Obama’s Wishful Exaggerations

What’s your reaction to President Obama’s recent statements to the Muslim world that “the United States is not, and never … Continued

What’s your reaction to President Obama’s recent statements to the Muslim world that “the United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam” and that “we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation”?

President Obama’s claims about both America’s relationship with the global Muslim community, and the extent to which we are not a “Christian nation”, are partial truths which express a hope more than a reality. I share the President’s hopes, and appreciate the utility of aspirational rhetoric in public, but it needs to be tempered with a fuller statement of the challenges we face both abroad and at home, at least in more reflective spaces such as this.

Of course the President is correct that the vast majority of Americans do not favor a return to the Crusades of centuries past. In fact, many more of us would fight to keep that from happening that would march off on that kind of Crusade.

America is not at war with any religion, including Islam. But the President’s over-simplification of the situation cost him a valuable opportunity to address the real struggles we do face with any people that attempts to use religion to dominate those who do not share their beliefs. And about that, there is a real war going on in the world – with bullets abroad and words (mostly) at home.

The truth is that there are multiple and competing understandings of what it means to be a Christian nation — understandings which shape an ongoing culture war in this country and about which we ought not to be complacent. Many Americans do believe that they are “losing their country”, and are increasingly belligerent in their fight to hold on to it.

These folks feel the loss of the culture dominance long-held by a white, protestant majority which celebrated not only the theological roots of our nation’s founding, but their own ability to practice what Tocqueville called the tyranny of the majority i.e. not only have their way, but expect all those who differ from them to become increasingly like them. They are correct about losing that kind of dominance.

Because our contemporary culture warriors are so angry, and feel that their backs are already to the wall at home, they are quickest to declare that we are in fact at war with Islam. Ignoring them or pretending that they are part of some fringe minority strikes me as a poor idea. It’s also a claim that probably does not make a great deal of sense to most Muslims around the world.

Even those Muslims who are relatively secular in terms of personal practice, proudly proclaim the Muslim nature of their nations. So it might be more helpful for the President to explain to the world how we are, in certain respects, a Christian nation, not simply declare that we are not. This would address both the ongoing debate at home and stake a powerful claim for a redefinition of what it means to be a Christian nation, while teaching a powerful lesson to the rest of the world.

The president had the opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to acknowledging the religion of the majority of our citizens without slipping into the kind of cultural/religious hegemony so common in much of the Muslim world and sometimes right here in America. I don’t know if that makes a Christian nation or not. But I am certain that it’s a perspective which needs to be nurtured in all places, and it would be good to see President Obama make use of every opportunity to do so.

Brad Hirschfield
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  • WmarkW

    American is not a Christian nation, because our Christianness and nationhood are maintained as separate entities. A few Muslim majority nations have done the same thing — Turkey, Lebanon and Kosovo. Most have not; so unsubstantiated claims of faith are the supreme law of their land. Most of the Islamic world is what Judaism would be like, if the books of Leviticus and Joshua were taken literally as the most important in its canon.

  • kjohnson3

    “The President’s over-simplification of the situation cost him a valuable opportunity to address the real struggles we do face with any people that attempts to use religion to dominate those who do not share their beliefs.”Ironically, this is what is going on in Israel, as well. The ultra-conservative ruling coalition — essentially the most ultra of the ultra rabbis — have gained so much power that they literally legislate the daily lives of all Israelis. They decide who is really Jewish and who is not. They refuse marriage licenses to those not Jewish “enough.” They make sweeping decisions determined by their interpretation of religious law, and all Israelis are subject to these “legal” decisions.This is what happens when a country — any country — becomes more identified with a particular religious perspective than with the norms and values of its actual society. Yes, it’s happened in many predominantly Muslim countries; it’s certainly happened in Israel; but so far it hasn’t happened in the U.S. Yet.The Bush years have brought us perilously close to blindly adopting and following the strictures imposed by fundamentalist Christian churches and their adherents, but we now have an opportunity to reclaim our country from those who would impose their own narrow values on our everyday lives.If we work for change, if we start paying attention to our beliefs and challenging our assumptions, there may be hope for us yet.

  • Civilius

    Many people make statements in an effort to win an arguement with the little to no evidence to serious back their beliefs. You did the same thing, when you made a statement about “the theological roots of our nation’s founding”. Where’s your evidence?

  • alltheroadrunnin

    Mostly, I like Rabbi Brad, most of his worldview, and most of his responder’s opinions, too. What everyone avoids is one thing — there is no Christian religion, as a religion founded on the teachings of the historical Jesus the Christ.No, since the 4th century, AD, “Chistianity” is the amalgamation and conflation of all ideas Pagan and Jewish, with a little Animism thrown in. (I wonder why we write “Jewish,” and not Paganish or Christianish)? The teachings of Jesus, Peter and Paul, are nowhwere to be found — except maybe in a “cult,” here and there.(I believe most of the founders of the USA were somewhat aware of this fact, which is why they wrote up the Constitution, as it appears).All our “Chrsitan” problems stem from the fact of the obfuscations of “Christian” origin — the origins of its avowed virtues, ethics, and justice.If the USA is anything, it is a nation founded upon the virtues of Greco-Roman Paganism, and Jewish ethics and justice — a pretty darned good way, if you ask me.If this is ever recognized, we’d be better able to handle the problems we face, as a united people. (I was raised “Christian,” and had to figure this out, by myself).