Last week, the media, White House and nation were in a hullabaloo over a Pew Research Center poll that revealed that 1 in 5 Americans believes President Barack Obama is a Muslim.
The poll received so much attention and response that the White House released a rebuttal reiterating that President Obama is "a committed Christian."
The fact is Americans are more baffled now by Obama's personal religion than they were when he first came into office.
John Green, University of Akron politics professor and senior fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, concluded, "I haven't seen any example -- and I've been following polling of presidents for a long time now -- of where we've seen increased confusion about religiosity the longer they're in office."
With all the confusion and quandaries about Obama's religion lately, I rearranged the order of this four-part series to detail today exactly what President Obama believes, including his beliefs about prayer, heaven, the Bible and the person of Jesus, based upon a rare in-depth interview by a religious reporter for a major newspaper publication.
To me, this interview -- which took place March 27, 2004, when Obama was a candidate for the U.S. Senate -- is by far the best documentation of Obama's faith. In it, Obama gave often lengthy responses about his faith and practice to a series of questions from then-Chicago Sun-Times religion reporter Cathleen Falsani, though he often seemed confused and even obtuse in his replies.
To the question "do you pray often?" Obama replied, "Uh, yeah, I guess I do."
When asked whether he had read the Bible, Obama responded: "Absolutely. (But) these days I don't have much time for reading or reflection, period. ... I'll be honest with you; I used to all the time, in a fairly disciplined way. But during the course of this campaign, I don't."
In answering reporter Falsani's question about whether there was a role model who combined everything Obama said he wanted to do in his life and faith, Obama's first response was, "I think Gandhi is a great example of a profoundly spiritual man."
Gandhi? A Hindu? How about Jesus, seeing as Obama claims to be a "committed Christian"?
When Obama was asked pointedly, "Who's Jesus to you?" he immediately responded with a nervous laugh, followed by a rather sarcastic "Right." He proceeded, "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."
Could that "reaching something higher" possibly be heaven?
In answering the question on whether he believed in a literal heaven, Obama retorted back: "Do I believe in the harps and clouds and wings? ... What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don't presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die."
Obama went on to explain his faith in these all-encompassing ways: "I am a Christian. ... 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. ... I believe that there are many paths to the same place. ... I retain from my childhood and my experiences growing up a suspicion of dogma. ... I'm a big believer in tolerance. ... I'm suspicious of too much certainty. ... There's an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty. ... I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell. ... That's just not part of my religious makeup."
So it's no wonder that when asked to describe the moment at which he went forward in response to an altar call in his and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's church in 1987 or 1988, Obama said, "I think it was just a moment to certify or publicly affirm a growing faith in me."
It is also no wonder that Americans are confused about Obama's religion, because he himself sounds confused about it.
Remember, this is the president who emphatically stated to the Middle Eastern world that it is part of his "responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear."
Yet on June 28, 2006, two years after his interview with Falsani, then-Sen. Obama publicly perpetuated negative stereotypes of Christianity. From the pulpit of a church, speaking to a live audience about religious diversity, Obama sarcastically belittled America's Judeo-Christian heritage and degraded its adherents with trite remarks typical of any atheistic antagonist: "Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation"; "the dangers of sectarianism are greater than ever"; "religion doesn't allow for compromise"; "the Sermon on the Mount (is) a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application"; and "to base our policymaking on such commitments (as moral absolutes) would be a dangerous thing."
And the whole time I consider Obama's anti-Christian diatribes and religious rubbish, I keep coming back to the words of President George Washington in his presidential Farewell Address, advice our current president would be wise, especially now, to heed: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them."
"A committed Christian"?
I guess I completely don't understand what the word "committed" means.