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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. Brixzz

    I truly think that the numbers is not telling us the truth. An overwhelming majority of republicans know that the president is a Christian as the rest of the world. They know that had be been muslin, that would he been plenty enough to derail his campaign and cost him the election. Same goes for his birthplace. It's not his religion...it's his race... and we all know it.
    White Americans (conservative republicans) cannot come right out and say their true objection to the president is his skin color, so, as through all of American history, religion is used as the vehicle to purvey their prejudices. Religion is used as a deflection from the real reasons. Ignorance, prejudice, intolerance and greed are the foundations of these "so-called" beliefs about the Obama's religion. And when most responded that they believe he is muslin... they lied. The underlying message is he is not white and we will keep piling lies and misrepresentations about him until we can poison more minds to erode support for him... Whatever we do, let us NOT show our patriotism and stand behind out leader!! We would rather to fall Divided!

    July 27, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Travis

      I partly agree with you. Obama's race is an unspoken issue among conservatives as to why they oppose him, but I think that's only part of the larger issue (albeit a big part).

      The fact is that Obama is such a radical departure from virtually any president we've ever had. He's younger, he's more cosmopolitan, he's intelligent, he's spent a significant amount of time living overseas, his religious faith is complicated at best, and his U.S. citizenship, while proven, has been questioned. And yes, he's black.

      While there have been other presidents who may have fit one or two of these qualifications, none have really changed the status quo so much as Obama. I believe the reason for this is because, in 2008, the American people were so disappointed with George W. Bush that they wanted someone who was completely different from him in every way, and not just politically. But Obama's election was TOO much change for some, a step too far away from their comfort zone. Individually, they may be able to deal with it, but angry people in large groups have never been a good thing for the establishment.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Dale

      Obama may not be Muslim, but is parents were. He says he is not, but he sat for 20 years under Rev. Wright. That is not something to brag about. Having a religious and moral compus is very important to have in a president. Let's not throw the race card into every discussion. If he is a good or a bad president, let's judge him on his record, and not on his color (MLK would agree).

      July 27, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Xdoc

      You almost had me there Dave. A president must have a moral compass, yes, religious compass, NO! Delusions should not be part of a president. Sadly, in the state of affairs in the world, religion is common.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  2. Oy vey

    The question is: Why does their faith matter and why is faith intertwined with politics? Our foundIng fathers are probably rolling in their graves as they were not 'religious' people, not to mention, most were not even Christians!

    Please, get religion and faith OUT OF POLITICS. There is a reason the founding fathers did. Take a look at the current political landscape; it's not hard to see why religion was kept out of it in the 'old days'.

    Faith is a personal thing, and fankly, my faith is none or your business, yours is not my business and theirs is none of our business.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  3. Very good points

    in this article. I've been wondering about these same things, and I think that if our different faiths can't come together on common ground, is will spell our certain demise. ( I've always wanted to say that...'spell our certain demise')

    July 27, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  4. Tim

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

    July 27, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • .

      Well, sniff sniff, I think you area moron!

      July 27, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  5. Rainer Braendlein

    We should not waste our time to discuss about the faith of Obama and Romney. There political behaviour shows us their actual intentions.Their fruits will show us their characters.

    Both Obama and Romney prove that today rulers have lost close contact to their people.

    Both Obama and Romney have certain political aims like reduction of unemployment, stabilisation of economy, health care, etc..

    Yet, I would like to know how many Americans could identify themselves with Obama or Romney. I guess they will elect the lesser of two "evils".

    I guess most Americans would like a president who reflects the American values or is the personification of the American way of life.

    Here, I think, freedom and righteousness play an important role.

    I am not sure, if Obama or Romney still represent the values righteousness and freedom. I guess that they are more inclined to adore capitalism and materialism. Of course, it is good when a ruler promotes the economy, but that should not be his only concern. Life is more than food and cloths (+shelter), yet Jesus said.

    A happy country needs a happy leader, in whom the people can reflect themselves or it least what they would like to be. A virtuous leader helps the ordinary people to live a life of virtue. It should be common agreement that virtue has the primacy before profit.

    The primacy of economical success makes us unhappy longterms. Why? If we make success and idol, we will surely commit injustices (not necessarily crimes). Maybe a boss forces his employees to work 16 hours per day. Can such a man be happy? Or banks sell houses to people of whom they know that they will never be able to pay the whole price. As they exaggerated this game, the prices for houses plummet and the money of forced sale doesn't cover the debts of the people. Hence, they lose their house and have still debts. What an idiocy.

    Anyway, there is a problem that the today rulers put pressure on the youth to aspire for the most high professions like scientist, engineer and the like. But don't we need taylors, carpenters, gardeners, bakers, etc. too?

    If people of a country would simply learn many professions, low and modest and high, all demands of the people of a country could be satisfied and there would be nearly no unemployment. You could get every service and good for a reasonable price. Of course, there are many people which pofit from a ballooned educational system. But a good ruler must have the courage to change things.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  6. darkstar

    Why do we even care about which imaginary sky daddy that they choose to worship?

    July 27, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • John

      It is scary that the POTUS would have an imaginary friend at all.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • MarkinFL

      I keep hoping that he really is pretending for political purposes. This is one time I hope the right-wing nuts are right.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • dan

      morals my friend morals

      July 27, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Xdoc

      If morals is what the Bible teaches you then I understand why there are nuts in the world. The moral fiber of the Bible is disgustingly low.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  7. Travis

    What's ironic is that for the percentage of the American population that believes Obama is a Muslim, they also believe that his spiritual adviser is Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Rev. Wright may be a controversial pastor (and there's some pretty good evidence that he's anti-white people, anti-Semitic, and anti-American), but he's still a Christian by definition. One cannot be a member of one faith and claim that a person of a completely different faith is their religious leader...it makes no sense. But some in this country are just so vehemently opposed to Obama that they're willing to believe just about any slander they hear about him.

    And the truth is, even if he were a Muslim, or even if he were still a member of Rev. Wright's congregation, does that really make him a bad person? Does that really make him unqualified to be the President? Conversely, does Mitt Romney's Mormon faith really have to count against him in the upcoming election? Evidently, for 67% of the American voting population, it does.

    I realize that faith, religion, and spirituality will always play a role in the lives of a great number of us, and there's nothing wrong with that. A personal relationship with God, whatever form it may take, is a great source of strength and comfort for many. Nevertheless, this country is too big and too diverse to seriously expect that everyone walks the same path regarding spirituality, and it's completely reasonable to understand how and why our nation's President or Presidential candidates would not necessarily share our religious views, but still be capable of being great leaders.

    Of course, the fact that this all makes perfect sense is probably the very reason that you hyper-religious fundamentalists disagree with every word I just typed.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Chiniquy

      Reverend Wright is not Anti-"white" people, anti-semitic or anti-American. Stop repeating lies.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Travis

      Chiniquy, I didn't say that I believe those things about Rev. Wright. I said that he was controversial, and that the people who DO believe those things about him can point to some pretty solid evidence to back up their claim. Maybe he's a decent guy, maybe not...I've never met him. But when the guy preaches "God Damn America" and publicly claims that Obama is controlled by Zionists, it's understandable why people can believe those things about him.

      July 28, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  8. Montello

    I personally don't give a darn what religion (or not) they are. What I really hate are those who wear it on their arm like some sort of badge of honor, and damn everyone who doesn't believe as they do. Religion should be a private matter and should NEVER enter into politics.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Travis

      Never gonna happen...I agree with you 100%, but it's still never gonna happen.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • John

      That is how it is in Canada and Europe.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • ObamaJoe

      And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  9. ObamaJoe

    Have fun ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,and have a great day,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    Enjoy the opening ceremony at London,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    July 27, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  10. meh

    I want a pair of magic underwear and my own planet when i die. Jeez, I cant even type that jokingly and not be creeped out by it.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • ObamaJoe

      If you do want,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,you will get that,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      But do you really want ???????????

      July 27, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • meh

      I was thinking about the version that granted me all those virgins but that would turn out to be Sandusky-touched boys all watching star trek and that would just suck.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • .

      No! I want my own cloud ..... And a harp to play for ever, and ever, and ever.......... And ever............and ever.......

      July 27, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Xdoc

      What sounds even sillier is that after you die, if you say you're sorry and really mean it, you'll be in some paradise land and have happiness for eternity under this imaginary friend that you spoke you you're whole life.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • the voice of reason

      i was wondering why no one has mentioned the magic undies yet;-)

      July 27, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  11. glorydays

    I don't find religion "confusing". I agree with this:
    Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.
    Lucius Annaeus Seneca

    July 27, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • ObamaJoe

      Sounds good to me,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      July 27, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  12. Hypatia

    When Faux News stopped their comment pages, the whole horde descended here to bleat and squall like the sad little teabags they are. What are they going to do next? Put folks who don't agree with their tinhat ideas in the crosshairs? Yeah, that's about their speed.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • fsjunkie

      Yeah, let's all talk about Chick-Fil-A and the religion of our President and his empty suit opponent instead of how Romney is getting thrashed by the British media for being "more dense and unqualified than Sarah Palin." If you don't believe it, try Google...you apparently won't get it here.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • glorydays

      Yes, the level of comments has dropped to a a new low. CNN will end up suspending their comment, too.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • fsjunkie

      In all fairness, I need to correct my text in quotes. This is what they actually said:

      officials were even more scathing in their verdicts, describing Mr Romney's second day in London as a 'total car crash' and saying he was 'worse than Sarah Palin'.

      Another official who met with the former Governor of Massachusetts said he was 'apparently devoid of charm, warmth, humour or sincerity'.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  13. reality check

    We need a President with faith in science, evolution, and sustainability.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • John

      Topics like science and evolution have no need for faith.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Xdoc

      Yea, you're mixing apples and oranges there, science is not about faith, is about proven facts verified through experimentation and observation.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  14. MrsBoomer

    I'm not at all confused about their religion. Obama is Christian, Romney is Mormon. Those who want to believe Obama is Muslim, just want to justify, any way possible, the fact that they dislike him because he is black. Ignorant bigots can make themselves believe anything.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Zeppelin

      It's not because he's black, it's because they are dumb.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • the voice of reason

      He's not black, he's mixed. Mom was white....vote for the white half!

      July 27, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  15. Bishop Hairy Palms

    Why are Americans confused about the faith of Obama and Romney?

    Because Republicans have been lying about Obama's faith and Romney simply won't talk about his because it's too nutty.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Zeppelin

      To be fair, pretty much every religion is as kooky as Mormonism. Mormonism just isn't as mainstream as most of the rest of the mythologies.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  16. truthfulgiant

    People are not "confused" over the religion of the two candidates. They are, however, bigoted and ignorant. People reject obvious answers that they don't like. Remember the birth certificate nonsense? People still don't believe that the president was born here, even with proof.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  17. tk

    "OBAMA IS NOT A MUSLIM"

    Well, I see no evidence that he is a Christian either.......just saying he is and going to church 4 times a year doesn't make it so.

    Selling out your own pastor when the heat was turned up, misquoting the Bible, looking down on the "bitter clingers" and supporting things that the Bible clearly says is sin.......these make me think he is not a Christian.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • Zeppelin

      Your comments make me think you're an ignorant blowhard that takes a story from the Middle Ages a little too seriously.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Lulu

      I agree TK and for many, many years Obama attended & listened to the ranting and raving of Jeremiah Wright. When it became politically unfavorable, Obama denounced that minister and his teachings. His radical sermons were fine with Mr. Obama until the media got wind of it! In my opinion, Mr & Mrs. Obama do not exhibit characteristics of being Christians. Don't forget that he quote was "For the first time, I am proud to be an American".

      July 27, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • cedar rapids

      "Don't forget that he quote was "For the first time, I am proud to be an American"."

      except he didnt say any such thing, so you are now bearing false witness. i hope you are not a hypocrit christian moaning about how others arent christian.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • the voice of reason

      Correct....Obama did not say that. But his wife did. Look it up.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      "Correct....Obama did not say that. But his wife did. Look it up."

      and again, she didn not say that either. She spoke about proud of her country, not proud to be an american.

      July 27, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  18. jeff

    This is a non-issue, who cares what religion they are. Atheists are fine too.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  19. Your Religion Might Be Bullshіt If...

    Informative and funny video.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z4iaUFSkME

    July 27, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • rblock7

      Religion fails in the light of the rational mind.....Great video

      July 27, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  20. Fwoodz

    Wow!-The author Stephen Prothero has his proof that Americans really are ignorant of religion including their own.
    Just read these ridiculous comments

    July 27, 2012 at 11:00 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.