By Shannon Barber | 21 April 2015
President Barack Obama has always been adamant that he and his family are devout Christians. Of course, there are plenty of people who question that, or flat out do not believe it. The birther types and various other right wingers have been insisting that the man is a secret Muslim with absolutely no evidence to back up such claims ever since he came onto the national stage. Now, sane people know that these are just the rantings of racists and paranoid conspiracy theorists, and such people are to be ignored as President Obama makes his way down the home stretch of his second term as our first African-American president.
However, there are other people, sane people who, while they do not believe that President Obama is any sort of secret Muslim, they don’t believe that he is a devout Christian as he so stridently insists, either. Those people question whether the President has any sort of religious faith at all, and there is actually some evidence to suggest that he may not have always been completely truthful as far as that question is concerned.
One such person is, of course, comedian and political satirist Bill Maher. Never one to shy away from controversy, or from his distaste and even outright disgust when it comes to religion, Maher once said that he believes President Obama is, quote, a “drop-dead atheist.” Now, unlike the paranoid conspiracy theorists and birthers who think the President is some kind of secret Muslim, Maher, and others who believe the president is somehow non-religious have very real and valid reasons for their conclusions.
For one thing, Barack Obama wasn’t raised in any religion. His mother was non-religious, yet taught him about all different kinds of religion, from a purely unbiased and academic perspective. His father was raised Muslim, but was an atheist by the time he and the president’s mother married. So, in other words, there was no religious indoctrination in President Obama’s childhood. This is in and of itself somewhat unique, because most people who are religious as adults are raised that way by their parents and/or other relatives or guardians, and simply adopt some version of that religion that works for them as adults. Those of us who came to atheism out of a religious childhood usually had to do a lot of work and research to un-indoctrinate ourselves.
In Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope, he says:
“I was not raised in a religious household. For my mother, organized religion too often dressed up closed-mindedness in the garb of piety, cruelty and oppression in the cloak of righteousness. However, in her mind, a working knowledge of the world’s great religions was a necessary part of any well-rounded education. In our household the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology.
On Easter or Christmas Day my mother might drag me to church, just as she dragged me to the Buddhist temple, the Chinese New Year celebration, the Shinto shrine, and ancient Hawaiian burial sites. In sum, my mother viewed religion through the eyes of the anthropologist; it was a phenomenon to be treated with a suitable respect, but with a suitable detachment as well.”
Do people find faith as adults? Sure they do. However, it isn’t generally the common route that people take to religion. It isn’t necessarily impossible that Barack Obama became a Christian as an adult; far from it, in fact. It is, however, given his upbringing, intelligence, and education, a whole lot more plausible that he joined Reverent Wright’s church and professed devout Christianity for political reasons rather than because of a true conversion.
Up until now, that has all been pure speculation. However, Barack Obama’s own words, from a speech in 2006 when he was discussing religion in government, and why it should not shape public policy are the biggest reason to doubt his Christianity. The then-Senator said, in part:
“Even if we had only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would it be James Dobson’s or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK – and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith. Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application. So before we get carried away, let’s read our Bibles now. Folks haven’t been reading their Bibles.”
You can watch the video of these remarks, and more, below:
Now, as a strident atheist myself, I have said these things, many times myself, nearly verbatim in some parts, when questioning people who would have religion be even more of a part of public life than it already is. He even goes so far as to say that religion does not allow for compromise, and that it is, quote, “the art of the impossible.” He also insinuates that the Bible is not an inerrant document. In fact, if you listen to the whole speech, it is nothing more than thinly veiled ridicule of those who take the Bible as the absolute and inerrant truth of the world, and even of the book itself.
Having been raised Christian, and even currently being acquainted closely with many, many Christians of many stripes, I can tell you, that even the liberal ones would never say the things Obama is saying in this video. They have absolute respect for the Bible, full-stop, end of discussion. They take any questioning or insulting of the document as a personal affront. Obviously, Barack Obama does not.
There are plenty of reasons to believe that Barack Obama may not be the devout Christian he claims to be, and perhaps there is no better reason to question that claim than the video above. Now, he will likely never come out as an atheist. That would mean admitting that he lied about something that is very important to many Americans to get into office. Whether or not he is actually an atheist – and all evidence certainly points to that being a very good possibility – he is also smart enough to know that unless he not only claimed Christianity but produced evidence of it, he’d never get anywhere near the White House. American voters would never have it.
But you know what? Even if President Obama did lie about his faith in order to get elected, that is A-Okay with me. There should be no religious test for office, per our own Constitution, but in the minds of many voters, there clearly is. If he had to dial down his contempt for the atrocities in the Bible in order to get elected – fine. He did what he had to do in order to be the great president he is today.
For those interested, here is the entire 40 minute speech below:
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