Yeah; I’m talking religion AND politics. Gird your loins!
I’ve been hearing a lot of squawking lately about the President’s faith.
Let me start out here by saying that I couldn’t care less how the President (or anyone else, really) chooses to express his or her relationship to the Universe. That’s a pretty big precept of these United States; the founding document allows that everyone exercises their religion freely (which, I don’t think it’s a stretch to continue, implies that we can exercise it not at all if that is our choice). Let’s be clear about this, because an alarming number of people clearly aren’t; it seems that, lately, to be a-religious in this country is to be equated more and more with being anti-American, and that’s an important thing to remember.
A few days ago, at a ‘backyard’ event, the President was asked about his religion. Given that a stupidly high number of Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim (and so what if he is?, I ask, but that’s another post), and the startling regularity with which his detractors seem to keep that particular misconception alive in their constituency, it seems a reasonable thing to ask. Obama answered the question thus:
“I came to my Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead,” Obama said. “Being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. Treating others as they would treat me. And I think also understanding that, you know, that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility that we all have to have as human beings.”
A perfectly reasonable answer, I think, and one that reflects the values that the President has consistently espoused for as long as I’ve been listening to the man. One of the things that speaks to me about the President – and always has – is this idea of how important we all are (or, rather, how important we all should be) to one another. There is an African proverb that goes something like “I am because you are.” As a public figure, Obama has always embraced that idea and has exhorted us to do the same. Many of his speeches remind us that everyone does better when everyone does better, so it’s in our personal best interests to help one another out.
Clearly, some people don’t feel that way. That’s a socialist idea, they say; or, at the very least, it’s so weak and touchy feel-y as to be un-American.
Some people, though, just can’t let it go. Witness Bryan Fischer, who attacked Obama for being totally ignorant:
According to Obama, his understanding of the story of Cain and Abel is 180 degrees out from reality, and his understanding of the Golden Rule is that he gets to be as mean to others as he thinks they are to him … the phrase “brother’s keeper” was not found on the lips of Jesus but on the lips of a murderer who was trying to dodge a felony charge from God himself. In other words, the phrase “brother’s keeper” meant the exact opposite of what the president thinks it means.
Then The One compounded his theological error by turning the Golden Rule on its head, and verbalizing a version that gives him permission to be as malicious and cruel as he perceives his political opponents to be, which could explain a lot.
I’m not even going to go into how annoyed I am with people who insist on calling Obama “the One.” What I will say in response to this comment is that clearly, Mr. Fischer isn’t going to agree with anything that comes from Obama’s mouth. Literally, Fischer is correct about one thing (though I can’t begin to conjecture about what he thinks the phrase means): it does occur in the bible in the story of Cain and Abel, and it was Cain’s answer to God’s query about Abel’s whereabouts. Cain had killed his brother, and was essentially lying to God about it, saying, in effect, “how should I know where my brother is?” when, in fact, he knew full well where he was because Cain had put him there. I may be a-religious, but I know most of the stories; I’m a literature teacher, after all….
Obama wasn’t using the quote literally, however; he was using it to convey his understanding (his correct understanding, in my opinion) of Christ’s teaching. Christ exhorted his followers to love one another, to be kind and compassionate, and to give and help whenever possible. Being one another’s keepers – willingly taking on at least some responsibility for the welfare of others – is an essential part of how I understand Christ’s message (which, not for nothing, is echoed in a number of other religious traditions, as well; this isn’t a market the Christians have locked).
All of this is a long way for me to say that I am consistently and sadly confounded by people who simply refuse to accept that kindness matters. I am fed up to here with people who have decided that they only have to be nice to people who think or act or believe like they do, and that anyone who doesn’t is less worthy, less human (if, in fact, they’re seen as human at all). I wonder why these people are so terrified of the precepts of the faith they claim to embrace.
And don’t even get me started about the idiot who proclaimed that homosexuals are a greater threat to this country than the KKK…. What the hell is wrong with these people?!