Every so often in American politics, there is a moment when something we thought we knew is suddenly called into question. In these moments, it is important to acknowledge the facts and repeat them because the circumstances show that they need to be repeated. Lately, it has been the religious beliefs of President Barack Obama that nobody seems to know anything about anymore.
A recent, and apparently reputable, poll has found that one in five Americans – and one in three Republicans – believe that President Obama is Muslim. These people are incorrect in that belief, but the fact that the question is even open for discussion says something about where we are as a society.
It is incredible how quickly we forget the past. These are the same people that made Obama’s affiliation with the wrong Christian pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, a huge campaign issue that many on Obama’s own staff considered to be a potential deal-breaker for voters. At the time, it seemed that we knew exactly where Obama’s religious affiliations were centered and we were upset about it, but suddenly the question is open again. It should go without saying that the question is not open but recent events seem to indicate otherwise.
At least, President Obama felt that way last week, when he used a meeting with voters to explain the importance of his Christian beliefs in his personal life. He seems to understand the need to hammer that point into the minds of Americans, probably as a result of our sudden uncertainty about where he stands in relation to the supernatural.
This whole discussion of Obama’s religious beliefs is completely irrelevant to our political discourse. It distracts us from what we should all be doing, regardless of our political leanings, which is finding solutions to the urgent problems our nation faces. The increasing emphasis on Obama’s faith can be blamed on the media, the general public and Obama himself, but the point is that it needs to stop. Besides, if the idea is to pick the best candidate for the job every time, evaluating private religious beliefs probably isn’t going to help with that.
We should appreciate our Constitution more than we actually do. In it, we read that no religious test is ever to be levied against anyone running for political office in this country. While this principle is honored on the official level, the socially-constructed religious test persists. We should do away with it. Perhaps President John F. Kennedy said it best: “I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.”
It seems that the effort to paint Obama as a Muslim is part of a larger effort to paint him as “the other.” We live in a day when information is the most accessible it has ever been in human history. Ironically, Barack Obama, the president whom we probably know more about than any other president in our history, is suddenly unknowable. Great effort is made by many to place a question mark after everything that relates to him.
These tactics are not confined to our current president’s administration. We saw similar activity during the George W. Bush years, although perhaps not to the same degree that we see it now. There were those who criticized Bush, not for his policies, but for his religiosity. The point is that the religious beliefs of our politicians are irrelevant to our political discourse, no matter which side of the aisle holds weight at a given moment.
Those who spend massive amounts of time, effort and money to make Obama’s religious identity a question mark would do well to propose concrete solutions of their own rather than continue their barrage of baseless ad hominem attacks designed to play off the fear of certain segments of the population. We should evaluate our political leaders based on job performance, not on what their private religious beliefs may or may not be.
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