In fact, Mr. Obama’s declarations of faith and church visits both seemed to peak at the height of the Presidential campaign as a means of counteracting the stupid rumors about his secret Islamic affiliation (the Pew Poll shows an appalling 11% of Americans still think he’s a Muslim!) as well as separating himself from the ranting and raving of his polarizing pastor. Now that he’s secured the presidency – and that Newsweek celebrates “The Decline and Fall of Christian America” in a cover story – suddenly the need to expose himself to religious services feels less urgent and important.
Many religious believers have begun to turn away from politics in disgust, in part because of the suspicion that candidates of all ideological orientations manipulate religious symbols and organizations for their own benefit. In this regard, Ronald Reagan represents the rarest sort of high office-holder – a President whose private, personal faith commitment and Biblical engagement was actually far more intense and significant than the public assumed during his presidency.
In failing to match religious pretense with personal priorities, Obama isn’t outrageous or egregious, but rather typical of politicians (remember Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry at the height of their campaigns?) who make public displays of faithfulness while campaigning for the presidency, but give little indication of ongoing engagement between major elections. The desire of such ambitious politicos to connect with America’s religious majority (despite Newsweek’s pronouncement that 75% of the nation’s citizens still describe themselves as Christians) still shows the potent influence of faith-based norms in the nation that remains by far the most religiously committed society in the West.
Even so, the percentage of the unchurched and unaffiliated has grown dramatically, so Barack Obama could find plenty of company in giving priority to pups over pastors, and to dogs over dogma.