Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

In Case You Forgot, Obama is a Christian

The A.P. ran this story today, in response to a poll that states that the number of Americans who believe that Obama is Muslim has grown from 11% in 2009 to 18%. But don’t worry:

“The president is obviously a Christian. He prays everyday.”

When distilled, the article’s main thrust is that his Administration’s PR machine is working overtime to fight the perception that Obama is a Muslim. An “expert” asserts the following explanation:

Andrew Kohut, the Pew Research Center’s director, said the confusion partly reflects “the intensification of negative views about Obama among his critics.”

What I get from this is that Muslim is just a synonym for “person we don’t like” or “someone who isn’t one of us.” Not only does this illustrate the particular flavor of bigotry fueling the populist conservative political current, but also the profoundly ignorant and uninquisitive nature of it’s adherents. I doubt any of those 18 precent bothered to crack open Obama’s autobiography, Dreams of My Father, and read about joining the congregation at Trinity United in Chicago, or his explicitly stated Christian faith in his follow up book, The Audacity of Hope. For those that are unwilling (or unable) to read them, one need only watch the McCain/Obama debate, moderated by Rick Warren, to see how much Obama is willing to fall all over himself trying to be more Christian than the other guy.

Of course, one could make the highly unsubstantiated argument that Obama is “posing” as Christian as the necessary adjunct to gaining power in national politics. This would just be one of a long list of supposed secret allegiances ascribed to Obama (terrorist, Socialist, crypto-Maoist… take your pick) that have no evidence for them other than a McCarthyesque accusation.

I find this apropos in that a similar argument has been made in favor of Obama’s “secret” atheism. Obama freely describes being raised in a secular household, having a father that was an “affirmed atheist” and a mother who had no religious preference whatsoever. Considering that running for a national office all but requires you to be a devout Christian, one could easily assert that Obama merely “poses” as a Christian because expressing his true belief (or lack thereof) would destroy his career. But I, unlike other fellow atheists who’d love to count Obama among the ranks of prominent non-believers, am not willing to go this far; believing as such would constitute precisely the same kind of unsupported belief that us atheists and skeptics deride.

Personally, I think the proposition “Obama as Secret Atheist” falls somewhere on the spectrum of plausibility between Likely and Moderately Likely. But, in doing so, I can detect a twinge of irony in that the now infamous 2006 University of Minnesota poll which identified that Americans distrust atheists more than they do Muslims, gays, Hispanics or even Jews (have we all forgot about the Elders of Zion?), makes little sense. Why not accuse Obama of being an atheist? Americans clearly hate atheists more than even the alien, blood-thirsty, terrorist Muslims. At least Muslims believe in (roughly) the same deity as Christians. The very existence of atheists seems to undermine the stability and nobility of Creation.

I don’t want to be misunderstood, I am very far from a card-carrying Liberal apologist. I find the Presidential approval polls, with their binary nature, a similarly dishonest measure of reality. I largely disapprove of Obama’s job as president (mostly on matters of foreign policy, Executive power and economic policy), but clearly not for the same reasons as your average Teabagger, and certainly not in the zero-sum way where I would prefer McCain, Palin or Romney in his place. But in the binary logic of approve/disapprove, there is no difference between my grievances and that of the rube holding the “Keep Gov’t Out of My Medicare” sign.

All of this is a long winded way of decrying this entire news story (and the sentiment) as both superfluous and idiotic. Article VI of the Constitution explicitly rejects that those who serve in public office be subjected to “religious test,” but despite the protestations of the great unwashed Teabagger masses, very few of them seem to have actually read it. It doesn’t matter whether or not he’s a Christian, Constitutionally speaking. It shouldn’t even matter from a cultural perspective; no one wants to be on the receiving end of discrimination.

As an atheist, it wouldn’t matter to me if he WAS a Muslim, a Jew or even an atheist. What would matter is that he govern fairly, in a way in keeping with the letter and sentiment of the Constitution, and that didn’t favor his religion over any others. And in that vein, all of this ham-fisted, perky insistence about Obama being horny for Jesus is a slap in the face to the ennobling principles he’s sworn to uphold.

When asked the question “What is your religion?”, I wish that Obama would answer in the way that Ralph Nader did: “Separation of Church and State. And none of your business.”

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Wouldn’t you think his name might have something to do with it? Frankly I don’t distinguish between muslims and christians very much. I don’t see how you could rationally choose one faith from the other. So don’t read in to this statement more than is intended. I am not particularly knowledgeable on various ethnicity and their historic trends regarding abrahamic religions. But if someone came to you in, say 2002, before you had heard of Obama, and forced you to guess his religion, what would it be? A man named Barrack Hussein Obama? Now we’re smart enough to know anything… Read more »

John Jimson

rrpostal, I agree that obviously his name has something to do with it. Probably his history as well, seeing as his dad was a muslim if i remember correctly. The problem here, though, is the people who claim he is a muslim, when he so very clearly is not and has stated he is not are doing so with the assumption that this automatically makes him unfit to hold office, unamerican, terrorist, or whatever other ludicrous assumption these people arrive at. Those who claim obama is a muslim, in my experience, are the same people who falsely equate any muslim… Read more »


I guess it just doesn’t surprise me, that’s all. I don’t think it’s a good thing. But when I see some of the things large swathes of people will believe, this one is very surprising. I found a study that found 24% of americans do not know which country the US gained its independence from. That’s practically 1 in 4. I probably wouldn’t be surprised if 1in 5 think the president may be a lizard man. Maybe I’m jaded and too cynical lately. But it’s not the same 25% or so that is bat shit nutty in every poll. There’s… Read more »

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