Recently, Bradlee Dean, a heavy-metal evangelist, noted for his unguarded outbursts, dressed in a tracksuit and ponytail, stood before the Minnesota House of Representatives and said a prayer, "I know this a non-denominational prayer…It is not about Baptists and not about the Catholics…the evangelicals or any other denomination but, rather, (about) the head of the denomination and his name is Jesus, as every president up until 2008 has acknowledged."
In other words, Barack Obama, who was elected President of the United States in 2008, in Bradlee Dean's inquisitor's books, is not a Christian. Though his prayer comments caused an uproar in the Minnesota House and though Kurt Zellers, the GOP House Speaker, apologized for Dean's comments (Kurtz Zellers is quoted to have said, "I denounce him, his actions and words. He does not represent my values or values of the state."), that was not the first time nor would it likely be the last that the conservative Christian Right's inquisitorial probe into the genuineness of President Obama's Christian faith would pronounce him a heretic and seek to use the inquisitorial label to burn him at the political stake.
Why the personal religious beliefs and faith of the President of the U.S. (a state with a constitution which does not demand of its president any particular religious affiliation to qualify him to hold office) should have, from the moment his candidacy was seen as potential for the Oval Office, come under such intense scrutiny, reflects, mostly, the instinctively held conviction among conservative Christians that their particular brand of the Christian religion is the de facto official religion of the state.
The conservative Christian Right had, as early as Obama's pre-election campaign, begun an anti-Obama campaign of its own to show that Obama's claim that he is a Christian is a "ruse." He has often been accused of lying about his religious faith (a racist anti-Obama placard at a recent political rally read, "The Zoo has an African Lion and the White House has a Lyin' African."). But it seems that what most of Obama's opponents do not appreciate about him really is the uniqueness of his person in the history of the United States and its Presidents. Not merely is Obama not a Christian, as that term is narrowly defined by his opponents who think that they have the right to define "true" Christianity, but more importantly, his background, circumstances and experience "stands outside what is considered in exclusivist WASP circles, the mainstream of American experience.
Barack Obama's ethnic, racial, cultural, religious and political background is so diverse and broad in its dimensions that it leaves his opponents with the typically inbred WASP ethno-cultural upbringing gasping for breath in bewilderment over how to begin understanding a man whose roots straddle boundaries of worlds beyond their limited exposure. He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Barack Hussein Obama Snr., a Kenyan from Nyangoma-kogelo, Siay District of Kenya, and Ann Dunham, a white woman from Wichita, Kansas. His parents were divorced by the time he was about two years old. His father returned to Kenya and his mother, soon after, married Lolo Soetoro, a Muslim Indonesian, and the family moved to Jakarta when Obama was about six years old.
These facts about Barack Obama's childhood background formed the grounds for the early campaign by his opponents that Obama is a Muslim and, as such, a potential threat to the security of the U.S. as president. And that claim seemed to make sense in the atmosphere of national security hysteria fostered by the Bush administration in its international war-mongering campaign which it deliberately confused with the "War against terrorism."
The story that the school Obama attended in Indonesia was a "extremist" wahhabi school has, however, been shown to be false. CNN found the Indonesian school in Jakarta which Obama's opponents having been shouting themselves hoarse to the public is a Wahhabi madrassa. CNN spoke to the deputy headmaster who described it as a "public school" with no particular religious agenda. According to the deputy headmaster,"In our daily lives, we try to respect religion, but we don't give preferential treatment." A former classmate of Obama confirmed the deputy headmaster's statement when he described the school as "general" with students of many religious and cultural backgrounds attending. Even if the school had been a Wahhabi madrassa, what Obama's opponents, who seem overanxious to prove that he is a Muslim fail to tell its audience, in balancing the information, is that Obama attended the school for only two years and then went to a Catholic school which he also attended for two years. If attending a Muslim school at the age of six, for two years, makes Obama a Muslim then we may also suppose that attending a Catholic school for two years makes him a catholic as well and, in the overall synthesis of the information about his background, a Muslim-Catholic.
We have also been treated to the fanciful story that Obama's Indonesian stepfather, Soetoro, was a radical Muslim. But Obama describes his stepfather as having been a "nominal" or "non-practicing" Muslim. The same, incidentally, goes for Obama's biological father. Barack Hussein Obama Snr., was a Muslim who had "lost faith," and thus could have had little or no religious influence on his son. Besides, after his mother and Hussein Obama Snr. were divorced, Hussein returned to Kenya and had very little contact with or influence on Obama's upbringing. The main influence in Obama's life, as we shall see, was his mother.
2. The Audacity of Hope. Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006), p. 203.
3. Dreams From My Fathers. A Story of Race and Inheritance (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1995), pp. 86-87.
JohnThomas Didymus is the author of "Confessions of God: The Gospel According to St. JohnThomas Didymus"