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Barack Obama on the Nature of Religious Faith: A Force for Good or Evil?

Does Barack Obama See His Religion as a Force for Good in Society?


Debates about the role of religion in government and culture invariably require debates about the nature of religion itself. Both conservative and liberal religious believers who want to see more of their own religion involved in public policies invariably make the argument that only their religion is "legitimate" and "true" while the others are following some sort of "false" or "hijacked" religious faith. Barack Obama is, sadly, no exception.

In a 2007 speech to United Church of Christ's Iowa conference, Barack Obama said:

...somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and started being used to drive us apart. It got hijacked. Part of it is because the so-called leaders of the Christian right are all too eager to exploit what divides us. ...I don't know what Bible they're reading. But it didn't jibe with my version.

Faith started to drive people apart? Religion has always divided people - there has never been a religion which has not excluded some people and insisted that some beliefs or practices were better than others. Barack Obama is, in fact, engaging in exactly the same sort of division which he decries. When he says that others who disagree with his personal theology are not reading the same "version" of the Bible as he, then he's little different from the leaders of the Christian Right who have expressed much the same attitude: Christians who adopt the wrong political positions aren't following genuine Christianity in the first place.

Barack Obama's behavior here is pure politics: he decries certain tactics while using precisely those tactics in order to make himself appear superior to the people whom he emulates. This tactic plays an important role in the ability of religious extremists to move towards violence on behalf of their religious ideology. Once moderates and liberals are excluded from being members of the "true faith," it's much easier to justify violence towards them. Barack Obama and other liberals shouldn't want to come anywhere even close to that sort of attitude.

Barack Obama went on to say:

I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people.

Well, I don't know of anyone who denies how powerful faith is, but I do know that people like Barack Obama consistently fail to acknowledge just how harmful that power can be. Jews, atheists, Muslims, and even some Christians have experienced harassment, abuse, and even violence from Christians for daring to stand up and challenge traditional religious practices in government contexts. This is faith-based terrorism, pure and simple, because fear is used to achieve political goals for the sake of religious agendas.

Not every Christian agrees with such behavior, obviously. I'm sure that Barack Obama would condemn them in half a second — but it's not enough to simply condemn them when they come up. It's also necessary to refuse to be complicit in creating the conditions that allow such incidents to happen. That, however, is just what people like Barack Obama do when they encourage the ability of the majority to have their religious beliefs endorsed or supported by the government — even in ostensibly "voluntary" rituals.

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