Comparing the Faiths of Presidents Washington and Obama

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Jon Rowe

Jon Rowe is a full Professor of Business at Mercer County Community College, where he teaches business, law, and legal issues relating to politics. Of course, his views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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33 Responses

  1. Avatar Michael Heath says:

    Fantastic review at Amazon Jon. I write reviews of all the books I read in full which is about 70% of the books I start. As you know, the intellectual honesty of those seeking to defend an ideology vs. those who seek objective truth is pretty startling. The comments section of reviews at Amazon provides a nice illustration of this observation in play; the favorable/unfavorable votes cogent/incoherent comment posts garner gives me hope for the future. I see the comments section of your review helps validate that observation in a manner consistent with the comments threads I’ve participated in at Amazon.

    I drew a parallel between Washington and Obama around the time in 2008 when Fox News was featuring Jeremiah Wright at the top of every hour. It became quickly apparent to me that their attempts to project Mr. Wright’s rhetoric and beliefs on to his congregant was an exercise in lunacy, cyncism, and I think desperation.

    My study of Mr. Washington in the 1990s had me concluding that his membership and activity in the church needed to be considered in a context well beyond mere theology. The Anglican Church in Washington’s era was far more integrated into the general fabric of the prevailing culture and community than we see in most modern-day communities. Washington was always ambitious and saw power and leadership in the church and military as exploitable opportunities while being far more comfortable in the latter. I think his virtual silence on theological matters speaks volumes.

    It was clear when I first began to study Mr. Obama that he too had immersed himself in a community where the church played a much more integrated communal role than what many of us experience in our own communities. Without first understanding that church within the context of its community would guarantee misunderstandings.

    Mr. Obama is an easy read for me, perhaps because we’re nearly identical in age though in spite of my I starting out on the non-conservative right wing and moving to the center while his journey is from the left to the center. I found it pretty easy to discern that the role of the church for Obama left room for theological differences if common ground was held in other areas – service to the community, social justice, the teachings of Jesus on how to live one’s life and serve others, a family-friendly communal atmosphere that was respected and rooted into to the community. In some ways Obama’s relationship to his adopted community reminds me of life-long Catholics and Jews who strongly identify with their church while rejecting much of its theology or in the Catholics’ case, also rules for living.

    I admit I’m somewhat skeptical of Mr. Obama’s most woo-based religious beliefs though finding him to be far more honest than nearly any other politician I’ve closely monitored (which still makes him a liar). My most specific skepticism is that he believes Jesus rose from the dead. Part of that comes encountering so few people with Mr. Obama’s level of education and well-honed critical thinking skills, the rest is probably wishful thinking and says more about me than the President’s religious beliefs. A more parsimonious explanation is that he’s not well read on theology concerning himself with other topics and like a lot of great salesman, buys into a belief which brings him clients which enriches him which therefore reinforces the validity of the belief. A kind of reinforcing amplifying feedback loop which I think also spurs Glenn Beck delusions.Report

  2. We might add Ronald Reagan, the FDR of the Religious Right. I’m not aware of anything overtly orthodox Christian as far as Jesus’ nature or soteriological purpose in his canon, nothing even approaching what President Obama is on record with. [If anyone has any evidence to the contrary, I’d be in your debt.]

    It became quickly apparent to me that their attempts to project Mr. Wright’s rhetoric and beliefs on to his congregant was an exercise in lunacy, cyncism, and I think desperation.

    Well, ignoring and dismissing his decade-long affiliation with Rev. Wright’s church—and Rev. Wright’s own lunacy and desperation—might be pushing a bridge too far.

    Although I might buy “cynicism” and opportunism on Barack Obama’s part as an explanation. It would not be without historical precedent. But some explanation must be offered.

    I prefer to think he had a radio in his pocket and an earphone to it, and was listening to the White Sox or Bears every Sunday for TEN FREAKING YEARS and never heard a word of Jeremiah Wright’s lunacy. I’m easy.Report

  3. Avatar Matty says:

    Looking at the background there is something odd about how Ronald Reagan, who as TVD says was not noted for saying “anything overtly orthodox Christian” in public won as “the Christian candidate” against Carter who by all accounts was more active in his church and public about his faith.Report

  4. Avatar Jason P says:

    While Washington’s public pronouncements might never reveal his religious beliefs one would expect to see some reference to Jesus in his private letters if he were an orthodox Christian. How often does he talk about religion in his private letters?

    While Heath is right that Washington’s involvement in his church prior to the Revolution was necessary for local political reasons, Washington’s lack of attendance to his Anglican church after the Revolution could be just as easily dismissed as political—it was headed by the very King he was fighting against. I’d prefer to hear Washington’s words than judge by circumstantial evidence. At least I’d expect some signs in private letters.Report

  5. Avatar Jon Rowe says:

    GW talks a lot about Providence in his private letters, but NEVER, and I mean NEVER as an absolute, about Jesus by name or person.Report

  6. Avatar Jason P says:

    If he avoided talking about religion, I’d say he wanted to be private. But if he uses religious and philosophical rhetoric in his private letters and shows so little signs of orthodox Christian belief, one would have to either conclude he was non-traditional in his religion or not very religious.

    Did Martha write anything indicating her beliefs?Report

  7. Avatar Jon Rowe says:

    Martha seemed more conventionally Christian. George had THEIR correspondence burned. I’m not as aware of the literature of her correspondence with other people, but much of her religious talk there did sound similar to GW’s. And because of that David Holmes (of William & Mary) noted she sounded like a “moderate Deist” when writing these letters (speaking of God in more philosophical than revealed terms). (I just looked this up in “The Faiths of the Founding Fathers.” He writes only a few paragraphs about Martha.)

    But she systematically took communion while GW systematically avoided it.Report

  8. Avatar Michael Heath says:

    Jason P:

    If he avoided talking about religion, I’d say he wanted to be private.

    Actually there are other possible speculative conclusions, e.g., religion was not a topic that interested Mr. Washington. However I wouldn’t extend this possible conclusion to, “Washington wasn’t a Christian”, based merely on his lack of dialogue on the matter.Report

  9. Avatar Jason P says:

    I ask about Martha, Jon, because in some periods of history women tend to be the religious backbone of the family while men would rather tend to practical matters. It’s too bad that all of their personal correspondence was destroyed.

    Of course, when it comes to faith one can’t look into a person’s heart. It’s only outwards signs and explicit dialog that adds weight to one’s conclusion. While I agree, Michael, we can’t jump to the conclusion that GW wasn’t a Christian; we may put limits on the degree he accepted doctrine and relied upon the faith.

    Generally, when I read historians comment on this topic, I tend to learn more about them than Washington. I remember Paul Johnson calling Washington a deist but admitting Washington wouldn’t use that term (in The American People). I just assume Johnson holds the bar rather high when he attempts to classify someone as a Christian. When I read Richard Brookhiser calling Washington a Christian because the Freemans are a type of Christian organization albeit untraditional, I assume he holds the bar much lower. It seems to depend whether you want Washington in your club or not. I sensed Johnson has qualms with the man while Brookhiser admires him.Report

    • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to Jason P says:

      I understand Brookhiser to be saying that GW was INFLUENCED by Christianity and Freemasonry (I’d agree with that) but didn’t necessarily say he was a “Christian.” (He was a FM by club membership; but I think he understands there’s something more than “club membership” to being a “Christian.”)Report

  10. Avatar Barry says:

    “But Lillback fails to show, at least from the horse’s mouth, that GW was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. We can study all 20,000 pages of GW’s known recorded utterances (public addresses, private letters). If one puts the words “Jesus Christ” in its search engine we get only ONE result, in an address written by one of GW’s aides, but given under GW’s imprimatur”

    Considering the time and the place, I’d take this as stone-cold evidence against GW’s christianity. A leader in the US in the late 1700’s whose speeches and correspondence ran to 20K pages, and only *one* time does he mention ‘Jesus Christ’?Report

  11. Avatar Naum says:

    @tom van dyke wrote: “…Rev. Wright’s own lunacy and desperation…”

    what?

    disagree with theology, OK, but “lunacy”?

    for speaking the truth in the same spirit and vein as howard thurman and MLK — of which both uttered statements far more “damning” of the U.S. than wright, yet MLK graces the backdrops of many conservative evangelical churches today.Report

  12. Avatar Michael Heath says:

    Naum,

    disagree with theology [Jeremiah Wright], OK, but “lunacy”?

    I heard Wright-style rhetoric for many years from many different white fundie preachers. I perceived this and the supposed Ayres ties as a fabricated attempt using the politics of fear given an uppity black man dared attempt to lead the country. Probably one of the most racist elements of the whole ’08 campaign. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh re-attempted to use racism again in this previous campaign several months ago though Fox settled in on going after Muslims instead near the end (Limbaugh never stops employing racism to make his case).Report

    • The problem with the Wright matter is that it disturbed a lot of folks who viewed the election of our first black president as a positive step (despite misgivings about the candidate himself). Personally, I wanted an explanation, given the length of his attendance at that church and how it did not fit in with the image he had been presenting. As it turns out, I thought he gave a good speech and not long later I listened to the audiobook of “Dreams of My Father” and felt his explanation of his faith really spoke to me. Others it did not speak to and I can understand why they were unmoved.

      Oh wait… now I’m getting all complicated. OTHER PARTY BAD! OTHER PARTY BAD!

      There we go.Report

      • Avatar Michael Heath in reply to Trumwill says:

        Trumwill,

        I agree with your point. I too dug in for a deeper explanation. What I found beyond what you report is the following:

        This sort of objectionable rhetoric by Mr. Wright was not representative of normal discourse in that faith community. To put it within context one must understand the experiences his generation of blacks and what their parents and grandparents encountered – those wounds occasionally become risable. It’s an attitude not shared by Obama’s generation of black Americans or younger but pervasive in the older generations with some justification.

        While Mr. Wright’s proclamations were objectionable yet understandable in emotional times given him and his people’s shared history; it would be a failure in critical thinking to not consider the rhetoric from the churches of those seeking to make political hay out of this. There we find far more rhetoric just as objectionable and far more voluminious. If we were to determine whom to support or oppose based on this criteria alone, no good American could ever justify supporting a candidate from nearly all conservative Christian churches. Of course our mainstream media has neither the skills or courage to actually stack up the rhetoric of someone with little political support (Wright) vs. the ones with enormous influence. It seems Mr. Obama’s detractors find it perfectly acceptable to be outraged and hate others when it’s them doing the hating and projecting but not when others do so.

        Then-Senator Obama’s speech about religion in ’08 revealed to me that Mr. Obama was an authentic student of the Constitution and early American history who accepted it objectively rather than attempting to subvert it for political gain like we see from Mr. Obama’s opponents. He also understood it sufficiently enough that he had the capabilities of applying its principles to public policy. His detractors subvert our history to promote their cause. I am consistently disappointed by presidential candidates’ historical and constitutional illiteracy which frequently results in horrendous federal court nominations. Here we had a candidate who truly understood it and apparently embraced it.

        While I think Mr. Obama’s record in office is almost exactly what I expected and hoped it would be, the glaring exception is the DOJ’s record in the federal court regarding the war on terror, where they act in a manner contra to Mr. Obama’s rhetoric when referencing constitutional principles. The fact no media with access to the President even presses him to justify his DOJ and Solicitor General’s behavior in the courts further aggravates my disappointment on this matter. It doesn’t help that Republicans in the Senate filibuster his nomination for the OLC whose record matches the President’s rhetoric on the Constitution. While Jon Alter’s book covering the first year of the Obama presidency was impressive in its breadth, this Administration’s record on 4th and 5th Amendment matters and support for a broader state secrets privilege received only a couple of sentences of coverage – consistent with the avoidance given by other journalists with access.Report

  13. I heard Wright-style rhetoric for many years from many different white fundie preachers.

    And if you sat in one of those churches for ten freaking years, certain questions would be reasonable.

    Rush Limbaugh blahblahblah. Racism blahblahblah.Report

  14. Avatar Heidegger says:

    FOX NEWS FOX NEWS FOX NEWS—Mr. Heath, do you ever get bored with your insufferable, tedious, banal, narrative??? Do the chickens really come home to roost in your demented alternate universe? And speaking of “fundies” what ever happened to your Paul Ehrlich Ice Age? And Neil Young’s Green car exploded in flames yesterday. Hopefully, the same will happen to the Global Warming lunatics that are hellbent on destroying the American economy.Report

  15. Avatar Jim51 says:

    Jason P,
    In my reading of Washington’s writings I found that he quite often used religious language. It is clear to me that he was, in fact, a religious man. It was important to him as a person and, I believe, it helped to carry him along through difficulties that we can hardly imagine today. But as Jon says, he NEVER used sectarian language, and didn’t speak specifically on issues of differences in particular religious beliefs.
    I did find it interesting that you have read quite a bit of what historians thought of him but haven’t read his own writings. I would recommend it to you because, as you said, “when I read historians comment on this topic, I tend to learn more about them than Washington.”
    Jim51Report

  16. Avatar Michael Heath says:

    Jim51 stated:

    In my reading of Washington’s writings I found that he quite often used religious language. It is clear to me that he was, in fact, a religious man.

    What writings are you referencing? I spent quite a bit of time in the 1990s reading what he wrote in letters and found the opposite. In fact he spent an inordinate amount of time on logistics of moving men and materials around, both for as an officer and the latter for his personal business, along with raising liquid capital.

    When I did find him using religion in his letters, it was normally written by an aide to camp with authority to write letters on the General’s behalf which were often not dictated. The language in those letters used religion to establish a fellowship and common cause with someone holding the purse strings where Washington sought money, primarily for his troops. This form of reference was totally unlike say, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who both demonstrated a deep understanding of theology and spent quite a bit of energy having a dialogue about it.Report

  17. Avatar Jim51 says:

    Michael,
    It is true he spent considerable energy on logistics and needed appropriations and I also agree that his writing “was totally unlike say, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who both demonstrated a deep understanding of theology and spent quite a bit of energy having a dialogue about it.” I think that is consistent with my saying that he “didn’t speak specifically on issues of differences in particular religious beliefs.”
    At the moment I couldn’t point you at specific documents or letters as my volumes of Washington are boxed awaiting my completion of my library shelving. He did, however, often and genuinely mention ‘that good Providence’ to whom he felt both he and the nation owed gratitude. Not all of these were public addresses.
    Don’t misunderstand me here. This does not make us a “Christian Nation.” Not does it imply that we should proselytize people’s children in public schools. It is merely a statement of my understanding of Washington as a person gleaned from having read about a third of the 20K+ pages of Washington’s writings that survive. I do wish that he had not destroyed the letters between Martha and himself.
    My efforts to know and understand the Founding Fathers are not made to bolster a current day ideology. I try to accept them as they appear to be in their own words. I rarely read secondary sources, which is why I rarely weigh in on discussions of how various historians have viewed them.
    As to comparing the faiths of Washington and Obama, I wouldn’t except to note that Washington seemed genuinely moved by gratitude to ‘Providence” or ‘the great arranger of human affairs.’
    Jim51Report

    • Avatar Michael Heath in reply to Jim51 says:

      Jim51,

      Thanks for the thoughtful response.

      You stated:

      As to comparing the faiths of Washington and Obama, I wouldn’t except to note that Washington seemed genuinely moved by gratitude to ‘Providence” or ‘the great arranger of human affairs.’

      I’m a little lost. You compare them on how Washington, seemed genuinely moved by gratitude to ‘Providence” or ‘the great arranger of human affairs.’. But you don’t present the Obama side of your comparison. Care to expand so we are sure to understand your conclusion?Report

    • Avatar jimmiraybob in reply to Jim51 says:

      Jim51,

      Have you read Seneca the Younger, Roman Stoic philosopher & statesman (1st century AD), or Marcus Aurelius, Roman Stoic, Emperor & military commander (2nd century AD)? Seneca’s stoic influence on GW is discussed here.

      I’m currently reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (2003, Gregory Hays, ed.) and am struck by the similarities of use for Providence between GW and MA.

      Some excerpts:

      Book 2, page 18
      “What is divine is full of providence. Even chance is not divorced from nature, from the inweaving and enfolding of things governed by providence. Everything proceeds from it.”

      Book 12, page 161
      “1. Everything you’re trying to reach – by taking the long way around – you could have right now, this moment. If you’d only stop thwarting your own attempts. If you’d only let go of the past, entrust the future to providence, and guide the present toward reverence and justice.”

      Book 12, page 164
      “14. Fatal necessity, and inescapable order. Or benevolent Providence. Or confusion – random and undirected. If it’s an inescapable necessity, why resist it? If it’s providence, and admits of being worshipped, then try to be worthy of God’s aid.”

      Seneca and Aurelius (Antoninus) were writing some 500-700 years after Zeno (and the advent of Stoicism in Greece). My understanding is that, while Stoicism evolved over time, the central tenet is a world that is “organized in a rational and coherent way” (Hays). Hays goes on:

      More specifically, it is controlled and directed by an all-pervading force that the stoics designated by the term logos. The term…has a semantic range so broad as to be almost untranslatable. At a basic level it designates rational, connected thought – whether envisioned as a characteristic (rationality, the ability to reason) or as a product of the characteristic (an intelligible utterance or a connected discourse). Logos operates both in individuals and in the universe as a whole. In individuals it is the faculty of reason. On a cosmic level it is the rational principle that governs the organization of the universe.1 In this sense it is synonymous with “nature,” “Providence'” or “God.” (When the author of John’s Gospel yells us that “the Word – logos – was with God and is top be identified with God, he is borrowing from Stoic terminology.)

      It seems a difficult matter to parse the use of Providence when used by the founders, most of whom were steeped in classical education and as familiar with pagan philosophy as well as Christian tradition. Given the sum of Washington’s life, his behavior right up to death, it seems as reasonable to view his use of the term as that of a Stoic statesman/general as opposed to Christian profession.

      I don’t see the use of Providence as being a sole reliable indicator of Christianess in this context. You have certainly read more GW than I have, do you see this as a reasonable assessment?Report

  18. Avatar Jaybird says:

    So if I reach the conclusion that Washington was an enlightened man who we would want to be president and Obama’s religious faith makes him indistinguishable from a racist, homophobic tea-bagger… then what?

    I’m so confused about what prejudices I’m supposed to embrace and which ones I’m supposed to refudiate.Report

  19. Avatar Michael Heath says:

    Jaybird states:

    So if I reach the conclusion that Washington was an enlightened man who we would want to be president and Obama’s religious faith makes him indistinguishable from a racist, homophobic tea-bagger… then what?

    I hang-out at a blog where most commenters are science-literate liberal separationists (Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars at ScienceBlogs.com. Some of them suspect/hope that Mr. Obama’s faith claims are poses made out of political necessity, especially given how supportive he is of scientific methodology and capable of using the same sort of thinking when considering policy. I tend to take people at their word if their deeds match their words where both appear consistent with Washington and Obama on matters of faith. I too have doubts, but nothing to substantial enough to hang my hat.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Heath says:

      So if tea-baggers reach the conclusion that Obama is lying, that proves how prejudiced they are… but if we few, we enlightened few, reach the conclusion that Obama is lying FOR THE BEST REASONS POSSIBLE!!!! then that demonstrates how we’re all in on the enlightenment thing and, hey, you got to say some dumb things from the pulpit if you want to get elected and that’s the price of doing business?Report

  20. Avatar Michael Heath says:

    Jaybird states:

    So if tea-baggers reach the conclusion that Obama is lying, that proves how prejudiced they are… but if we few, we enlightened few, reach the conclusion that Obama is lying FOR THE BEST REASONS POSSIBLE!!!! then that demonstrates how we’re all in on the enlightenment thing and, hey, you got to say some dumb things from the pulpit if you want to get elected and that’s the price of doing business?

    Well first I’ve observed “some” making this assertion and again, as a suspicion/hope, not a bald-faced assertion. Polls show a significant proportion of Tea Party-friendly conservatives reject the fact that Mr. Obama is a moderate/center-left/centrist Democrat (depending on the issue) and Christian and instead assert in absolute terms that he’s either not a Christian or that’s he’s a Muslim and some form of marxist/socialist/fascist/nazi.

    The two claims are hardly equivalent as you insinuate here, instead one is noting one small group speaking in hopeful language while the other group falsely misrepresents the man in significant quantities and employs this false representation in their political efforts. To claim an equivalency would be a demonstrable failure in logic – actually a pretty massive failure in logic.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Heath says:

      “Massive failure in logic” was the name of my band in high school.

      “The two claims are hardly equivalent as you insinuate here”

      I don’t know that they are.

      We have a dude here. Let’s call him “Dude X”.

      We’re wondering about his internal state. Specifically, we’re wondering if a toggle is set to 1 or if it is set to 0.

      The vicious, racist, homophobic tea-baggers who are trying to destroy our country are arguing that the toggle is set to 0.

      This demonstrates their veniality.

      The enlightened folks at the place you hang out are hoping that the toggle is set to 0.

      This demonstrates their hope. And change.

      I’m a pretty hard-core atheist, dude. It ain’t no skin off my nose whether Obama believes in a deity like my Gran does or if he is, instead, enlightened like me (and you, I presume?).

      The one thing I do wonder about is if whether there are, oh, let’s call them “dogwhistles” being given off by Obama that your rational and enlightened acquaintances are hearing that allow them to say “oh, yeah, Obama’s toggle is really set to 0” are *ALSO* being heard by the vicious, racist, homophobic teabaggers.

      I mean, it’d make sense that those signals would be read correctly by both sides, right?Report

  21. Avatar Michael Heath says:

    Jaybird:

    The enlightened folks at the place you hang out are hoping that the toggle is set to 0.

    A handful are, which doesn’t equate to the share of people we encounter in the Tea Party movement. We had a handful who also thought that President Bush would figure out a way to prevent his removal from office in 2008. Their paranoia didn’t effect their movement either. I realize I’ve moved the framing from “some” to a “handful”, which is more indicative. I didn’t think my “some” in one moderately-sized blog venue would get extrapolated as equivalent to what defines the Tea Party. The difference is that one side has a few people harboring some kooky thoughts (true of all groups) which are effectively ignored while the other side celebrates and embraces their worst tendencies and makes them a defining attribute of their movement, or at a least significant proportion of one.

    Jaybird:

    The one thing I do wonder about is if whether there are, oh, let’s call them “dogwhistles” being given off by Obama that your rational and enlightened acquaintances are hearing that allow them to say “oh, yeah, Obama’s toggle is really set to 0? are *ALSO* being heard by the vicious, racist, homophobic teabaggers.

    That’s a good point and one I’ve considered personally. My doubts about Obama’s sincerity regarding his faith are based on two factors:
    1) The rarity of someone able to appreciate and employ the thinking processes needed to achieve his level of critical thinking skills and cognizance of scientific methodology (and employ that thinking himself) that also believes a human was a god-man raised from the dead. However exceptions exist.
    2) He frequently ends his speeches with, “God bless you, and God bless America” which frequently ring hollow. However, perhaps that’s from his believing he needs to do this maintain his bona fides and resents that fact.

    The first can not be faked, either you achieve this level of competence or not. The second doesn’t seem to be a dog whistle.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Heath says:

      The difference is that one side has a few people harboring some kooky thoughts (true of all groups) which are effectively ignored while the other side celebrates and embraces their worst tendencies and makes them a defining attribute of their movement, or at a least significant proportion of one.

      See, here’s the thing:

      I don’t think that the thought is *THAT* *KOOKY*.

      It would make *PERFECT* sense to me that Obama’s religious faith is something that he affects in order to get past a lot of the bullshit that the rubes need in order to feel like “one of us” is telling them how to live.

      I suspect that Obama rolls his eyes at the thought of Young Earth Creationism. As well he should! It flies in the face of all evidence!

      When it comes to the idea that some zombie Jew’s blood can make us fire-resistant, it wouldn’t surprise me, *AT ALL*, to find that Obama is on the side of enlightened people like you and me rather than like those hillbilly snake handlers.

      The problem is that I don’t think you get to have it both ways.

      You don’t get to say “I think that Obama is not a man of deep religious faith BUT IT’S FOR GOOD REASONS” without the vicious, racist, homophobic teabaggers being able to say “I think that Obama is not a man of deep religious faith BUT FOR REASONS THAT THE ENLIGHTENED PEOPLE WILL THINK ARE BAD REASONS!”

      Now, I would say that Obama’s internal states are opaque to me. I don’t know if he’s a Christian or a post-Christian or what.

      But the internal states of the vicious, racist, homophobic teabaggers are also opaque to me. As are the internal states of the only a handful of enlightened people at your other website.

      It seems more interesting to me to wonder if the folks who reach these conclusions have reached them for reasons that accurately reflect some state of affairs.

      The handful of enlightened folks from your other website have reached a conclusion for fair reasons, I reckon. This makes it tough for me to mock people who have reached similar conclusions for reasons that, like it or not, accurately reflect the state of affairs.Report

  22. Avatar Michael Heath says:

    jaybird:

    The handful of enlightened folks from your other website have reached a conclusion for fair reasons, I reckon.

    I concede ‘kooky’ goes to far when questioning Obama’s faith. Hell I even admitted I’ve considered it and I don’t find myself even remotely kooky. The people I’ve heard that promote that claim (where I merely briefly considered it) also tend to project what they hope Obama is rather than what he claims and demonstrates he is. Besides speculating and hoping he’s not a Christian, they’re frequently crestfallen when he doesn’t promote their liberal agenda but instead works for a centrist result. Me on the other hand; well I’m getting exactly what I expected which matches his campaign rhetoric very well – with the exception of his administration’s performance in the federal courts where I too expected a liberal defense of the Constitution rather than a Cheney/Addington-like advocacy of executive powers.

    So while I’ve doubted him on his faith, I do admit concluding I should take him at his word. The one issue where I really have trouble believing him on is that he’s against gay marriage. Nothing else he says or does supports such a position yet there it is (with recent signals he’s reconsidering). The only imagined non-cynical rationalization of this odd position given all his others, is that the urban Christian black community is well-known for not being advocates of gay rights and while that group defines his adult associations and geography, nothing else about him signals his taking positions due to this demographic. In spite of the fact I grew up in a rural very red-state area, I identify very closely with him and pretty much come to the same conclusions he does with a few exceptions but not many and none of them have anything to do with race.Report

  23. Avatar Jim51 says:

    Michael,

    “You compare them on how Washington, seemed genuinely moved by gratitude to ‘Providence” or ‘the great arranger of human affairs.’. But you don’t present the Obama side of your comparison. Care to expand so we are sure to understand your conclusion?”

    Well, OK, but let me preface this with the proviso that I don’t actually care how they compare in their religious beliefs. To be blunt, I don’t care if our president is a Christian or not.
    I tend to share your skepticism that Obama’s expressions of faith are entirely genuine. I think he makes more of it than he would if he had no political reasons for doing so.

    jimmyraybob,

    “It seems a difficult matter to parse the use of Providence when used by the founders, most of whom were steeped in classical education and as familiar with pagan philosophy as well as Christian tradition. Given the sum of Washington’s life, his behavior right up to death, it seems as reasonable to view his use of the term as that of a Stoic statesman/general as opposed to Christian profession.

    I don’t see the use of Providence as being a sole reliable indicator of Christianess in this context. You have certainly read more GW than I have, do you see this as a reasonable assessment?”

    First, thank you for the thoughtful comment, and I should add that I have no background in the readings you mention so I’m out-of-school there.
    In general I do see what you said to be a reasonable/possible assessment. I didn’t really mean to imply that I thought Washington was ‘Christian’ which is why I chose the word ‘religious.’
    In reading your comment the word ‘obligation’ occured to me. It seems to me to be the story of Washington’s life, as best one word could express it. Some have mentioned that church membership at the time was, in part, a social obligation. That may have been part of it, but my sense of GW is that it went a bit deeper than that. And we also need to recall that GW was not educated as were many of the more learned Founders. I am uncertain how much of those classical sources he may have read but I get the feeling that he was a bit sensitive about that deficit of formal education relative to many of his founding brothers.

    Jim51Report