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My Take: Obama is not a Muslim (and Romney is a Mormon)!
There are a lot of misconceptions about the religious faiths of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, according to a new Pew survey.
July 27th, 2012
02:00 AM ET

My Take: Obama is not a Muslim (and Romney is a Mormon)!

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Before I comment on a new survey on religion and the presidency, I want to say one thing: Barack Obama is not a Muslim. The U.S. president does not observe the Five Pillars of Islam. He does not worship in a mosque. He does not call himself a Muslim.

Why not? BECAUSE HE IS NOT A MUSLIM!

Also, Mitt Romney is not a Hindu. He does not believe in reincarnation. He does not worship the Hindu god Shiva. He does not self-identify as a Hindu. Why not? BECAUSE HE IS NOT A HINDU!

I say this, and I do so in capital letters with exclamation points, because of a survey released Thursday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life regarding voter perceptions of the religious beliefs of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

The people at Pew wanted to see how the candidates' religions are affecting voters’ views of them. But it is hard to hold Romney’s Mormonism either for or against him if you don’t even know he is a Mormon. And according to Pew, only 60% of Americans do know that.

Meanwhile, one out of every six Americans (17%) continues to believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim, and of that group, two out of three (65%) are uncomfortable with his faith. Though, of course, they are not actually uncomfortable with his faith, because, as I have said: Barack Obama is not a Muslim.

If this is starting to sound like a rant, perhaps that's because it is. For years, I have been lamenting the religious ignorance of the American public. In my book "Religious Literacy," I argued that the United States is one of the most religious countries on Earth, and yet Americans know very little about their own religions and even less about the religions of others.

According to the 2010 U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, another Pew project, most Americans cannot name the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And while 82% can identify Mother Teresa as a Catholic, only 47% know that the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist.

You might imagine that this problem is going away, but it is actually getting worse. Despite the fact that Obama has talked repeatedly about his Christian faith in the years since he was elected president, most Americans (51%) do not even know that he is a Christian.

Moreover, 30% of Republicans now believe that Obama is Muslim, roughly double the figure from the 2008 campaign.

None of this would matter if religion remained private, something presidents and senators did on the weekends in their places of worship and at the supper table throughout the week. But religion is now an undeniably public concern.

Republicans and Democrats alike routinely bring religious reasons to bear on public policy questions, quoting the Good Samaritan story in debates on immigration policy and the Sermon on the Mount in conversations about marginal tax rates. And the overwhelming majority of Americans — 67%, according to Pew — continue to want their president to have strong religious beliefs.

When he was running for president in 1960, Jack Kennedy told the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic.”

That sort of argument no longer washes in a public square saturated with religion. For better or for worse, Mitt Romney isn’t just the Republican candidate for president. He is also the Mormon candidate. Or is he? If a Mormon runs for president and you vote for him without knowing that he is a Mormon, did you just vote for a Mormon president?

I used to believe that our epidemic of religious illiteracy was rooted in large part in a system of public education unwilling and unprepared to teach our young people about the Bible and the world’s religions. I now see that much of the problem can be attributed to our partisan politics, more particularly the politicization of virtually every corner of our common life, including the facts.

According to today’s Pew survey, 34% of conservative Republicans are now laboring under the misapprehension that Obama is a Muslim. This figure is up sharply from only 16% in 2008.

Where are they getting this disinformation? Obviously from people who have something to gain by it. And there is plenty to be gained by it. According to Pew, 82% of Americans who know Obama is a Christian are comfortable with his faith, versus only 26 percent of those who wrongly see him as a Muslim.

I see nothing wrong with a public square informed by religious reasons. From the beginning of our republic, religion and politics have been in conversation with one another. Church and state have never been strictly separated.

But there is something deeply troubling about the state of religion and politics in America today. And among those troubles is the cynical manipulation of religion for political gain - the use of God as a pawn in our political projects.

One solution to this problem is religious literacy. If "we the people" know more about the Bible, politicians will be less likely to quote from it haphazardly or to draw bogus conclusions from its words.

The same goes for Mormonism or Islam or Hinduism. If we know more about these religious traditions, there will be fewer opportunities for politicians to use disinformation about them to draw us toward one candidate or scare us away from another.

I have no problem with voters who care about the religious faith of their presidential candidates. But if religion is so darn important to our public life, can't we at least make a modest effort to learn something about it?

If so, let's start with these two indisputable facts: Mitt Romney is a Mormon. And Barack Obama is not a Muslim.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Islam • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Obama • Politics • Polls • Uncategorized • United States

soundoff (831 Responses)
  1. jon

    Is this footage real? Obama seen praying the Islamic Prayers!
    check this footage here http://youtu.be/Pxbk9qlblfs

    June 24, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
  2. michael philipps

    A stupid piece! What is the point? Get a life and write something useful!

    October 27, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  3. Rex

    What few understand is that Gov. Romney was Born to be President.

    As I'm sure you know, he is not merely George Romney's son, he is the Great-Great Grandson of Parley Pratt. Parley, of course, was Joseph Smith's closest confidant until his untimely death in May of 1857 at the hand of the estranged husband of his then mistress, Eleanor McClean.

    Of course, the fact that Parley's death was used by Brigham Young to order the bloody Sept. 11, 1857 Mountain Meadow's Massacre of 120+ Christians from Missouri and Arkansas and the kidnapping of some 24 Christian children of the murdered, isn't lost by the Romney family.

    I've been told the Romney's have been penitent ever since donating to LDS causes whenever they can.

    Odd that the Govenor is so quiet about his family history.....almost like he's hiding it.

    October 27, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • Mittology

      Not to mention the tax returns that presumably contain some damning information. My bet would be illegal offshore accounts like UBS pre-amnesty.

      October 27, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  4. tuvia

    B"H

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU&w=640&h=390]

    LET MY PEOPLE GO SENETOR HILLIARY CLINTON AND hussein OBAMA. LET JONATHAN POLLARD GO NOW
    LET MY PEOPLE GO
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyBZhTaf1oU&w=640&h=390]

    !!!!

    September 5, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      JONATHAN POLLARD should remain a guest of the United States. What he stole:

      "The information that Jonathan provided to Israel included Iranian, Iraqi, Libyan and Syrian nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities – all being developed for use against Israel. He also provided information on ballistic missile development by these countries and information on up-coming terrorist attacks planned against Israeli civilian targets. "

      Israel felt entitled to this information, but was not entitled to steal it. Spies and thieves should be punished regardless of whether they were sent by a friend or sent by an enemy. Keeping Pollard in permanent custody will send a message to our friends and especially to our enemies that we will not tolerate spies and thieves.

      It's hard to know what Pollard stole and who he passed it to. He's a favorite son of Israel now, but Israel may not have been his only client. Something worth reading from Wikipedia (see the associated references):

      Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigator Ronald olive has alleged that Pollard passed classified information to South africa,[21] and attempted, through a third party, to sell classified information to Pakistan on multiple occasions.[22] Pollard also stole classified documents related to China on behalf of his wife, who used the information to advance her personal business interests and kept them around the house, where they were discovered by investigating authorities when Pollard's espionage activity came to light.[23][24][25]

      See the references at
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Pollard

      September 5, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  5. James Allen

    Would anybody be interested in hearing an axiomatic disproof of the mormon faith? It brings to light the tangled hierarchy in their doctrine and shows what their beliefs actually mean using only the logical quantifiers of propositional calculus, that either (Mormonism is FALSE or Women are DAMNED). This is not subjective, and based only on tenets of belief as published by the L.D.S. church but is very simple and straightforward. I have questioned Mormon members and leaders up to the highest levels on this and found only closed eyes and ears.

    August 20, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Austin

      My simple question to you is this: have you ever read the Book of Mormon, cover to cover, pondered its teachings, and then asked God to know if it is true? You could spend your whole life trying to disprove our faith and I promise you, it won't make you the least bit happier. There is a very simple way to know if it is true. I have inquired of God for the truth, and it has brought true happiness and lasting peace in my life. Mock me if you will, but that cannot change the truth.

      August 21, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • Austin

      By the way, your statement that "Mormonism is FALSE or Women are DAMNED" is utterly ridiculous. That has never been a tenant in our teachings. We don't teach that in Church. We don't teach that in our Temples. The Bookf of Mormon makes no reference to that and neither does the Bible, unless, of course, you grossly misinterpret it. Our missionaries don't teach that. Once again, there are many people who choose to misunderstand and misrepresent us. We believe that men and women are equal. It's that simple.

      August 21, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Fifi

      Austin,
      " We believe that men and women are equal."

      How many female "Presidents", "Prophets", Members of the Quorum, Priests, or Bishops, Elders etc. do you have?

      August 21, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  6. Stonehaven1979

    This article made me think of a Mormon YouTube video I recently watched (I am a member of the Mormon faith).

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JjwhVAPXtc&w=640&h=390]

    It depicts the coming forth of the English translation of the Bible and what a treasure it is for all to have such easy access to scriptural guidance for our lives.

    Stephen in his blog talks about the problem of religious literacy. I think we would do well as a people to take a deeper look at the religions of the world and look for the good that they have to offer. I think we would find that we are all more alike than it may first appear.

    I also believe that for many of us who look to the teachings of Christ for spiritual guidance that we would do well to find more time in our crazy lives to read and ponder His words (myself included). The times in my life when I have been more faithful in scripture study I have found that I am more at peace with myself and those around me, I seem to find more joy in the simple pleasures of life, and life's challenges don't seem so unsurmountable.

    Anyway … I hope you enjoy the YouTube video.

    August 14, 2012 at 2:54 am |
  7. Lilly

    "Religion literally scares me. I bet half these people posting think dinosaurs and man walked the earth together 4000 years ago and denies evolution. Who allows these people to vote?"

    Of course man walked with dinosaurs! I saw it in a movie once so it must be true. Movies are based on real life concepts. Also if so many people know about things in movies then they have to be true too! Just gotta have faith that they actually lived in the same time period. It's a test to see if you believe.
    If you doubt the vampiric zombie pirates will get you...

    >.<

    August 13, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  8. Rick

    Religion has caused more ignorance, pain and suffering than anything else. "My god is better than your god"...."No he's not"...."Yes he is"...."Well my god said we should kill you and make you suffer because we're better".....a bunch of ignorant two year olds.

    August 12, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  9. Mildred Gillers

    "The masses
    is asses."

    ---Ogden Nash

    August 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  10. T-Max73

    "Why Don't We Know Their Religion?" I'll tell you why; because THEY don't even know their religions! What chance do we have?

    August 2, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.