August 21st, 2010
09:00 AM ET

Letter to the President #579: 'With God on our side'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/POLITICS/08/18/obama.ohio.jobs/t1larg.obama.ohio.gi.jpg caption="President Obama remains under fire over his religious views, but he is hardly alone" width=300 height=169]

Reporter's Note: President Obama remains under fire over his religious views, but he is hardly alone. Cue the heavenly choirs, my letter today is about religion once again.

Dear Mr. President,

Yesterday I used a phrase in my letter about Americans questioning your religious faith, and it's been bugging me. I said you are “accused of being Muslim.” What bothers me is that “accused” implies there is indeed something inherently wrong with following Islam, which is emphatically not the case. (I know, there are strong believers of other faiths who would disagree on religious grounds, but I’m just saying in a general, secular sense.)

Anyway, all of that has me thinking about the degree to which we demonize all sorts of people over their faith in politics these days. I know many Muslims who are wonderful people; respectful of other faiths, peaceable, loving, and dedicated to harmony with all the people of the world. Just as I have known many Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and yes, atheists, who are the same.

And yet the currency of politics often involves writing checks backed by religious intolerance. Right now, Muslims are taking a beating, and aren’t happy about it. But they are hardly alone.

In politics these days people on the left delight in “accusing” their opponents of being conservative Christians, as if that is de facto bad. And on the right, similar attacks are leveled at those who appear aligned with lefty (read “Socialist”) faiths. Atheists “accuse” the faithful of being superstitious fools. The faithful “accuse” atheists of being hopelessly immoral. And on it goes. Dante had fewer circles of hell to negotiate.

In the end, I suppose we all choose our beliefs based on a sense that they are “right,” which by default can suggest that the beliefs of others are “wrong.” And without question we have legitimate disagreements which break upon religious lines. If I were a woman, for example, I would be quite concerned about any faith that routinely diminishes my place in the world; and on that basis, I could say I have a disagreement with whatever faith I am talking about at the moment.

Likewise, it is not unreasonable for Americans to have deep concerns about radical elements which, like it or not, have waged their battle against our country under the flag of Islam. Look, the Klan presented itself as a Christian organization and churches that harbored Klan activists eventually came under scrutiny and pressure for it. All of that seems to me to be fair ground for debate.

But I suspect what we need to focus on and talk about is the distinct behavior that offends or endangers us; not the faith overall. Have terrible things come out of the Islamic world in recent years? Absolutely. Is it reasonable to discuss intolerance being fostered by radicals who hide behind the walls of mosques? Of course. Can we even talk about whether moderate Muslims should be doing a better job chasing these radicals out of their own faith? Yes.

But all of that is very different from “accusing” someone of being Muslim, or suggesting that merely belonging to that faith is evidence of evil. I can’t help but feel that a great deal of the fuel for the fires of enmity that roar through our government today, has come from people on all sides of the political spectrum readily attacking not the programs they dislike, but the fundamental faith of those who back those programs.

Further, I think the more we get away from “accusing” people of being Christian, or Muslim, or Jewish, or atheist, or anything else, the sooner we may be able to successfully grapple with the specific issues upon which we disagree.

After all, if any debate begins with one side saying the other is purely evil, what else is there to talk about?

A friend of mine sent me a quite thoughtful note on the subject. She said, “People have always committed atrocities in the name of religion. Usually, those people aren't particularly good specimens of their religion. You can blow people up in the name of Catholicism, but does that make you a GOOD Catholic? Maybe what people should be accusing each other of isn't of being Jewish or being Protestant or being Muslim, but instead, of being a BAD Muslim, or a BAD Jew, or a BAD Christian. After all, what all faiths ultimately tout is peace.”

Just a few thoughts. I will probably have more on it tomorrow, but I have some things I have to do. Hope the vacation is going well and that you get this.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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