This is troubling on so many different levels that it’s hard to know where to begin: New polls have found that as many as a quarter of Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim. Since so many of his critics still refer to the controversy involving the views of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, how is that possible?
And why are some observers now insisting that the president must be more public about his religious practices, which ought to be one of the most private aspects of a person’s life?
The Pew survey of 3,003 adults found 18 percent of Americans saying Obama is Muslim, up from 11 percent in March 2009, two months after his inauguration. The percentage who identified him as Christian went from 48 percent to 34 percent, while 43 percent of Americans said they didn’t know what he believed.
The rise in those who insist that Obama is Muslim was found primarily among Republicans, from 17 percent last year to 31 percent today. More troubling for the president may be the increase of that view among independents from 10 percent last year to 18 percent today, and the decline among Democrats who consider him to be Christian from 55 percent to 46 percent.
The Pew survey was conducted July 21-Aug. 5, meaning it ended more than a week before Obama took his controversial public stand supporting the right of Muslims to build a mosque near Ground Zero in New York.
It is clear testimony to the power of the rightwing noise machine, which dedicates itself to lies and innuendo about Obama, portraying him as un-American, racist, an illegal alien, etc.
Over at Swampland, Time magazine’s blog, Amy Sullivan blames the president for the widespread ignorance about his religious beliefs:
For my money, though, the real headline–and the news that should be causing heartburn over at the White House right now–is that the percentage of Americans who can correctly identify Obama’s religious faith as Christian has dropped by 14 points in the past year and a half. A plurality of Americans (43%) have no idea what religion he practices.
I’m going to repeat that because this is very unusual: a year and half after Obama moved into the White House, Americans are far less certain about who he is than they were during the campaign. That isn’t a good trend line for any political figure, but especially not the president. It may be appealing for an offbeat Hollywood actor or a reclusive writer to be seen as an enigma. But politics is a personal arena–voters like to feel that they can relate to a president or at the very least understand who he is. More dangerous for Obama is the fact that if a politician doesn’t define himself, his enemies are more than happy to do it for him. The Pew poll is evidence that the endless conservative media cycle of misinformation about Obama is working: of those respondents who identified Obama’s faith as Islam, 60% said they learned the “fact” from the media. (Note that the poll was conducted before Obama waded into the so-called Ground Zero mosque controversy.)
Some of the Christian ministers who know Obama well seem to agree that he needs to be more public about his faith, so they have decided to testify to his beliefs, according to McClatchy:
Pastors who’ve prayed with President Barack Obama defended his Christian faith Thursday as the White House downplayed new polling that showed a steep climb since he took office in the percentage of Americans who think he’s Muslim or at least don’t believe that he’s Christian.
“He is a Christian by choice, a devout Christian,” said Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston. Caldwell is among a group of Christian leaders whom Obama regularly calls for inspiration. Caldwell also officiated at the wedding of President George W. Bush’s daughter Jenna.
Pastor Joel Hunter of Northland Church near Orlando, Fla., said of Obama, “Those of us who’ve spent time with him and have had a part of forming his spiritual life can testify with certainty of his commitment to Christ.”
One of the ugliest things about American public life is the loud, showy religiosity that passes for profound Christian faith — the belligerent and frequently bigoted nonsense that comes from people like Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham. The New Testament is pretty clear about the practices of a real Christian: Matthew 6:6 and 7:16.