culture and says nothing about Jesus.
Gail Grazie | 8/19/2010 - 4:24pm
We are commanded to love even those who do not honor the First Commandment. As Christians and disciples of Jesus,  we have no choice in the matter. God is Love and when we cease to love or choose who we will love based on preconditions then our relationship with God suffers to some extent.  In any event, as I said, we are all at different places on our faith journey and that means our understanding of God and our relationship with God changes and evolves as we proceed down the path. I would never judge another person's belief in God even if that person is the President of the United States. I am not able to judge what is in a person's heart and soul. Discipleship also demands humility.  
Vince Killoran | 8/19/2010 - 4:22pm
We've had two practicing Christians in the presidency in recent decades, i.e., regular church goers who announced on a regular basis that their religious faith directed their actions, i.e., Jimmy Carter & GW.  I would argue that neither of their presidencies was successful, or particularly more "Christian" than our other chief executives.



But this really isn't the issue, is it?  There is nothing that BO can do to convince some of the electorate that he is "Christian," just as many cannot be moved from their "belief" that he was not born in the USA. As some of the comments on this posts prove this is being used as a cudgel with which to attack the president (I mean, c'mon Cosgrove-his college roommate was a Muslim?! Just throw everything up and see what sticks, right?). 


The fact is that the USA in the 21st century is a pretty complex place with a diverse population of agnostics, atheist, and believers; churched and unchurched;and, Christian and non-Christian.  A lot of the anxiety, fear, and hatred this has generated reminds me of the Second Ku Klux Klan and the 920s "culture wars."