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April 12th, 2009
08:00 AM ET

Dear President Obama #83: Ten things – What if God...

Reporter's Note: Ever since he took office, I have been sending President Obama a letter a day. Lately it has been this series called Ten Things You Ought to Know About America, But You Might Not Know From Watching the News. I would not call it an exhaustive list, but it is perhaps exhausting.

This is Part Six.

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Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

Happy Easter! I, like you, am Christian, so this is a big day. It is also, as is so often the case when religious holidays catch on in secular society, a bit of an amalgam: It is a holy day, a day for family, an occasion for wearing new clothes, and inexplicably a day of excitement over a giant rabbit delivering brightly colored eggs and chocolates. As a matter of biology, you would think an Easter Chicken would have caught on well before the Bunny; but then, if early expectations always played out I suppose these letters would be going to Hillary Clinton.

Faith these days is a complicated matter, made more so by forces within and without organized religion.

When my younger daughter was in third grade, she came under theological assault by some kids in her school who were of a different faith. I won’t say which one, because this is not about casting aspersions. Simply put, they suggested that her faith made her not entirely welcome in their circle. My wife and I had always taught her to respect the beliefs of others, so she was puzzled.

She asked me, through teary eyes, one of those impossible questions of childhood: “If God loves everyone, why are there different religions?”

I know my answer would fall short in the eyes of many people of many faiths, but as a father it was the best I could do:

“I think there are different religions,” I told her, “because adults, like children, disagree on things, and sometimes we focus more on those disagreements than on what we have in common. Imagine there was a girl named Katherine. She has a friend at school who calls her that. At dance class, another friend calls her Kathy. And at soccer, a third friend calls her Kate. One day all three of these friends meet, but they do not know they are acquainted with the same girl. One says, ‘My friend Katherine is the nicest girl ever.’ Another says, ‘You are wrong. My friend Kathy is better.’ And the third says, ‘Nonsense, my friend Kate is better than either of your friends.’ I think that is how it is with God. I think we are all praying to the same being, but we use different names and forget that God is big enough to love us all.”

Such answers, I fully know, do not sit well with everyone. There are Christians who would say in a heartbeat that I was wrong; there are Muslims, Jews, and others who would say so too. And that, of course, for leaders like you is the very problem. Over recent decades, we’ve seen religious zealotry of all denominations appearing in the public square; saying one view of faith is right, the others are wrong; and demanding that government answer to God.

At the same time, we’ve had true believers of other types demand with just as much zeal that God be driven from the heavens over America; secularists who can no more tolerate talk of a Supreme Being than a Creationist can brook discussion of a fish becoming a fowl. Some scientists suggesting religious sorts are superstitious at best, idiotic at worst. Terrorists saying we are the Devil’s own spawn. Scandals in the pulpits. Bitter disagreements over social issues. I know the church has affronted plenty of people; and plenty of people have returned the blows.

But the angry edges of religious belief do not represent most Americans. Indeed, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a tremendous organization doing some of the best research and writing available on this topic, found last year that a narrow majority of Americans now think religious leaders should keep out of day-to-day politics.

It is not that our private faith is diminishing; we are just trying to find a better way to make it fit into our larger society. Experience has taught me that although we wrestle with understanding and accepting varied beliefs in a world made smaller by better communication and faster travel, we remain a nation that is largely appreciative of our government values born of religious faith; even as we are wary of the potentially destructive force that religion can be.

People of faith sometimes mistake their own fist for the hand of God; non-believers sometimes mistake scientific findings for proof that God is not there. Faith by its very nature is not subject to proof one way or the other. If you had proof, it would not be faith. If you need proof, faith is far away.

And if we can learn to accept those opposing stances in each other, we’ll be a stronger nation where both the faithful and faithless can share the peace and wonders of our world, from wherever they come. I have faith.

Regards,

Tom

Find more of the Foreman Letters, here.

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    Sometimes the world cannot always understand a person's profession of faith, but it can understand its service.

    April 13, 2009 at 8:50 am |
  2. Anne of the World

    Thank you for spelling all this out in a clear and compassionate way. I think it's important to respect the beleifs that people hold dear and not feel obligated to explain our own. Jesus asked to walk in love. Seems simple, doesn't it? How about Buddha and Mohammed? These are teachers with messages the world has not been able to do without. It's always the people who mess with the meaning! I think if we could control our impulse to judge others and leave that up to the higher power (or let it alone altogether) we would have more time on our hands and feel more peace . People who don't beleive in anything structured or handed down are very misunderstood...they are nice too...

    April 13, 2009 at 8:44 am |
  3. mike

    Great perspective. I do feel when religion is used to formulate policy, we start down a dangerous path. I also think too many people use the "God's will" argument to justify their actions such as Nadia Suleman. I wish more people would worry less about "the book" and more about the message. It always amazes me how faith and beliefs are massaged to fit ones life instead of ones life massaged to fit ones faith. Oh well. As my mom would always say, "It's not what you believe or how you practice, it's that you believe." – even if it's not that there is a God, but in the common decency/respect in the treatment of others.

    April 13, 2009 at 7:45 am |
  4. Ayse-London

    Part of the American Dream is acceptance of all law obiding citizens across the world, regardless of their religion. I personally have no probelms with faith or any religion so long as no one tries to shove it down my throat as the be all and all of life. Ultimately most faiths (if not all) share core values.

    April 13, 2009 at 7:39 am |
  5. Mary

    Very, very nice way to put everything! Your letters are very thought inspiring. I thought I was going to find something to argue with here, but it all seems beyond logical. To add, I think this is why a lot of young people (like myself) have given up religion all together and have taken on this more universal notion of a 'God'. That way no one can say something written 2000+ years ago still dictates our lives today, getting into petty, dead-end arguments.

    April 12, 2009 at 6:41 pm |
  6. Dulcie - Denver

    Very nicely put, Tom. Thank you for such lovely and inclusive words on this day that is Holy for so many.

    I generally don't consider myself Christian, but have deep respect for others' beliefs. I was certainly raised Christian, but have chosen another path because I found that most Christian faiths do not represent my feelings about others. The more vocal and demanding conservative Christians have become, the further away I feel.

    So thank you again for your thoughtful words.

    April 12, 2009 at 6:27 pm |
  7. Rikki, Fargo, ND

    Great letter today, Tom! I love the explanation of different religions! 🙂 And I've definitely used the 'If you need proof, you aren't really living by faith are you?' argument a couple times! Happy Easter!

    April 12, 2009 at 3:11 pm |
  8. Dee F

    So true Tom!

    April 12, 2009 at 11:19 am |
  9. Michele Gomis

    Your efforts are commendable but have you any idea if our President is actually READING these essays? (If so, I apologize. I have not seen such a statement.)

    April 12, 2009 at 11:18 am |
  10. Kat Turner

    Couldn't have said it better myself...Happy Easter!

    April 12, 2009 at 10:53 am |
  11. Marlon

    I think Tom has hit it right on the head regarding religion in our country. Unlike some countries, we are a country made up of many religions because we were founded on the basis of religious freedom. Yet, we are often persecuted for our beliefs; the persecutors are both believers and non-believers. Since we are a country made up of many religions, it is best that we not mix religion with government. It's only destructive and it continues to cause conflict in getting things done that really need to be addressed. I am a believer of the Christian faith, let me just through that out there, but we have to learn to respect each others beliefs. One thing I can not stand is for someone to belittle others for their faith. As much as I love the guy, Bill Maher really should take heed to that. But then people argue freedom of speech, and that's an entire different topic in itself. Sometimes we just have to call a spade a spade and agree to disagree.

    April 12, 2009 at 10:48 am |
  12. Art

    I have faith in you Tom that you will continue to wright the president in hope that you may get a call.

    April 12, 2009 at 9:24 am |
  13. Gary

    "but then, if early expectations always played out I suppose these letters would be going to Hillary Clinton." – HILARIOUS!!!

    April 12, 2009 at 9:11 am |