Aug 26, 2010

Faith and Works

A recent Pew Research Center report shows that 18 percent of Americans incorrectly believe that President Obama is Muslim; this is up from 12 percent in 2008. Some credit this to Obama’s overtures to the Middle East, his upbringing to Malaysia and the lingering debates about his birth place. I guess we’re all entitled to our own conspiracy theories no matter how ludicrous they may seem to others, but it does raise a larger question – does a President’s faith or lack of faith really matter?

I’m sure many of us would answer in the affirmative – it does matter! But why does it matter, and how do we hold leaders accountable, if so?

In teachings of Christ we are told to look to the interests of others and not only ourselves, to use our talents to bring glory to God and not ourselves, and a whole host of other things. George Bush II constantly professed his Christian faith; the religious right cheered this and urged him to pursue policies in line with Christian values. So, when hundreds of lives were lost and thousands thrown into destitution when his government failed to adequately respond to Hurricane Katrina did he conveniently forget the teachings he claims to live by? Or did it not even factor in his indecision to act? Dare I even ask about the two wars and the human toll incurred?

Zambia’s infamous second president is a professed born-again Christian, and declared the country to be a Christian nation. Fast forward a few years and we find Chiluba’s legacy mired by corruption and misdeeds by him and other government officials. How does that embody the teachings of Christianity? We were so eager to cheer his stance as a Christian but can we show that his faith made him a better leader? Is that even something we would want to discuss openly given his chequered past? Perhaps we would have been better off with an agnostic with no professed faith but with better management skills and a higher set of ethics.  

We don’t seem to make much noise when our leaders who profess strong religious beliefs ignore the hungry, the homeless, the abused or the hungry but when issues such as abortion, capital punishment, and gay rights crop up, we don our cloaks of self righteousness and demand of our leaders to do the same. Little wonder we have politicians pandering to religious leaders and courting religious conservatives.

So, does it really matter if Obama really is a Christian? Most people won’t care as long as he doesn’t mess with a woman’s right to choose, a person’s right to bear arms, or a person’s right to worship Paul the Octopus. Or does seeing pictures of him attending church every Sunday trump bad policy?

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