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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. Casey

    Here in Canada no one but a very small number of conservatives care at all what religion anyone here is. It just doesn't matter and has no basis on how well you can govern. It is your policies and party that matter here. What you believe should be left out of any of this. Some days I think the US is no more tolerant then some religious regimes in the Middle East and Asia, and that is very sad.

    August 2, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  2. Sam

    We should really be appalled that religion is even thought of as relevant (for most things, but especially the presidency). Yes, it's true that there are a lot of people of various religions in the US (predominantly Christian, obviously), but we must also remember that it's 2012 and it's probably about time that we reconsidered how sane it is "believe" such things. This was great stuff one or two thousand years ago, but hardly necessary or sensible today. I really look forward to a candidate running on the "atheist" ticket (soon). Last year, I went to Europe and saw something truly refreshing: the bottom had largely fallen out of religious activity/belief (this likely happened long before I showed up, but it sure was nice to see). We are in the "new world", isn't it about time we caught up with the Old Continent?

    August 1, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • Arvoasitis

      You're actually referring to "organized religion," which, as Jacob Needleman expressed it, tends to degenerate into "systems of rigid belief and oppressive moral fantasies." God, or evolution, has reserved a section of the human brain (indeed, the brains of mammals) for religion: therefore, everyone is subject to religious emotions.

      August 2, 2012 at 7:47 am |
  3. Mika Coy

    . . . plays three (3) cards, yet does not hounour the god(s) of his fathers........a raiser of taxes who gains ascendency thru flattery

    August 1, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  4. Mohammed_Islam

    Dear Isaiah_Christian and M,

    You can say whatever you want to... Al Quran teaches that God created human in different nationality, ethnicity, language so that one can interact with other and then HE gave free will to every single one of the human... and every one of us will be held accountable for the using of this 'free will'.... if HE wanted to make every single human to believe in HIM alone without any association with HIM, HE could have... then where is the test? then there is no need of hell and heavens, no need of good and evil... every one will be a good one... but because of free will we have human doing wrong things to others in terms of preaching them to take them away from worshipping one God and so on... and also no will be accountable for others... its like you are on your own on that day and no counselor/helper... the only helper will be your good deeds that you have done in this earthly life...

    O our Lord, have mercy on us on that day as we all are sinner...

    Anyways, I hope you have read following verse where John wrote:

    John 14:26
    Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
    26 But the Counselor, the Ruach HaKodesh, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything; that is, he will remind you of everything I have said to you.

    And so it is mentioned in the quran:

    And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, "O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad." But when he came to them with clear evidences, they said, "This is obvious magic." Al Quran 61: 6

    Also if you would like to know what Jesus will be asked by his Creator on that day:

    Al Quran 5:17 And [beware the Day] when Allah will say, "O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, 'Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah ?'" He will say, "Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right. If I had said it, You would have known it. You know what is within myself, and I do not know what is within Yourself. Indeed, it is You who is Knower of the unseen.
    Al Quran 5:18 I said not to them except what You commanded me – to worship Allah , my Lord and your Lord. And I was a witness over them as long as I was among them; but when You took me up, You were the Observer over them, and You are, over all things, Witness.
    Al Quran 5:19 If You should punish them – indeed they are Your servants; but if You forgive them – indeed it is You who is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.

    Now decision/choice is yours dear brothers and sisters in humanity...

    Peace!!!

    August 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  5. John

    Judge a man by what he does and not by what he says. A man can shout all over the world, broadcast it live on TV and on the radio that he is not a Muslim but then celebrates a Muslim holiday in his home, give perks to Muslims, antagonize Christians, cowtow to Muslims in the Middle East, etc. only displays what his religious conviction is!

    August 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  6. the_dude

    Ofailure is a muslim

    August 1, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  7. Evian Bidet

    I will not vote for Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon.

    August 1, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • ErikN

      Why? What do you really know about the Mormon Church.

      August 1, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Sergio Roa

      Because he is Mormon ? , your reason is equal that : I will not vote him because he is black, Muslim, or whateaver.....

      August 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • JRS

      What a STUPID reason NOT to vote someone! You show your bigotry! So un-American!

      August 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  8. PAUL

    I STILL ASK IF IT REALLY MATTERS!!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmhJiZaB4b8

    August 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  9. edmundburkeson

    If you want to know the will of God take a poll. Find out what the culture is saying. Tomorrow the will of God will change so if you really want to be a saint you must have a running sample in realtime. Continuity is the transformational spirit of the Prothero religion. He is a morphing guide. What he says in this article he will not be able to back up tomorrow until he takes another poll. So don't get to cozy with what he says today. Tomorrow Obama may in fact be Muslim without even changing his beliefs. And tomorrow Romney may be Muslim too. Let's wait and see! And maybe by this method we will never see at all.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  10. Nathan

    Good article! How I wish the American people weren't so proudly ignorant. I don't know how people can be so oblivious to things so obvious. The republicans at least have the excuse of having a good number of nut cases who consume misinformation like its the best thing in the world. But, what's everyone else's excuse? How can so many be so ignorant of topics that are practically shouted from the rooftops every day in the US?

    August 1, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  11. Rick

    Mormon missionaries won't tell you their true beliefs. Here are just a few to ponder; they believe in a pre-existence where, as spirit children, they made choices of right and wrong. They believe that this is what influences everything in your life. The color of your skin, the country you live in, your wealth, and health. These are all decided in the pre-exitence. Joseph Smith taught that the darker your skin is the more sinful you were. He taught that when a black person converts to Mormonism and becomes a "true follower", then that person skin will turn "white and delightsome". Haven't seen that happen yet, have you?

    Mormons also believe that they can become Gods. Joseph Smith taught that you must have plural wives in order to make it to the highest level of heaven and become a God. Even though they say they are against poligamy, many of the higher officials still marry more than one woman and call them "spirit wives".

    They believe in talking with the dead, and in fact look forward to these "meetings" because they seem them as blessings from God. Many of the presidency of the church talked of dead presidents and dignitaries coming to visit them in the temple.

    Wild stuff huh? That's just the beginning.

    August 1, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • Penny

      Rick, not true. Your information on Mormon Missionaries (I was one once) is false. We gladly state we believe in a pre-existence. We answer any questions anyone presents, and we will gladly direct you to our true beliefs. Your characterization is incorrect. We do not preach nor say that everything we have in this life is based on our choices in that pre-existence. We do believe in a spirit world, where the spirits of those who die, go, because our souls live even after death. Communication with that world is a personal and spiritual matter. The leaders of our church do not secretly marry many wives, nor publicly. It is not a requirement to get to the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom. I refer all readers to lds.org and mormon.org to begin the search as to our true beliefs. Please stop spreading lies about Mormons. I love my religion, I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ and strive daily to not only read from His word, but to follow it.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Jon

      SOOOO NOT true RICKY RICK, penny put it best "I refer all readers to lds.org and mormon.org to begin the search as to our true beliefs." i will not vote for mitt because he is a LDS or for Obama and his beliefs ether. we need to vote based on who will run this coutry in the right direction. I work in the health industry and becasue of Obama care things are not so easy for older folks. if you want to change the health care you need to start all over, pharma companies are pulling the shots and super pacs make Obamas decisions. the people have little control anymore. i liked ron paul for his spirit and honesty. we need to vote for someone that is honest. don't vote for Obama just cause you dont believe in Mitts religion, vote for who they are, not based on your religous ignorance. If i can say one thing is that Jesus taught us to love one another, if we do that then this world would be a better place. who cares if your neighbor believes in the boogy man or the tooth fairy. yes i believe in Christ as our older brother and friend, and i believe there is life after death. why are we the dominant species on this earth.
      why do we exsist? where do we go when we die? these and many questions all of us at one point ask. is there a god and do i have a place in heaven if it exsist? "church and state"we are the people, our founders of this nation believed in God. This is the America and if we think that God has no part in this world than go tell him that. When the time comes and someone needs your help will you turn your head because of their beliefs dont match yours or the color of their skin. God created us in his image, he is our father. even if you dont believe in a higher power or God. you know deep inside there is a difference between Good and evil, right and wrong, just and unjust. we are here on this earth to learn and progress in a positive manner towards somthing i cant explain to you unless you find out for yourself. i will never push my beliefs on anyone i will only try and help someone that stands in need of comfort. Oh and this post is not directed to anyone just letting out some words stuck in my head. PS being a missionary was the one of the best choices i made, i learned soo much and was able to meet so many people of all faiths. it comes down to one thing love for you fellow beings. choose the right choices so that your childern can see that there is still good in this world. “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.” ,“love the life you live.
      live the life you love.”
      ― Bob Marley

      August 1, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Nancy

      So I am a Mormon, since when did you become an expert on what I believe. Interesting how you can be such an expert on the beliefs of someone you have never met before. You should try to get your backs straight before you start spouting off what other people believe. And BTW, yes indeed we do believe in a pre existence, and so did the prophets who wrote the Bible. Try learning a little bit before you try showing off your ignorance. You are a good example of the people this article was talking about ignorant Americans who know nothing about other people's religion and yet act as though you know everything.

      August 1, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  12. CViper

    "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." Wrong. Here is the solution to ALL of it. Religion HAS NO PLACE in this, or any other race. It should not even be discussed because no matter what Americans may believe, much of the world knows that religion is at best, irrelevant when it comes to solving our national problems. At worst, it become a tool of oppression.
    "From the beginning of our republic, religion and politics have been in conversation with one another. Church and state have never been strictly separated." That is true. But we are supposed to be evolving. Religion has no place in our national dialogue when it comes to national issues and it should be considered vulgar and irrelevant to make religion, or a candidates religion an issue when anyone is running for public office.

    August 1, 2012 at 7:29 am |
  13. keith a dewey

    two things: why is Romney a Mormon and Obama is not a muslim? How about two positives: Obama is a Christian. Second: you really let the hate politics off the hook. The reason people don't know (more now) Obama is a Christian is all the hate propaganda from the REPUBLICANS. It is more than just a political bent.

    August 1, 2012 at 4:25 am |
    • Penny

      Sorry. I don't believe Obama is a Christian because he embraces tyranny, not something Christ taught. Also, Christ didn't teach for the government to take care of the poor...he taught each of us individually to do it, as he did. He didn't turn to any organization to heal, feed, or nurture. The government takes away my choice (not what Christ taught) to give my money (which God so graciously provides me!) to whomever I choose. Our freedom of choice, and our freedom to show God what we will do with is what we are here for.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  14. pachy

    You state:

    "most Americans cannot name the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John"

    This is not important.

    What is important is that so many people believe this mythical garbage –

    written at least 40-50 years after the alleged events
    by men whose longevity far exceeded the lifespan of the time
    are internally inconsistent
    translated so many times as to lose all accuracy

    and used to justify the worst discrimination and persecutions in history

    August 1, 2012 at 2:02 am |
  15. Allen

    Wanna know what Romneys religiion is like? Invite mormon missionaries over. We have 50, 000 plus guys all over the world beggin people to let them tell you about Romneys religion. I'd say Obama's religion would be a matter of interviewing reverend Wright but he threw him under the bus so while I've read about Wright's opinions, not all of which I agree with, It's hard to tell what Obama's are, unless of course Biden opens his big mouth about it. But we know he'll try to prevent anyone knowing his opinions on many subjects until his beyond caring in his second term.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:49 am |
  16. victorincalifornia

    a recent study said stephen is a hack by an overwhelming 67% and his views on christians were a little insulting, we look forward to his unbiased veiws on the peaceful religion of islam, counting the days stephen, if nothing soon I say your a chicken S***, if you do I stand corrected

    August 1, 2012 at 1:35 am |
  17. victorincalifornia

    obamas not a muslim and romneys a mormon, ok stephen, your point is obamas a black theologian christian and romneys a mormon.................so ?. atheists know more about christianity ? what study was that ? I did a study and found non muslims know more about their theocracy than muslims do, unbeleivable I know but its in black and white now so must be true, your a freaking hack

    August 1, 2012 at 1:27 am |
  18. L Rivera

    How can we know Obama's religion? He's evolving from "God knows what" to "who knows"!

    August 1, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  19. veggiedude

    It is true. A study found that atheists know more about religion than do religious people.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • L Rivera

      And do they know the Author better too?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  20. Bill Fitzgerald

    Another article trying to dig at Romney. Lousy try. And Obama sat at the feet of an America Hater Rev. Wright but you do not mention that in your article do you. This country is being ruined by obama but do your write that? How could anyone give the community organizer another minute in the White House? Hey new slogan, Not One More Minute!

    July 31, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • LizT

      Wow – don't know how you got that out of this article. Did you even read it?

      Btw – "ruining this country" is quite an opinion. We survived 8 yrs of Pres. Bush, you'll survive 8 yrs of Pres. Obama.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • rickinmo

      Bill–Did you wake up this morning and think, "I'm going to write something really stupid today," or were you just born with poor judgement. I've heard a lot of stupid things coming from the GOP and their supporters. Obama is ruining the country. Obama is a Muslim. Obama was not born in the U.S. Obama is a socialist. After eight years of borrowing and spending by GW Bush, you have a lot of guts blaming Obama for the demise of this country. Lies to get us into a war with Iraq that wasn't paid for. Tax cuts that were not paid for. Prescription drug program-not paid for. We're still picking up the tab for the poor leadership of Bush. If you want another eight years of Bush policies–Vote Romney. You must be delusional.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • veggiedude

      Exactly how has Obama ruined this country? Do you mean 'Obamacare'? The Affordable Healthcare Act ("ObamaCare") is essentially a conservative approach originated by the Heritage Foundation in 1989, enacted into law in Massachusetts by Gov Mitt Romney in 2006 and praised as a good conservative idea by Tea Party favorite Jim DeMint in 2007. The Republicans originated the idea of the insurance mandate. President Obama adopted that idea as a compromise measure. 

      August 1, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Allen

      We've just had four more years of bush policies, the first stimulus was a bush policy signed onto by our bypasser in chief, the others folowed up on bush policies, the bush tax cuts are still in place. The only thing this guys done that's different is shut down Guantanamo, oh wait nope. Well he brought all the troops home right away, ohhh..nope. Well He didn't run us up to a record debt and lose us our AAA credit rating, ummmm....well I guess he did. I admit he did sign on to ACA so we could have health care just as good as Canada and Great Brittain, wheeeeeee! Yeah another sixth of our economy in the hands of the highly efficient and thrifty government, try talking to a vet about the VA sometime (our current shining example of government run healthcare). or ask a Canadian iwhy there are more MRI machines in NYC than there are in their ENTIRE NATION . Yeah, he's done a lot to us. NOBAMA 2012

      August 1, 2012 at 1:43 am |
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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.