Saturday, October 2, 2010

Faith and Politics

I discovered this tidbit of news on the Internet today and assume it happened: When Michelle Obama visited Spain this past August, she visited a community of Salesians in Ronda. There she said that her husband "always carries a picture of Mary Help of Christians in his wallet" and that the family is devoted to her.

This intrigues me not because Obama might be a crypo-Catholic but that, for personal reasons, he has not made much of his Christian faith. Only when asked in recent weeks has he indicated his beliefs. No wonder some people believe he shares his Muslim father's religious heritage.

The Obama team has been reluctant to publicize what then candidate Obama wrote in his autobiography: that he attended two schools in Indonesia, one of them a Catholic school, St. Francis of Assisi, led by a Dutch priest. Maybe this was the source of the religious picture he carries. Only later, in Chicago, did he join a Christian church and receive baptism.

This reluctance to go public with the president's religious beliefs would be understandable in ordinary times, given the problems that mixing faith and politics have historically caused. But these are not ordinary times: millions of Americans want to believe either than the president is not a native-born American, and thus illegitimate, or that he, with that exotic African name, is a Muslim, not "one of us." In other words, they hate the man and his policies and will defy reason to justify their feelings.

Somtimes these right-wing smears anger or sadden me since they smack of the kind of bigotry once levelled against Catholics in this country; sometimes these smears have to be taken with a patient smile of tolerance because of the misinformation or willful ignorance they reflect.

The White House could do more to make Barack Obama's colorful background clearer.

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