On Christmas eve, Politico published a terrible bit of journalism, Oh Come All Ye Faithful? Its contents are summed up in its subtitle, “Obama rarely seen in church, but advisers say his beliefs remain strong.” A lot of people seem to be hung up on the article because there is an implicit criticism. But I think it is offensive on a whole different and more general level. But it is something of a criticism.
In particular, the article provides a bit of quantification of the religiosity of president. For example, it noted, “In all, Obama has gone to services on about 6 percent of the Sundays of his presidency and just once on Christmas Day, in 2011, which also happened to be a Sunday. George W Bush, by contrast, went to church on close to 30 percent of Sundays during his eight years in office.” One could — in fact, should — counter this by noting that there was nothing especially Christian about Bush. He was a big Tim Tebow (Matthew 6:5) kind of guy in the way he constantly broke with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:
But this is the definitional American religious disease. It is one of the reasons I have so low an opinion of religion faith in this country. It seems so much about posing. Christians are fond of talking about their “personal” relationship with Christ, but it always strikes me that this personal relationship is awfully public. And nothing is more public than politicians who constantly talk about their faith. I am convinced that such acts not only speak to the hollowness of their faith in God but also in their faith of the belief of those listening.
A great comparison has always been between Carter and Reagan. Carter is a man who takes his religion very seriously. As a result, he did not talk about it very much. Reagan was a prototypical cultural Christian: for him, religion was a cultural signifier and little else. But he — and not Carter — was the man who made ostentatious religious displays critically important in American politics. It shows the shallowness of American Christianity that the vast majority of Christians think this is a good thing.
But that gets to the heart of what is so offensive about the Politico article. What it is really concerned with is pacifying the nation. “Don’t worry America!” it says. “Obama is a true believer who uses the Iron Age writing of our holy book in solving our Space Age problems!” It greatly disturbs me that Obama can only be trusted to make the right decisions if he’s getting those daily devotionals on his BlackBerry. And for reassurance, Politico asks people like Joel Hunter, “a Florida megachurch pastor.” He is one of “Obama’s two closest religious advisers.” I don’t think that any association with a megachurch would qualify one as a great theological thinker. His other “adviser” is a Pentecostal minister. For those who don’t know, Pentecostals are very much part of the “born again” movement. Think: Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.
You don’t need intelligence. You don’t need skills. You don’t need empathy. All you need is a good, very public, relationship with an Iron Age myth. That’s what makes a great president. Just ask Politico.