Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Obama - Closet Atheist?

No, these aren't fanatical, fringe, right-wing ravings. The speculation that Obama is actually an atheist has been primarily popularized by commentators on the left, such as Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens. Most political commentators won't venture into such highly theoretical realms, but I've heard the sentiments echoed many times by normal, everyday leftist types. Their reasoning being that someone as apparently intelligent as Obama couldn't possibly believe such irrational hogwash. Which is, of course, nonsense itself, but the rest of their case does make some sense.

The hypothetical motive that they propose is fairly obvious; atheist politicians in America are still taboo, to say nothing of an atheist president. Anyone with high political ambitions must profess faith of some sort in order to have any chance at being elected. And--perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not--Obama found Christianity late in life right around the time he was beginning his political career in Chicago.

If Obama is a religious person he tends to keep his convictions private, as he virtually never invokes the name of God (much less Jesus) except when concluding a speech with "God bless America", or when promoting religious relativism. The leftist atheist speculates that this is due less to his faith being a private matter than to his faith not existing at all. Further, if he was in fact sitting in the pews listening to the likes of Jeremiah Wright he didn't to seem to be very attentive as during his campaign he quickly denounced Wright's typical, standard-issue rhetoric, despite the fact he had been hearing it every Sunday for many years. Supposedly. Additionally, Obama is pro-choice and his political ideology in general could be described as secular progressivism--these are positions that shouldn't be easily reconcilable with his faith. All of these facts form the foundation for the conspiracy theory that Obama is actually a closeted atheist.

As conspiracies go this one is more coherent than the vast majority of them. It isn't too outlandish and doesn't require any bizarre assumptions. It doesn't have any gaps in logic, as far as I can see. It doesn't leave any significant pieces of information ignored or unaccounted for. It pinpoints a precise motive. However, the alternative explanation--that he is in fact a Christian, but a liberal or 'private' one, who, as a liberal that takes the 'wall of separation' between church and state seriously (much more seriously than he should), feels he shouldn't mix his personal faith with his public, secular duties--is at least equally as likely. The thing that's interesting to note is that even if the alternative explanation is true it still isn't a flattering portrayal of the man. If he's not an undercover atheist then he's a man who misunderstands the doctrines of his faith and the principles of the Constitution in equal measure.

Christians are not called to a personal, private life of devotion. We are called to love humanity and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection for the sins of the world. Now that's obviously more difficult to do than it sounds, and I certainly fail on this count as often as any Christian, but I don't think I'm holding Obama to any unreasonably high standard here. I'm not suggesting he should use his position as public servant to evangelize, but if he were merely to speak aloud the name of the Creator--his Lord and Savior--occasionally, then that would satiate me and quiet the rumblings of the conspiratorial atheists. But he remains conspicuously silent.

If we are to chalk his silence up to his unwillingness to breach the inviolable 'wall of separation', then he is merely ignorant of the countries founding principles and what the first amendment actually says and means. Or perhaps he feels that it's one of his professional duties to translate his specific, personal religious convictions into broader, universally applicable morals. Which is an understandable inclination, but this leads one to wonder where his primary allegiances lie; With God? With the American people? With his constituency?

So, while we can't say anything conclusively, all of the possibilities are fairly grim:
  • Our president is a man who has no faith but cynically professes it for his own political ambition.
  • Our president is a Christian who believes that his pieties can and should be kept private, despite every indication to the contrary contained in scripture.
  • Our president believes there exists a 'wall of separation' between church and state that prevents, or at least strongly discourages, public expressions of faith by public officials, again despite all the evidence to the contrary.
It doesn't look as if there is any refuge for Obama on this count. Either the conspiracy theorists are right, or--almost just as bad--they're wrong. While the evidence that Obama is an atheist is sparse and speculative, the evidence that he is religiously confused or disingenuous is quite strong.

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