Sunday, October 28, 2012

A religious president

CNN Belief Blog has an article about President Obama's "deepening faith." In 2004, when asked if he prayed, he answered, "Uh, yeah, I guess I do." But now "a handful of spiritual advisers close to Obama say that his time in office has significantly deepened his faith." Interestingly, he seeks counsel from Kirbyjon Caldwell, a megachurch pastor who counseled George W. Bush. The article says that Obama "has become more evangelical in his habits" and "now begins each morning reading Christian devotionals on his Blackberry." The article hastens to add that he still has a liberal viewpoint and believes in the "social gospel," and resists labels such as "evangelical."

It is, of course, unclear how much of this is slightly exaggerated, given that we're in the last days before an election, and a lot of conservatives still cling to the notion that Obama is a Muslim, which misconception the administration would doubtless like to dispel. But given the fact that he's supposedly praying with a group of Christian ministers before his debates, and beginning each morning reading devotionals, one must assume there is a good deal of truth in the article.

I don't think one should base one's vote on a person's religion-- it's not as if there are a lot of atheists one can vote for anyway-- but religion does have an effect on how one governs. As Obama said at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, "I’d be remiss if my values were limited to personal moments of prayer or private conversations with pastors or friends... I must try - imperfectly, but I must try - to make sure those values motivate me as one leader of this great nation." Our religion, or lack thereof, helps define who we are.

And yet, as I've said before, I think we tend to interpret the Bible in the way that supports our own values, and thus our religion often follows from our values rather than the other way around. I suspect Obama's evolving religiosity presents no problem to liberals as long as his core values remain unchanged. And in any event, Romney is no less religious, and his religion has a more distinctly conservative flavor.

I doubt the president's deepening religion matters to liberals as long as his politics remain more or less consistent, and I very much doubt the more radical conservatives will ever believe Obama is not a Muslim. This issue, therefore, probably will not matter to the outcome of the election. But as an atheist, I admit it makes me a bit uncomfortable to have to decide between two men with such strong religious outlooks. All the effort they invest into their religion seems to me like a waste of time and energy that could better be expended on the real world. I hope to see more secularly-oriented politicians emerge on the national stage in the future.

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