15 March 2012

On Obama's faith, and it's similarity to the faith of many

Some days back Terry Mattingly had a good post on the Get Religion blog about an interview President Obama gave on March 27, 2004 to Cathleen Falsani in which she asked him questions about his faith.  Mattingly summarizes Obama's theology thus:
He is, of course, a Christian. He is a liberal, mainline Protestant Christian who is a perfect fit in the United Church of Christ, the freewheeling, free-church, highly congregational denomination that — in its elite leadership class — defines the candid left edge of church life in America. We’re talking out there a notch to the left of the Episcopal Church hierarchy.
The transcript of the interview have recently been upload to the web site of Sojourners.

My comments that will follow are not intended as an attempt to discredit the President's claim to be Christian.  What they are intended to do is point out the serious ways in which many people who claim to be Christian do not actually believe what Jesus clearly taught.

On the unicity of Jesus

At the beginning of the interview, Obama said, "So, I’m rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people."

This is not what Christians believe.  Jesus emphatically taught that he is the only way to the Father's house, to heaven.  He said, "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

Furthermore, he said, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.  How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.  And those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14).  And where is or, rather, who is the gate?  The gate is Jesus, who said, "I am the gate.  Whoever enters through me will be saved" (John 10:9).

Saint Peter also said, "There is no salvation through anyone else [than Jesus], nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Despite the trendiness today of falsely presuming every religion to be just as good as another, there is only truth, Jesus Christ.  Either what he says is true, or it is not; there can be no middle road.  There are not many ways to salvation, but only one.

When asked later in the interview, "Who's Jesus to you," Mr. Obama said: "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."

That's all well and good, but regardless of whether a person is a Christian or not, the fact remains that either Jesus is the bridge between God and man or he is not.

He also described Jesus as "a wonderful teacher."  That's all well and good - and many people agree with him on this - but wonderful teachers don't put an end to sin and death.

Jesus is far more than a wonderful teacher because, as those who heard him knew, "he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes" (Matthew 7:29).

What is most curious about his brief comments about Jesus is the lack of mention of sin, redemption, the Cross, the Resurrection, his moral teachings, etc.  But, again, this isn't unique with Mr. Obama but is - most sadly - common with many people who claim to be Christian.

This is why the document Dominus Iesus is so very important, for it explains the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and shows him to be the sole Redeemer of man.  Faced with the growing dictatorship of relativism, Dominus Iesus clarifies who Jesus is.

On faith struggles

Mr. Obama went on to say, "part of my project in life was probably to spend the first 40 years of my life figuring out what I did believe – I’m 42 now – and it’s not that I had it all completely worked out, but I’m spending a lot of time now trying to apply what I believe and trying to live up to those values."

This is certainly good.  To know what we believe is one thing; to put our beliefs into practice is quite another.

This is why the Lord's first words in Saint Mark's Gospel are, "Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15).

Each of us is in continual need of conversion and reform as we strive to follow the Master faithfully in all things.

Mr. Obama is to be commended in his desire to apply what he believes to the way he lives.

On dogma

When asked if he had been "born again" at Trinity United Church of Christ, where Jeremiah Wright was pastor and where Mr. Obama went forward for an "altar call" in 1987 or 1988, he answered, " I retain from my childhood and my experiences growing up, a suspicion of dogma. And I’m not somebody who is always comfortable with language that implies I’ve got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others."

Now, if someone is uncomfortable with claims to "a monopoly on the truth," then that person will very likely be very uncomfortable with Jesus of Nazareth, who not only claimed a monopoly on the truth and taught with a unique, but said, as we saw above, that he himself is the truth.

The authority of his teaching Jesus entrusted to his Apostles and poured out upon the Holy Spirit who, he said, "will guide you to all truth" (John 16:13).  Jesus also said to the Apostles, "Whoever listens to you listens to me.  Whoever rejects you rejects me.  And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me" (Luke 10:16).

The authority given by the Lord to the Apostles they entrusted to their successors, the Bishops.

For this reason, the Catholic Church can legitimately and authority make claims to the truth, because she has the promise of her Lord to be guided always to the truth because "the gates of the netherworld shall not previal against" the Church (Matthew 16:18).

On tolerance

In explaining his distrust of dogma, Mr. Obama said, "I’m a big believer in tolerance."  Many people today are and some even go so far as to say the only way to be civilized is to be "tolerant of others."

Jesus did not tolerate people, he loved them.  In the same way, a Christian is not called to tolerate people, but to love them.
Of the three definitions of the word "tolerate" given by Merriam-Webster, only one has to do with people: "to put up with."  Tolerance, then, which Mr. Obama called later in the interview an "important value," is hardly loving.

It should also be remembered that Jesus in no way tolerated sinful behavior, and neither should we.

On prayer

When asked if he prayed often, Mr. Obama said, "Uh, yeah, I guess I do. 
It’s not formal —me getting on my knees. I think I have an ongoing conversation with God. I think throughout the day, I’m constantly asking myself questions about what I’m doing, why am I doing it."

I don't mean to be cynical, but I am.  When last I checked prayer is not about asking myself questions about what I'm doing, but asking questions of - and, more importantly, listening to - God.

On the Bible

When asked if he reads the Bible, he said, "Absolutely.
  I read it not as regularly as I would like."

Would that every Christian answered with those words!

On government interaction with religion

Speaking about the separation of Church and State, Mr. Obama said,
I’m very suspicious of religious certainty expressing itself in politics. 
Now, that’s different form a belief that values have to inform our public policy. I think it’s perfectly consistent to say that I want my government to be operating for all faiths and all peoples, including atheists and agnostics, while also insisting that there are values that inform my politics that are appropriate to talk about.
Judging from his recent decisions - and of those under him - it seems clear that he does not want the government operating for Catholics and that Catholic values aren't appropriate to talk about.
On Hell
Turning towards the topic of Hell, Mr. Obama said, "I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell."  This view - common as it is (the perceptange of people Hell-bound notwithstanding) - is simply unbiblical.
Jesus is quite clear on the existence of hell and of the possibility of going there.  Jesus said,
Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?  Did we not drive out demons in your name?  Did we not do might deeds in your name?"  Then I will declare to them solemnly, "I never knew you.  Depart from me, you evildoers" (Matthew 7:21-23).
What is more, in his parable of the king who separates his sheep from his goats, Jesus said, " He will answer them [the goats], "Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me."  And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (Matthew 25:45-46).

And don't forget his teaching above about the narrow way.
Mr. Obama went on to say, "
I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity.
That’s just not part of my religious makeup."
And rightly so.  It isn't part of the Church's teaching, either.  We are only responsible for what we know (Saint Paul has a teaching about this, but I can't remember where at the moment).
On Sin
When asked if he believes in sin, Mr. Obama said sin is "being out of alignment with my values."
Again, a lot of people have this mistaken notion.  Sin is being out of alignment with God's values.  Ideally, his "values" are also ours, but in many cases they are not.  As one glaringly obvious example, God's love of every human life is not one of Mr. Obama's values.
Summing Up
To sum up, every Christian would do well to thoroughly read the Gospels to know what the Lord Jesus himself did and said.  Without this, one cannot claim to know Christianity.


  1. The Paul teaching is in Romans - 2:4-5, I believe.

  2. No, that's not the one I'm after.