OFF THE GRID

Pray for Me, Barack Obama

Apr 13, 09 | 8:04 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Barack Obama is looking for a church, but what’s his religion?

Through the campaign, he was dogged by the rumor that he’s secretly a Muslim, a sleeper-believer in the West. His purported bow to the Saudi King on his recent trip, categorically denied by the White House, got the conspiracists going again (the more the conspiracists fulminate, the more his virtue and reasonableness seem evident). The “dip,” or perhaps the canny appearance of a dip, did, however, certainly win him (and the US) points in the Arab world.

Of course, then there was the first Seder in the White House, in which the president no doubt would have liked to be the one asking the four questions. (It’s rather amazing no previous president has thought of a White House Seder—especially with Passover becoming such a sought-after invitation among non-Jews.)

Before he went to Chicago, there was his period of non-belief, which he writes about in his memoir. He was, when it came to religion, a normally dismissive Ivy League Man.

But soon enough he shows up in Chicago and joins Trinity United Church of Christ. A great deal of analysis has been spent on his conversion to churchgoing-ness and God-fearing-ness—with most commentators seeming to go out of their way not to call it opportunism. (God, of course, takes them however he can get them.)


(AP Image)

And then there are the Catholics. One of the remarkable things about the Obama campaign was how well he did among Catholic voters. John Kerry, a Catholic (though not a believable one), did not become president in part because the Catholics turned up their nose at him. Even with hard-core Catholic agitating against the president, he still maintains significant Catholic approval.

And then there’s Rick Warren, that born-again self-promoter, who Obama selected to give the invocation at the inauguration.

Now, there’s the choice of a church in Washington for the Obamas. To be ungenerous, this seems a little like the search for a dog. It certainly is as wide-ranging. The Times reports that Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, and Congregationalist congregations are all under consideration, as though the different Protestant denominations were just different brands.

Whatever his religion is, it’s working. As much as JFK defused one historical epoch of religious bigotry, Obama is defusing another. In JFK’s affect, he was saddled with his religion—not his fault and everybody else, equally saddled, understood. Similarly, the Obama effect is if you’ve got to embrace it, embrace it all, which makes it all less relevant. (If Obama has Rev. Jeremiah Wright, we all have our religious nuts to put up with.)

Newsweek’s cover essay this week is about the notion of a post-Christian America. That is, there’s a significant decrease in the number of Americans who claim to be Christian. They are, in the parlance, unaffiliated.

Religion-lite—a neighborly, feel-good, what-ever-works-for-you liturgy—is the new American religion (and, ideally, I suppose, what religion is supposed to be). It’s Barack Obama as Bing Crosby as Father O'Malley.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com



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