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.
Tom Foreman | Bio
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.
Find more of the Foreman Letters, here.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with