by Joshua H. Liberatore
According to some polls, nearly 20 percent of Americans believe POTUS is a Muslim. What to say? Of course, it could be the same section of the population confident that all Muslims are Arab and all Arabs are Muslims. POTUS is neither, of course, though his first and middle names are indeed shared by many in both camps (the religious one encompassing a full fifth of humanity, the linguistic, roughly 200 million). Beyond that tonal similarity, however, there’s no analysis to offer. When questioned by a woman in Albuquerque on the self-described “hot topic” of why POTUS is a Christian, he – patiently and systematically – set the record straight:
You know, I’m a Christian by choice. My family didn’t—frankly, they weren’t folks who went to church every week. I mean, my mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew, but she didn’t raise me in the church. (September 28, 2010)
Not only is POTUS’s Christianity a matter of choice, rather than an accident of childhood routine, it is also the product of mature reflection:
So I came to my Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead: being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me.
Wait. But a lot of people – even kindly agnostics – claim to be inspired by Jesus’ example. This is the province of mere philosophy, right? Being a man given to multilayered and often verbose answers to even the simplest questions, however, POTUS didn’t stop with the Golden Rule:
And I think also understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings, that we’re sinful and we’re flawed and we make mistakes, and that we achieve salvation through the grace of God. But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people and do our best to help them find their own grace.
Pretty meaty stuff that, not just the casual rhetoric of a practiced politician in a country that still doesn’t elect many non-Christians to high office and none to the highest (except maybe POTUS #3, who was by all accounts an atheist). Still, POTUS could not leave things there. His is a big-tent spirituality, after all, one that apparently sees in Jesus’ example a tolerant embrace of other faiths:
And so that’s what I strive to do. That’s what I pray to do every day. I think my public service is part of that effort to express my Christian faith. And it’s—but the one thing I want to emphasize, having spoken about something that obviously relates to me very personally, as President of the United States, I’m also somebody who deeply believes that the—part of the bedrock strength of this country is that it embraces people of many faiths and of no faith, that this is a country that is still predominantly Christian, but we have Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and that their own path to grace is one that we have to revere and respect as much as our own. And that’s part of what makes this country what it is.
POTUS took a brief but virulent media-led beating for his stubborn insistence that U.S. law makes no distinction among religious traditions concerning the right to build a house of worship on private land. And I guess many have viewed his gentler rhetoric – however stiff the fist – regarding Middle East affairs as being soft on Islam (whatever that means) in the same inexplicable way – wholly divorced from reality – that John F. Kennedy was soft on communism. Sure, POTUS has made the stylistic choice not to wear his religiosity on his sleeve, but when we look closely at his words, we find no evidence that he’s wobbly on faith.