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Friday, August 20, 2010

On Confusion About Obama’s Religion

So for the last 24 hours or so, people have been freaking out because a Time poll found that 24% of Americans think Obama is a Muslim.  Of course a Pew Poll put the numbers closer to 18%, but that’s not a big difference.  So everyone is taking this as proof of prejudice against Obama or something, and certainly it is alarming some people.

But let’s put this into a little perspective a little.  First people are very often outright ignorant about things that other people consider basic knowledge.  Like for instance, 26% of Americans in a recent poll showed they didn’t know we rebelled from Great Britain in our Revolution, 6% of whom didn’t know we had a revolution at all.  And the other thing to keep in mind, is that the chattering class, which yes includes me and pretty much anyone who comments or posts on a political blog, are frankly much more nerdy about politics.  We know more because we care more, and there are large swaths of Americans who just don’t care enough to get that kind of minutiae straight.  Like a few years back a shockingly low number of people knew who Ann Coulter was.  But I bet something like 99% of people who belong in that chattering class I described above know who she is.  So complaining that about a fifth or a quarter of Americans think Obama is a Muslim might be like Star Trek nerds complaining that most Americans don’t know that Captain Kirk’s middle name is Tiberius.

(Sadly I knew that bit of Trek trivia off the top of my head.  I am a master of useless information.)

And let me posit something else in the way of explanation.  Let’s run a few hypotheticals to make a point.  Imagine I required you to guess the religion of a number of people.  So first up, I introduce you to Hillel Silverstein.  Now guess what religion he is?  Most people would recognize that name as typically belonging to Jews and would guess Jewish.

Try it again with a person named Sean McLarty.  You would probably guess he was Irish and thus most likely Catholic.

How about John Walker?  Well, Walker is an extremely common Scottish name, and after the rebellion of Robert the Bruce, most of the place became Presbyterrian.

How about Jose Lopez?  Most people would assume that Jose is Hispanic, although he might actually be just Spanish, or even Filipino.  But in any case, Catholic would seem to be the best bet.

Or how about Guido Calabresi?  Italian, therefore Catholic, or so you would reasonably think.

The point is that for one reason or another certain religions are associated with certain names.  This is in part because it used to be the case that religion was very closely associated with national identity, and indeed many countries had official religions and brutally suppressed other faiths; and indeed it is still going on in many countries.  For instance, take the Scottish.  One of the few accurate things in Braveheart was its depiction of Scotland being heavily catholic prior to Wallace’s rebellion.  What doesn’t get mentioned is that when Robert the Bruce rebelled after him, the Pope excommunicated him and said the Scottish people had a duty to quit their rebellion.  When the Scottish refused, the pope excommunicated the whole country.  How they ended up all being Presbyterians, however, is beyond me.  I would assume that in the brief period that Scotland was free it didn’t quite practice freedom of religion.  Most countries didn’t back then.

But also statistical burps occur.  For instance, my wife is a (mostly) Filipina Catholic, and I am Presbyterian (only a quarter Scottish, if you need to know).  We have not done the thing where couples convert to one religion or another to compromise.  I don’t want her to compromise her faith, and I am not planning on compromising mine.  So sometimes she goes to my church and sometimes I go to hers.

So one time we moved to a new area and started at a new Presbyterrian church.  And when talking to a man there, he said to my wife, “let me guess, you are Korean?”  It was wrong, but it was a perfectly reasonable guess.  First, he assumed my wife was Presbyterian which is perfectly fair given she was in their church.  And it turns out that Korea is just about the only place where Presbyterianism has really been successful in Asia.  So most Asian Presbyterians are Korean, making his guess a logical one, even if it was wrong.

And of course exceptions exist.  You might have noticed I slipped in there John Walker.  Of course that is a common name, but you might also remember that John Walker Lindh was a muslim convert.  And the example of Guido Calabresi was inspired by a 2nd Circuit judge who I happen to know is an Italian Jew.

For that matter a Muslim named Barrack Hussein Obama might come to America and have a son, who he names Barrack Hussein Obama, Jr.  I mean the man has a name that is in the Muslim tradition.  And for that reason alone if a person is asked what religion Obama is, and they aren’t sure but aren’t willing to admit they are unsure, then “Muslim” is actually a perfectly reasonable guess.

And then let’s not forget that Obama has said the morning call to prayer is beautiful.  He has bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia.  He has defended the Ground Zero Mosque (before he walked his comments back).  Indeed, how many democrats have argued that given his name he could uniquely reach out to the Muslim world?  Is it all that unreasonable for someone who is only half paying attention to think he is a Muslim?

And as of this writing I will confess fully I am not sure he is a Christian.  And I think my doubts are pretty rational.  Let me explain.  He has stated that he actively converted as an adult.  Who converted him?  Reverend Wright.  And that is my first red flag.  I mean look when I talk about people, there are certain base assumptions I make about typical human behavior.  Like I am very, very skeptical of any claim that Obama is an anti-White racist.  Why?  Because his mother is white and I tend to assume, until I see fairly good evidence to the contrary, that most men will not hate their own mother.

But Reverend Wright hates Obama’s mother, or at least he says he does (I am very open to the idea that Wright is just a bullshitter).  His church’s own website, at one time, expounded on the value of Black Liberation Theology as explained by James Cone.  Cone explains Black Liberation Theology as follows:

Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community. . . . Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.

(Source.)  Notice of course it is not in opposition to racism, or even white racism, but in opposition to all white people.  That is racism.

So this is the church Obama sat in.  This is the church he brought his children to.  A church that teaches hatred for Obama’s mother and his children’s grandmother.  In some ways, I don’t know which is worse.  The possibility that he actually believes all of that racist crap.  Or the possibility that he doesn’t and still exposes his children to it anyway.  I mean it is mere cynicism to expose yourself to hate week after week, but your children?

But like I said, I assume that Obama loves his mother, so my assumption is that this whole thing is insincere.  He only sat in that church for the political connections it offered.

But if that is the case, then let’s go back and remember, that he also claimed that Wright converted him into Christianity.  If we believe that in his heart he rejected Wright’s racism, why should we believe that he accepted anything Wright believed in, including his belief that Christ is our savior?  Of course that is conjecture, based on an assumption that he would reject Wright’s racism, but that is a reasonable guess, right?

And if you think that Obama is not sincerely a Christian, it’s not hard to imagine that maybe in secret he is a Muslim.  Myself, I tend to think he is more likely just a non-believer.  But in the end that is just speculation.

So somewhere between a fifth of Americans to a quarter are confused enough to say positively they believe he is a Muslim.  But given all that above, I just can’t bring myself to be very alarmed.

I will also say that for the most part I don’t care what religion Obama is.  I mostly care that he is probably the crappiest president in my living memory (understanding, of course, that I don’t really remember what it was like to live under Carter—I was too young at the time).  Now that does mean I find it mildly relevant and let me explain.  Of course the law cannot tolerate any religious test for office holding, but we the voters can vote based on whatever the hell we want and I have long said that I want my presidents to believe in some kind of divine punishment.  Maybe you believe you will burn in hell if you are bad, or maybe you believe that you will be reincarnated as an ant.  Because here is the thing.  The president can more than likely get away with doing some really evil shit, and I want a president who believes that even if he gets away with doing something evil, he will still face his day of judgment.

Not that my suspicion lowers my opinion of Obama’s fitness to hold office.  But that is mainly because my opinion of him in general is already so low its hard to imagine it lowering very much.

Update: Great minds think alike.  Byron York has very similar thoughts.  And corrects the record in an irrelevant way about Barky’s father.  Apparently he was raised Muslim but became an atheist.  One good quote:

“President Obama is now embracing his Muslim roots,” ABC News’ “Nightline” announced. “President Obama’s speech … was laced with references to the Quran and his Muslim roots,” said USA Today. “Obama touched on his own Muslim roots,” reported the Associated Press.

Read the whole thing.