Obama & Religion: Some Discernment Needed

Chuck Norris writes a column for the WordNetDaily webnews site. He recently did a series on Obama. One of the columns evaluated a lengthy interview Barak Hussein Obama did on his religious beliefs. The interview was prior to his run for the US Senate, when he was a bit more candid. You can find Norris’ article here. The original interview was with a Chicago Sun Times reporter, and is published in its entirety here.

I bring this up here because it is a good illustration of what Christianity is, is not, and how Christians need to view people who profess the Christian faith. First, any belief system or religion has a set of things which define it. This is true of every philosophical system, value system, and religion. No system can believe anything and everything, nor can any system be coherent and hold to contradictions. If someone were to say “I am a Christian. I am not a Christian.” at the same time and in the same sense, it would be a contradiction. Both statements cannot be true. Likewise, if someone were to say “I believe religion ABC, but I deny everything that religion ABC believes.” they have made a contradiction. They cannot be a true follower of that religion, for they have denied all its tenets.

Second, in most religions, the members have disagreements on peripheral issues. Not every single member of any given religion holds exactly everything that every other member holds. This is acceptable since all the members hold to a core set of beliefs that define the religion. They can disagree on some things, but if they disagree on all things, or disagree on the core set of tenets, then they are not members of the religion, for they have denied the set of beliefs that define what that religion is.

Third, all belief systems, including non-religious ones such as atheism, have a set of values that are generally held by everyone on earth. Things like “treat people fairly” and “injustice is wrong and should be stopped”  are beliefs which are not exclusive to any religion, but are common to all.

Fourth, we can conclude that if someone were to say “I am a member of religion ABC and I believe in treating people fairly” we have not yet determined what this person truly believes. Does this person actually hold to the central tenets of religion ABC? We do not yet know, unless they explain their beliefs further. Sleeping in a garage does not make one a Chevrolet, and sleeping in a religious building does not make one accept the central beliefs of that religion.

So this brings us back to Obama and what he actually believes. His views are by no means exclusive to him for many people in the world likely hold similar views. But since he is a public figure, he is easier to quote. Obama has stated that he is a Christian. But in this interview, and in his susequent actions, he gives some statements which are very troublesome to the central beliefs of Christianity, as defined by the ecumenical councils of the first several centuries of the Christian church.

I won’t review the entire interview, but here is a very telling quote. In answer to the question “What do you believe?” Obama states:

“So, I’m rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people. That there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and there’s an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived.”

Now, in this statement, there is nothing yet that would indicate Mr. Obama is a Christian. That he is ‘rooted in the Christian tradition’ does not tell us whether he believes the central tenets of the faith. That he believes that there are ‘many paths to the same place’ and defines that place as a ‘higher power,’ presumably something to do with a religious power, indicates that he either 1) does not understand Christianity, or 2) does not believe what Christianity teaches. For Christ was very exlusive in His statements, saying in John 14:6 that He was the only path, and that there were no other paths to the Father, which is the higher power in the Christian religion. The remainder of Obama’s statement, about “trancending race or culture” and “move us forward” and “take responsibility” are common to many, if not all, belief systems.

In the interview, Obama says that he is Christian, mentions a personal relationship to Jesus Christ, but then goes on to say he was most heavily influenced by Judaism, does not agree with dogma (saying one view is right), does not think any view is exlclusively true, religion should include a big dose of doubt, is suspicious of certainty in religion, defines prayer as “thinking throughout the day about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it”, no longer has time to read the bible, says he is a follower of “our civic religion,” defines sin as “being out of alignment with my values,” heaven is “living my life as well as I can,” gets his inspiration from a choir, a sermon, or listening to Miles Davis, believes all people are children of God, disagrees that we should evangelize, and believes that people who have not embraced Jesus are in the same position as those who have embraced Jesus.

Some of these statements are logically nonsensical (does he really think contradictory things are true? What is partial certainty?). But of the rest, as someone who has spent not a little time studying the beliefs that define Christianity, I can say categorically that someone who believes the statements this man made is not Christian. Religious, yes; nice guy, maybe; Christian, no. For one cannot deny the central tenets of a religion and still be a member of that religion, no matter what they claim as a title.

In answer to the question, “Who is Jesus to you?”  Obama laughed nervously, then said “Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he’s also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher. And he’s also a wonderful teacher. I think it’s important for all of us, of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in history.” I am reminded of C. S. Lewis, who also spent a few more hours learning what Christianity taught than Mr. Obama. Lewis already responded to this veiw decades ago:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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