President Barack Obama is a man who possesses knowledge in abundance and common sense in spades. While I rarely agree with his political machinations, I will concede that his commercial savvy and ability to capitalize on the obsession that many people have with him has been pure strategic poetry -- the man is brilliant. I believe when history tells the tale, the scope of his presidency will not merely be measured by his successes and failures, but by the gnawing need that America had to define who he was as a man, and what exactly he stood for, which for many, still remains a mystery.
When he bravely examined the opposing racial lenses through which his grandmother and Rev. Jeremiah Wright viewed the world, he inadvertently sparked controversy and divisiveness across the color spectrum. Depending on whom you ask, he's either a secret believer in Black Liberation Theology (which, by the way, would be a more admirable and historically aware stance to take than urging Black America to stop 'complainin' and cryin'), or an elite, Ivy-League bi-racial opportunist, trained on the streets of Chicago in pulling at the heart strings of impoverished communities in search of a leader.
Bank boy-toy, distant and pretentious are all insults that have been hurled at President Obama, and the veracity of those claims has proven to be a variable contingent upon the polarizing political maelstroms in which the president often finds himself ensnared. Though both his character and his motives have been intensely dissected when such instances occur, one constant remains, albeit, battered and bruised, but still standing: Black America's love affair with Barack H. Obama. He stands aloofly at the dangerous intersection of politics and idolatry, directing traffic with the skill of a seasoned cross-guard. For many U.S citizens of African descent, it is the instinctive belief that only God, through his son Jesus, has been our divine traveling companion from rancid slave quarters to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and the slightest indication that Obama shares that belief is all that's needed to ensure a loyalty that withstands broken campaign promises. It is understandable, then, even expected, that the question flitting with ease through liberal, secular circles is only fearfully whispered in a Black community largely rooted in traditional Christian values:
Is President Barack Obama atheist?
Initially intriguing me in 2008 -- then buried beneath my disappointment in the unexpected, imperialistic leanings of the Obama Administration's foreign policies -- this question resurfaced from my subconscious while reading the detailed article that was featured on Huffington Post's Black Voices Sunday Special last week. The structured planning that goes into the Obama family attending church services was examined and the feel-good memories of lucky congregants who were granted the opportunity to worship in his presence was on full display.
Then, ironically, over the Thanksgiving holiday, which as comedian John Stewart joked, is the occasion when we celebrate "a bunch of pagans teaching religious zealots how to farm, so if we should thank anyone..." President Obama sent shock-waves through the country, specifically FOX News, by not mentioning God in the YouTube version of his Thanksgiving address. Flustered conservatives were squawking louder than the turkeys pardoned by the White House. Priest Jonathan Morris even went so far as to lambast President Obama for counting he and his family as "lucky," not "blessed." Enraged, right-wing columnist, Ben Shapiro, tweeted: "Unreal that Obama doesn't mention God in Thanksgiving message. Militant atheist. To whom does he think we are giving thanks?"
I watched in stunned amazement as President Obama was viciously criticized for his predictably, politically correct Thanksgiving message. It wasn't as if he actually acknowledged the murdering and pillaging of Native Americans that took place on the original Turkey Day; nor, did he reflect on anything less superficial than "good food" and "football." Understanding the painstaking care he must have taken when considering how best to address a nation that waits with baited breath for him to breach his impenetrable wall of impartiality, I patiently waited for the majority of Black Americans to swiftly clamor around him to deflect the blatant character assassination attempts by FOX News. Surprisingly, what did I hear instead?
First, let me be clear: Atheism is not an insult in my book, nor do I believe God can be defined, nor confined, by Christianity. The question of one being Christian vs. one recognizing a universal higher power are distinct, mutually exclusive ideals that, potentially, have no impact on the other --- regardless of what many social conservatives would have us believe. Africans, quiet as it's kept, have a rich spiritual history that was cunningly -- and forcibly -- suppressed by missionaries. As Desmond Tutu famously said: "When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land."
African-Americans have evolved into the most devout Christian segment of American society; yet, we are the most economically fractured and unhealthy. We face higher infant and maternal mortality rates, we are profiled and executed without due process; yet, we continue to "worship" the most, indoctrinating our children as faithfully as our ancestors were indoctrinated before us. Our most ethnic-specific media venues, BET being the most flagrant offender, turn into paid advertisements disguised as protestant sermons as soon as the clock strikes midnight on Sunday, ignoring the salient fact that not all of their Black viewership is Christian, nor do we all give a Hail Mary about Peter Popoff Ministries.
Ironically, Monday through Saturday, we focus our undivided attention on the intensive care level symptoms that ravage our communities and what all the United States government is not doing to heal our ills.Why many African-Americans judge their government by a higher standard than "their God," finding the former to be inadequate and the latter beyond reproach, is a mystery that is well above my pay-grade to solve.
Yes, I have a laundry list of pointed questions concerning prayer, the broader institution of religion and it's impact, or lack thereof, on Black America; so, my speculation that the president may be either atheist or agnostic should not be misconstrued as slander. It is a curiosity born of the hope that he is capable of the critical thinking skills sorely lacking in most politicians.
In one of the most intelligent explorations into the fallacy, hypocrisy and infeasibility contained within portions of the Bible, a little known speech given by a young Obama at turns ridicules the Good Book (see: Leviticus) and refers to religion as a hindrance to Democracy. He makes it clear that America is not a Christian nation, and that if it ever was, "it's not anymore." He quips that if Abraham (see: Genesis) had attempted to slash his son Isaac's throat in modern society, at the very least, "child protective services would be called." He convincingly makes the point that faith has no place in politics, because we do not share common spiritual eyesight, we can only share common laws.
In a political zeitgeist that finds the vast majority of African-Americans socially conservative and fiscally liberal, it is my assertion that the love President Obama experiences from the Black community at-large would be severely compromised if it were ever determined that he is atheist or agnostic. His melanin enriched support has consistently fluctuated based on how "traditionally" Black his belief system is perceived to be, and if the nuanced and irreverent speech above is any indication, he has been forced to suppress views deemed contradictory to that cultural mold -- all for the sake of political capital.
Yes it is true that Black Americans are not a monolith; it is equally true, as it has been since the turbulent days of colonization and slavery, that the voice clearly representative of "Black America" remains resoundingly Christian. Though there are many diverse philosophies and religions that pre-date the institution of Christianity, the vast majority of Black Americans continue to believe that it is the singular path to God, through his son, Jesus, and that anyone who dares not have faith in that absolute truth (though empirical truth and abstract faith are also mutually exclusive ideals) is "God-less."
So, truth or dare, evangelical, African-American Obama supporters: Aren't conservative politics and dogmatic adherence to religious doctrine sharp reflections of each other? How deeply does your faith inform your politics?
More importantly, would you support President Barack Obama if he were atheist?