Faith, Politics and Muslim-Baiting

A piece in the Washington Post today reveals insights into President Obama’s Christian faith — and gives readers some perspective into how easily the right uses faith as a weapon to divide Americans for political gain.

The story notes a circle of Christian spiritual advisers who privately counsel and pray with the president and begins with this vignette:

As he flew aboard Air Force One to Chicago on his 49th birthday earlier this month, President Obama dialed three Christian pastors to pray with him.

On an airborne conference call, he kidded with the religious leaders about being abandoned by his wife and daughters, who were away on vacation and at camp. As he celebrated his birthday, he was in a reflective mood. He told them he wanted to pray about the year that had passed, what’s really important in life and the challenges ahead.

“That was simply something that he wanted to do at his initiative because it was important to him,” said Joel Hunter, an evangelical pastor who was on the call and who is part of a small circle of spiritual advisers who frequently talk to Obama by phone.

The prayer session, which was not publicized and which neither the White House nor the ministers sought to bring to light, reflects Obama’s decision to keep his public expressions of religious faith to a minimum. Hunter said the president often reaches out to pastors for private spiritual conversation.

Just two days earlier, another Washington Post story noted a poll showing a growing percentage of Americans (though still a minority) think President Obama is actually a secret Muslim. Conservatives were most likely to hold that opinion, facts be damned. Why has this distortion spread?

Perhaps it’s because supposedly responsible people say such irresponsibly misleading things — people like Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelist Bill Graham. Here, for example, is part of what the younger Graham said Thursday on CNN:

“I think the president’s problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim, his father gave him an Islamic name. Now it’s obvious that the president has renounced the prophet Mohammed and he has renounced Islam and he has accepted Jesus Christ. That’s what he says he has done, I cannot say that he hasn’t. So I just have to believe that the president is what he has said.”

Other people on the religious right are even more insulting in questioning President Obama’s explicitly professed faith. During the 2008 presidential campaign, for example, Texas Eagle Forum President Cathie Adams — who later became chair of the Texas Republican Party — viciously attacked then-candidate Obama’s faith:

“While many question Barak Hussein Obama’s ‘religion’ …, the more important question is whether he has a ‘relationship’ with Jesus Christ because that is the only HOPE that any of us have to obtain eternal life. I personally see NO evidence that Obama has that kind of ‘saving faith.’”

Here’s “Pastor” Rick Scarborough, head of the Texas-based far-right group Vision America, in a September press release last year:

“Our President has made it clear where his allegiance lies by hosting a Muslim prayer breakfast in the White House but refusing to participate in the National Day of Prayer. . .”

When far-right members of the Texas State Board of Education last spring asked that new social studies standards identify President Obama with his middle name “Hussein,” even a fellow Republican on the board noted that everyone understood the cynical motive behind the move.

Suggesting that he is secretly a Muslim or that he is at least lying about being a Christian has long been part of a strategy — along with the equally discredited charge that he was really born in another country — to stoke fears that Barack Obama is somehow un-American, foreign and dangerous. Sadly, it has become an effective political weapon.

Among the most vile Muslim-baiters is conservative commentator Pamela Geller, an extremist who has done  much to spread irrational fear and anger over the proposed location of a Muslim community center in New York. Earlier this summer she “reported” that an Egyptian official was claiming that President Obama had confessed to being a secret Muslim. Geller used that “revelation” to compare President Obama to a Nazi SS officer:

“This is akin to an SS officer getting elected president during WW II. Every country in the free world must be cognizant of such a catastrophic sea change in the leadership of the free world (as witnessed by events over the past year). This changes everything. He took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and yet he has gone around the world promoting Islam, the sharia (Islamic law).”

Even relatively mainstream conservative publications and websites promote the lie that President Obama is a Muslim. From Human Events just last month:

“Growing up as a Muslim, Obama must have learned that according to the Qur’an it is acceptable to lie, deceive and live by a double standard provided in so doing one advances Islamic goals. Muslims only pretend to trust and be friends with non-Muslims; in the deepest of their Muslim hearts they have been taught that all non-Muslims are infidels.”

The so-called “mainstream media” has also fed the confusion and misinformation by absurdly suggesting that the facts about President Obama’s faith are somehow in doubt and a legitimate subject of debate. A Fox News piece about President Obama last year included a graphic with this banner:

“Islam or Isn’t He?”

And there are the right-wing scare sites, like, with headlines like: “Believe Obama is a Muslim; Here’s Why” and posts like “Is Obama a Muslim? … Would he lie about it? … Does he consort with Muslims? … Why are Democrats, progressives lying about it?”

President Obama isn’t the only target of this kind of devious and despicable strategy, of course. Texas State Board of Education members have regularly accused opponents — during debates over science and social studies, for example — of being anti-Christian. Some have even questioned the faith of other board members. This line of attack is a staple of the religious right — and it’s a threat to the religious freedom and tolerance that mainstream Americans have long supported.

26 thoughts on “Faith, Politics and Muslim-Baiting

  1. Nice article Dan.

    I saw that interview with Franklin Graham yesterday on CNN. He said:

    “I think the president’s problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim, his father gave him an Islamic name. Now it’s obvious that the president has renounced the prophet Mohammed and he has renounced Islam and he has accepted Jesus Christ. That’s what he says he has done, I cannot say that he hasn’t. So I just have to believe that the president is what he has said.”

    This is pathetic. I suppose if a person’s biological father was a rapist or serial killer that means his son would be born a serial killer or rapist. How about if your dad was coming down with MS like Steve Hawking? By the same logic, I suppose one would be born an MS patient? If your dad drove a Chevy, that means you were born with your own personal Chevrolet? I can see sharing the womb with a twin brother or sister, but not a Chevy!!! How does GM get something that big into a—-well—never mind. I think you see my point. The statement Franklin Graham made was utterly ridiculous, and this whole line of thinking (or not thinking) by others on the Religious Right appears to me to be nothing less than premeditated and knowingly false character assassination directed willfully at Mr. Obama and designed to damage him both personally and politically.

    However, it does me good to see all of the media race bigots coming out of their closets. Now that they smell some blood on Mr. Obama’s skin and this coming November, they have become emboldened to be their true selves in public. I expect to see more of this outing as the cuts get deeper.

    And about the other quote in your article Dan:

    “Growing up as a Muslim, Obama must have learned that according to the Qur’an it is acceptable to lie, deceive and live by a double standard provided in so doing one advances Islamic goals. Muslims only pretend to trust and be friends with non-Muslims; in the deepest of their Muslim hearts they have been taught that all non-Muslims are infidels.”

    Now, there is an example of the pot calling the kettle black if I ever saw one. When I was growing up and even up to my current elderly age, no Sunday school teacher or pastor that I ever had taught me that it was okay to lie, deceive, and live by a double-standard to advance the cause of Jesus Christ and his universal church. Yet, I see the leaders, proponents, and followers of the Religious Right saying and doing those lies ever day that passes. These accusations against Mr. Obama are just one more example of it. This just goes to show you what happens when the church crawls into bed with politicians who live by a creed of lying. The church learns to lie to itself and its members.

  2. I’m deeply saddened by the unfair lies that the Fright Wing is spreading around. So WHAT if President Obama WAS Muslim, does that change the fact that he has been one of the most effective presidents this country has ever seen? Muslims are not the enemy: Faux Snooze is enemy number one. They recently poured a cool million dollars to the Republican Governors Association. An Arab owns seven percent of News Corp. While seven percent doesn’t seem to be a large portion, he owns more than any other person outside of Rupert Murdock, an Australian. Faux’s magazine NewsMax is so full of hate speak that I read just a few pages before tossing it into the garbage where it belongs.

    This country is no longer America. I don’t know what it is, but when the only way the Fright Wing can try to win elections is to scare the hell out of people by LYING THROUGH THEIR TEETH.

    Frankly, the Fright Wing scares me. The majority of people in the USA have been brought up to be uneducated. A college girl was asked by a late night TV personality “How many stars are on that flag,” pointing to the flag. She answered, “I can’t tell, it keeps moving too fast.” College? Doesn’t know that the stars on the flag represent the number of states we have.

    The dumbing of America started a while ago. Nowadays instead of being taught subjects, kids are taught how to pass tests. They leave school not knowing the first thing about anything of value.

    I’m watching Dylan Ratigan at the moment. There is a Republican and a Democrat supposedly talking with each other. As usual, when the Democrat makes a valid point, the Republican starts screaming over the Democrat. When the GOP isn’t getting away with their lies, they smile and laugh and make deprecatory gestures. I just had to turn off the program because my blood pressure is spiking and for a post-stroke patient, that’s not a good thing.

    This weekend will bring the greatness of this country to an end. There is going to be an anti-Muslim rally in New York. They’re going to deny the Muslim community their first amendment rights. It is wrong, wrong, wrong. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m embarrassed to be an American right now. And once again, IT IS NOT A MOSQUE AND IT IS NOT BEING BUILT AT GROUND ZERO. It is going to be like a YMCA with YMCA type amenities. Americans used to be intelligent and flexible; today we are turning into a mob of bigots. As a Jew, I’m frightened of where this is going to lead. Jew-hate has been on the increase world wide; will it soon be here in America, too?

    Remember this from Pastor Martin Niemöller?

    “THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

    THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

    THEN THEY CAME for me
    and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

    The text expresses, in a condensed form, the understanding of history presented by Niemöller in a January 6, 1946 speech before representatives of the Confessing Church in Frankfurt. (From Wikipedia)


    Holocaust deniers are going to deny this too. Hitler got into total power because NOBODY SAID ANYTHING when the economy was in a lousy position. This time is it the Muslims who are going to be denied their rights. Who’s ox will be the next to be gored?

    Guess what, folks, we are there again!

  3. Oh. One more thing. I am a natural born, white Anglo-Saxon, and protestant Christian citizen of the United States. I pay more taxes than many people make by working in a year. My dear wife, who is one of the best and most conscientious workers I know has been out of work for the better part of two years and has been trying hard to find a job. The job situation affects my home, people in my church, and people everywhere.


    If you win the elections this fall and get sworn into office in January 2011, I and the rest of the American people are expecting millions of new and high-paying American jobs to appear instantly within three or four months. If you fail in that, you will be begging for an opportunity to spend the rest of your life in Hell just to get relief from the American people. Capiche?

  4. Again, liberals confuse conservatives with the religioous right. I swear that you are as close-minded and narrow as any dippy religious bunch I’ve ever seen.

    See? Isn’t it nice to paint with a broad brush? Let’s all stop talking about important issues, reduce everything to empty-headed charactures.

    1. Jay,
      Actually, the post does focus on the religious right, but it also notes that this kind of Muslim-baiting is coming from a variety of sources on the right. Not all conservatives have engaged in it, thankfully. John McCain’s refusal to do so during the 2008 is a good example. Regardless, it’s coming from both the religious right and more secular voices on the right, and it’s not “painting with a broad brush” to point that out.

  5. Mark my word Jay, big paint brush or no paint brush, your boys are going to be instant political dead meat if they fail to deliver in early 2011. You had better quit congratulating yourselves on an election you have not even won yet and start figuring out how you are going to deliver if you do win. Time is ticking. We have two votes and a couple of pairs of steel-toed boots primed and ready to go if you fail to deliver.

  6. I would agree that the word “conservative” is suffering from a “meaning” problem in that it used to mean people such as William F. Buckley who were men of good conscience who feared the growth of government but did so with intellectual honesty and integrity as to what they meant, and now right wing whack jobs, racists and fear mongers like to appropriate the word “conservative” as their own.
    Don’t blame us, blame them.
    The “Muslim” thing is coming hard on the heels of the “Mexican” thing, as the GOP (tea-party) see that the hysteria and distraction value of the “Mexican” thing is starting to subside.
    The “muslim” meme was seized upon early by the right wing opposing Pres. Obama because they obviously couldn’t use the “N-word”. However, you should just substitute the “N-word” in your mind when you hear these people say “Muslim” and you won’t be distracted from the real issue.

    The real political issue this election year is the fact that the GOP has done everything it can to stall the economic recovery for the working man, the economic recovery from the GOP caused Great Recession. They are atttempting to stall the economic recovery in order to bring Obama’s presidency down.
    Everything else is distraction.

  7. The thing that bothers me the most is how divorced from reality the people are who follow the Religious Right. Just to emphasize, I am speaking of the everyday, ordinary gal/guy on the street followers. They are absolutely committed to the concept of utter, hopeless, and widespread human depravity and the need for a savior from that depravity. That would be Jesus. However, even after one is saved by Jesus, the Bible makes it totally clear that the sin is still there, even in Christians. As the Bible says (and this verse is directed specifically at Christians by the ancient writer) “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (I John 1:8). That is clear enough.

    The leaders and followers of the Religious Right behave as if they “have no sin.” They are more than willing to examine the spiritual and moral condition of the world around them. However, they appear to be completely unable to shine that same examination light on themselves and their own behavior.

    The truth of the matter is, as the gospel writer says, that the fallibility of the human condition is still there and it is going to be expressed in what Christians do. The sins of the Religious Right are obvious to most other Christians and even people who are not a part of the universal church. They are not minor sins. Here are just a few, but the complete list is much longer than this:

    1) Living a life of public lies and deceptions.

    2) Callous disregard for the poor, sick, and imprisoned.

    3) Playing cheap whore for crooked politicians.

    4) Placing the Bible on a pedestal higher than Jesus.

    5) Loving themselves more than their neighbors.

    6) Puffed-up with sinful spiritual pride.

    7) Always able to see the splinter in their neighbors’ eyes but never the beam in their own eyes.

    8) Quick for war and haters of peace.

    9) Haters of anyone and everyone who disagrees with them.

    10) Dripping-rich suburban churches that ignore Lazarus and his unattended sores.

    11) Holding men of position, wealth, and power in higher esteem than ordinary people.

    12) Hearts drained of love.

    13) Merciless in character.

    Their sins are at least as great as the sins of those they so severely criticize. In fact, one of the greatest Christians who ever lived said it best of them in one of his most famous literary works, and I speak those famous written words now directly to the Religious Right in Texas and elsewhere:

    “I wear the chain I forged in life,’ replied the Ghost. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?’ Scrooge trembled more and more. ‘Or would you know,’ pursued the Ghost, ‘the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it since. It is a ponderous chain!”

    However, the leaders and ordinary people of the Religious Right in Texas and elsewhere will hear none of this. They are as blind and deaf as those to whom the prophets of the Old Testament delivered their messages. As Mr. Dickens also said of people like them, “Darkness is cheap and Scrooge liked it!!!”

  8. David, you’re right on about that. The GOP is fielding a bunch of malcontents who have, in at least one case, proposed the killing of gays just for being gay. No courts, no juries, just death to gay people. Where did the Nazis start?

    Charles, dang you hit the nail on the head. But it isn’t just the Christians, it is ALL religions. More people have been killed because of what religion they adhere to than any other cause ever. And yes, I include my own religion.

    I have pretty much abandoned attending services. There is no reason for me to have to attend to be in good graces.

    A few years ago, someone wrote a filk song (they meant to say folk but hit the wrong key) it went like this:

    My god’s better than your god,
    My god’s better than yours.
    My god’s better
    ‘Cause she wears underwear
    My god’s better than yours.

    It’s sung to the “My dog’s better than your dog” commercial song.

    The Republican’s nest will well feathered thanks to the Robert’s SCOTUS decision about letting anyone put any amount of money into a campaign. If I live to be a thousand I will never understand why they made that decision. If you think that the Democrats are going to get a lot of money, I’ve got a bridge for sale in New York.

    I’ve already stopped watching the political TV programs because my blood pressure simply can’t take it. Besides, it puts me into an angry mood and I don’t like getting that upset over something over which I have no control.

    A quick money savings tip: Our main air conditioner passed away last year so instead of throwing away several thousand of dollars we don’t have, we bought window air conditioners for about $125 each. Total cost $625. When we are not using a room, we shut the door to that room and turn down the A/C. We got our first electric bill and flipped. Our power bill dropped almost a third. We had already brought down our bill by using fluorescent bulbs in every light socket we have. BAM! It had lowered our bill by around 20% We have yet to have a $300 power bill even though we have a 1,650 sf home. We keep the house at about 79F and with overhead fans it seems cooler.

  9. What ever happened to the “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”?
    Oh yeah, this time it goes against the Religious Right, so they attack the Prez.

  10. Hi Beverly. I plan to try that fluorescent light bulb thing myself, especially after your recommendation. We just dropped $6300 big ones to buy a new central heat and air system. Our old one died big-time right in the middle of some of the hottest and most humid southern heat on record. I like window air conditioners. In fact, we had a window unit that cooled our whole house when we lived in a smaller house nearly 20 years ago. Our current house is huge, and window units would be hard pressed to deal with it.

    I would recommend against buying a large house, just from the experience we have had here. They are too much trouble. As soon as the kids get old enough, the “missus” and I are planning to find a small house somewhere. There is nothing finer than a small, comfortable house that meets your needs.

  11. Well, Charles, by the time we got finished changing all of our bulbs and we got our first power bill, we could not believe it. So we waited for the next month’s bill…even lower.

    I’m holding my breath for this heat wave, but the bill will be a lot lower than our neighbor’s. Our “carbon footprint” is well below the recommended amounts.

    About the only thing that kills me are the people who are afraid of the bulbs because they contain mercury AS DO ALL FLOURSCENT BULBS. But it is so small that if you dropped a bulb you’d be hard put to find the droplet. The LED bulbs that are starting to come out are getting our attention but the price point will have to drop a bit.

  12. When Voltaire said “I long for the day when the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest” he was not speaking of priests per se but rather clergymen in general. Like Voltaire many of our founders were Enlightenment thinkers who valued reason and logic over the divine. And some of those founders – certainly Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine to name just a couple – shared Voltaire’s entrails longing.

    In 2008 election season our carefully crafted democracy hit a recent low point with the debate at Rick Warren’s Brokeback Church out in California. Where the hell were all the strict Constitutional constructionist then? Why weren’t they screaming about a religious test being held for public office? Why weren’t the turning over cars and burning shops when John McCain received a standing ovation for spewing the tired religious right talking point “I believe life begins at the moment of conception”? Oh wait…they’re not really interested in the Constitution unless it’s consistent with their retarded beliefs.

    And then of course Cynthia Dumbar and the other religious right maggots on the Texas School Board tried to rid the school curriculum of both Jefferson and Madison because they weren’t sufficiently religious to suit their tastes. And correct me if I’m wrong here but I do believe they got rid of Madison. How completely absurd! The author of a number of the Federalist Papers, the Father of the Constitution, Father of the Bill of Rights, a two term president and the man who did more than anyone to keep our fragile republic from crumbling in its first decade…..and the Texas School board wrote him out of history? That’s completely insane.

  13. It’s only the Republicans that believe Obama is a Muslim. The Muslims know that he is not. The Republicans can’t see the forest because of the trees. They cannot accept the fact that Obama is a Protestant Christian. Let them think that. It’s useless to try to correct them or change their minds.

  14. This is just more election season distraction. The Dems would do well to just divert every debate on every issue to the economy and why the GOP has obstructed a recovery from the Great Recession they started.
    Where can the economy expand now. Certainly not into another fake housing bubble. Certainly not into buying Chinese made doodads with credit.
    Renewable energy, efficiency, and 21st Cent. infrastructure are the only places to develop.
    As soon as the GOP get out of the way.
    This other stuff is , again, a diversion.

  15. Many excellent responses, very encouraging in such tasteless times. For Mr. Breck’s comment: it was actually Denis Diderot who said “Mankind will not be truly free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” Or, last pope, for that matter.

  16. It is far beyond time that we have given the Fright Wingers 100% of air time. We need to start countering the “rights” with massive demonstrations ourselves.When was the last time WE revolted? We need to counter each and every lie the GOP regurgitates and then pull the reigns of our horses to the LEFT and rub some facts into voter’s minds, such as reminding them that when Bush was given the reins of power we had a SURPLUS which he could find nothing better than to give it to the rich and ultra-rich. My old boss, Bill Gates needed a tax break?

    Why have we been so quiet? Do something NOW, not the morning after the election when the GOP sweeps the election.

  17. I’m assuming there’s a counterdemonstration to Beck’s Aug. 28 gig, but I haven’t heard anything solid. It should be massive. Palin said she wanted to “reclaim” the civil rights movement.

  18. ps, I don’t think the GOP is going to sweep the election. They may pick up 10 or so House seats, but I think they’re drastically overestimating their chances.
    That, of course, depends on what the Dems do.
    They’d better get out the vote.
    Hopefully the Dems have FINALLY learned to play hardball and quit being a victim to the GOP. They could and should have beat them to a bloody pulp in the last election, but they wanted to look “nice” and they let them up off the mat.

  19. @ Robert Bohmfalk: Hate to disagree with you but actually the Obama-is-a-Muslim lie has infiltrated Democrats. I can’t find a figure but I did find this: “Among Democrats, for instance, 46% say Obama is a Christian, down from 55% in March 2009.”

    Oh, and I’ve been taken to task on this message board for not citing my sources. I was criticized about “real facts.” So with that in mind, my source for the above is the Pew Forum On Religion And Public Life and the Pew Research Center For People And The Press. Perhaps those sources are not good enough for my critic. So be it. He can find his own sources, ones of which he approves.

    The interesting thing here is that not only do more Americans (mostly Republicans and Independents) believe Obama is a Muslim, but also that fewer of the same believe Obama is Christian.

    This is an interesting side twist but important, and it was discussed today on NPR. The commentator omitted one issue that I think should have been included. That being the fact that more and more Christians believe that only conservatives can be “true” Christians. Or “true believers,” that Democrats or liberals cannot possibly be Christian. (It’s as if “Christian” and “Democrat” have become as oxymoronic as “moderate” and “Republican” are now.) I think that’s an important aspect that was omitted from the discussion. I wonder if it was omitted on purpose.

    @ James Breck: You make very good points. I asked the same question about how candidates for public office now have to pay homage to religious leaders? But you said it so much better.

    I’m old enough to remember John F. Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency and how he was taken to task for being a Roman Catholic, that he would be under the Vatican’s thumb and not really our president. The more things change, the more they stay the same….

  20. Cytocop if you go further back Lincoln was accused of being a closet Catholic and Franklin Roosevelt of being a Jew.

    Politics are quite divisive now, no doubt about it, but compared to the 1790s things are actually fairly mild. Back then there was genuine, heart-felt hatred between the Federalists and the Republicans. Each found the other downright treasonous, violators of the values of the Revolution. This was also before the age of libel lawsuits and so newspapers could and would print about anything – rumors that Washington was senile, that he was an agent of England and had been since the war, on and on. And this George Washington they were bashing, the most revered of all Americans! Joseph Ellis covered this decade extremely well in his Pulitzer Prize winning “Founding Brothers” which was published about 10 years ago. It’s a good read.

  21. Roosevelt a Jew? That’s almost funny. He was told by many that the Jews were being killed in Germany he tossed them out of the White House because he didn’t believe them…he didn’t believe ANYONE. They approached him several time and he finally ordered that they be kept away from him.


  22. James Breck, that’s true. The most vicious political attacks of the late 1700’s match those we’re seeing now (and most of that is coming from the conservative side). History is repeating itself. I guess the only difference being libel suits. We don’t see those happening now, except occasionally in the entertainment media. Occasionally an entertainer wins a libel suit against an entertainment news source.

    Beverly, true too. Roosevelt’s policies were consistent with the general antisemitic attitudes of his times. The anti-immigration laws enacted after the first world war were still firmly in place until after WWII; meaning refugees from Nazi Europe were not generally welcome in the States. And that included Jews. So it’s very difficult to suggest Roosevelt was a Jew – except within Roosevelt-hating circles.