Is Sen. Barack Obama an agnostic? In light of the controversy over Rev. Jeremiah Wright it may seem like a strange question to ask. Agnostics tend not to get into public spats with their pastors for the simple reason that they typically don’t have pastors. One doesn’t expect a nudist to argue with his tailor.
Indeed, Obama has been identified with the black church and its exuberant worship tradition ever since his starmaking turn at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. “We worship an awesome God in the blue states!” he famously exclaimed.
Yet after Wright’s recent appearance at Washington’s National Press Club, I re-read the chapter on faith in Obama’s memoir, The Audacity of Hope. I was trying to figure out how the senator could have sat in Wright’s pews for two decades without being aware of the pastor’s radical views (as he claims). After all, the title of the book was taken from one of Wright’s sermons.
The chapter candidly recounts Obama’s transformation from religious skeptic to Christian churchgoer under Wright’s tutelage. What is striking about the story it tells, though, is what isn’t there: any sort of claim to a truly religious epiphany.
That’s a key part of most conversion narratives. The skeptic casts aside doubt and takes the proverbial leap of faith, embracing the religion in all of its doctrines — even the more peculiar ones.
Obama pretty clearly indicates that wasn’t the case with him. At the end of the chapter Obama describes tucking his daughter into bed and trying to answer her question about what happens when we die.
“I wondered whether I should have told her the truth, that I wasn’t sure what happens when we die, any more than I was sure of where the soul resides,” he writes.
No happy bedtime talk about heaven for this father.
OBAMA’S DOUBTS COME from his rather unique upbringing. A mixed-race child who lived abroad for prolonged periods in his youth, he came to the church late in life.
“I was not raised in a religious household,” he says. His caucasian mother and the maternal grandparents who partially raised him were only nominally Christian. The grandparents were skeptics and they passed their secularism onto their daughter. And she in turn passed it on to her son.
“Her own experiences as a bookish, sensitive child growing up in small towns…only reinforced this skepticism. Her memories of the Christians who populated her youth were not fond ones. Occasionally, for my benefit, she would recall the sanctimonious preachers who would dismiss three quarters of the world’s people as ignorant heathens doomed to spend the afterlife in eternal damnation — and who in the same breath would insist that the earth and the heavens had been created in seven days, all geologic and astrophysical evidence to the contrary,” Obama writes.
He hastens to add that his mother did give him some religious instruction, viewing it as “a necessary part of any well-rounded education.” The Bible was placed on a shelf next to the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita and books on Greek and Norse mythology.
His mother sometimes took him to church for Christmas. She also took him to Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and Hawaiian burial sites. As she held young Barack’s hand she explained that these religious samplings required “no sustained commitment on my part.” She was just broadening the young man’s mind by exposing him to these superstitious rituals.
“Religion was an expression of human culture, she would explain, not its wellspring,” Obama writes.
“In sum my mother viewed religion through the eyes of the anthropologist that she would later become; it was a phenomenon to be treated with a suitable respect, but with a suitable detachment as well.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?