"For my mother,organized religion too often dressed up closed-mindedness in the garb of piety, cruelty and oppression in the cloak of righteousness."–Barack Obama
Note: This is Part 3 of a 5-part series: Read Part 1: Obama's Religious Faith, Political Ideology and the Conservative Christian Inquisition
The Inquisition just loves to refer to Obama's 2004 interview with Cathleen Falsani of the Chicago Sun-Times. In the interview, in answer to Falsani's naively stated query whether the suave and sophisticated senator believes in heaven, Obama asked tongue-in-cheek, "Do I believe in harps and clouds and wings?" Of course, Obama's inquisitors believe in "harps and clouds and wings," so for the senator to have admitted to Falsani that "I don't presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die," is for the accused and presumed guilty to acknowledge that his Christianity is not exactly the same as the simple-minded and complacently self-assured dogmatic faith of his inquisitors and, thus, that he is a heretic to be led to Golgotha and nailed to the cross.
Obama freely admits that his brand of Christianity shares little in common with his traducers' when he stated in the Falsani interview that, "I am a Christian. So I have deep faith. So I draw from the Christian faith. On the other hand, I was born in Hawaii where obviously there are a lot of Eastern influences. I lived in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world…intellectually, I have drawn as much from Judaism as any other faith…So I am rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place…I belief that we are connected as people."
This is probably Obama's most comprehensive statement of his faith in public. He tells those who wish to understand, in plain words, that his Christianity is not the narrow, exclusivist and inbred strain of faith that his detractors glory in. Obama, unlike his traducers, is a man with diverse cultural exposure and background, and consequently, a sophisticated and eclectic spiritual outlook whose self-definition as Christian rests on a foundation of spirituality with a breadth of vision which transcends the limited purview of those who would subject his faith to bigoted inquisitorial scrutiny.
Closely related to the inquisitorial scrutiny of Obama's faith is that of his late mother. Was she atheist, agnostic or Christian? That is the quality of question The Inquisition is capable of asking, given its spiritual dispositional tendency of mind borne of a shackling religious dogmatism which tends to explosive analysis of the terrain of human spirituality. But Obama transcends these limitations and when he tells his audience,"My mother was a Christian from Kansas…I was raised by my mother, so I've always been a Christian," they accuse him of lying and thus imply that they know more about Obama's mother, who died of cancer in 1995, than Obama himself who was by her side in the last days of her life.
In-spite of Obama's testimony, The Inquisition claims often that Obama's mother was Marxist and atheist. Of course, their is nothing to be ashamed of in being a Marxist and Atheist; yet, Obama's testimony of his mother's life was that she was a woman with Christian cultural background whose intellectual, inquiring and skeptical turn of mind deeply abhorred dogmatism and the teratologies of spirituality which go with it. According to Obama, his mother was scornful of the dogmatism of fundamentalist Christians but "was a deeply spiritual person…in many ways the most spiritually awakened person I have ever known…very suspicious of the notion that only one particular organized religion offered one truth."
Obama's description of the spiritual circumstances of his upbringing throws light on the brand of Christianity he professes as being inheritance from his mother. "In our household, the bible, koran and the Bhagavad-Gita sat on the shelf alongside the books of Greek and Norse and African mythology." Obama's description of his mother accords with the picture of a spiritual skeptic with Christian cultural roots, who took her children to church on Easter and Christmas, at times to Buddhist temples, Shintoist shrines and Hawaiian burial sites. In Obama's words, his mother's belief was that "underlying these religions were a common set of beliefs about how you treat people and how to aspire to act, not just for yourself but for the greater good."
Obama identifies with his mother's broad spiritual outlook grounded on Christian roots, and it is significant that when he was asked about his role model in the Falsani interview, Obama mentioned Mahatma Ghandi, a Hindu, who also professed in his life a broad spiritual outlook grounded ultimately on his Hindu cultural roots. To those brought up in the austere bigotry of Calvinist dogma, having a broad, or even eclectic spiritual outlook, might seem contradictory with identification with the faith of one's cultural origins, but, evidently, to persons like Mahatma Gandhi and Obama, for one to acknowledge the common underlying truth to diverse religious faiths does not, in any way, prejudice one's identification with the particular religion of one's cultural roots–in the case of Mahatma Gandhi, Hinduism, and in the case of Obama, Christianity. Taking the broad spread of ones spirituality from the convergent point of one's cultural religious heritage is what Obama meant when he said, "I am a Christian. So I have deep faith. So I draw from the Christian faith. On the other hand, I was born in Hawaii where obviously there are a lot of Eastern influences. I lived in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world…intellectually, I have drawn as much from Judaism as any other faith…So I am rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place…a belief that we are connected as people."
Contradiction in Obama's confession is inevitable only to those raised in the dogmatic bigotry of narrow, exclusivist faith in which your ethnic sect is the only way to heaven and all others are of the Devil; an attitude Obama tells us that his mother raised him up to scorn: "For my mother, organized religion too often dressed up closed-mindedness in the garb of piety, cruelty and oppression in the cloak of righteousness. However, in her mind, a working knowledge of the world's great religions was a necessary part of any well-rounded education. In our household the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology."
Obama affords us an even more detailed insight into the nature of his faith when, in the Falsani interview, he was asked, "Who is Jesus to you?" Obama answered, "Jesus is an historical figure for me, 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…I think it's important for all of us,of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in history."
Obama, here, presents the Christian myth of Jesus as god-man in the secular historical context of its significance to the individual aspiring to heights of achievement. He applies the Christian myth to himself, a historical personality, and derives inspiration in his aspiring to heights of human achievement: this, at the highest level of understanding, lies the genuineness of Obama's claim to christian identity, for ultimately, the term "Christian" is interpreted in the New Testament scripture to mean simply "Christ-like."
JohnThomas Didymus is the author of "Confessions of God: The Gospel According to St. JohnThomas Didymus"