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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. Chiniquy

    The Republicans and the Romney team are hoping that racial hatred against the President will be enough to win the election. Former Mormon Bishop Mitt Romney knows most of the grass root Republicans don't care that he belongs to a group that claims they are superior to all Christians on earth. They just want to see President Obama voted out and replaced. Even if that person is a member of a secretive cult that claims to be the "only true Christians."

    July 27, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  2. NickZadick

    I for one am amazed that the leader of the most powerful country in the world believes in ancient fairy tales about a magic fairy man in the sky... no matter what organised religion they choose...it's still bronze age myths!!

    July 27, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  3. Mohamiss Shafik-Kaddir

    Believe me , Obama is a Muslim . He is just pretending to be a Christian so you Infidels believe what he tells you ( what we tell him to tell you ) . He is a faithful member of the American Muslim Brotherhood , and we have opperatives in his administration influencing domestic , law enforcment , military and foreign policy . Our Indonesian Brother is our best opperative we have ever had , vote for him this November , abd the Muslim Brotherhood thanks you for your support .

    July 27, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • GIgi

      Dude-you must be smoking some powerful stuff. Delusional thinking is sad, you need help.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • NickZadick

      I personaly think he is an atheist...he just pretends to believe in your horse-shît myths because he wouldn't of been elected if he said the truth... you are a bunch of brainless sheep!!

      July 27, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Chiniquy

      Stop pretending to be a Muslim. Your comment sounds like the ones made by people called Yahoodies.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • adam

      I think you are way beyond the effect of smoking. I think you are on big stuff.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Patricio

      The most idiotic of all comments I've read this week. I fully NOT support B Obama but comments like yours are what make people of other countries truly believe that americas are stupid, uninformed, AND opinionated.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Slimmons

      Zack is right

      July 27, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Slimmons

      NickZadick*

      July 27, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Postal

      Wow...the inability of people to recognize sarcasm in this forum astounds me (sarcasm off)

      July 27, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Atheists are immaterial and insignificant

      @NickZadick

      Yes, you are absolutely right! Atheists must have to lie and deny oneself to be counted.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  4. Chiniquy

    G-D is the Creator of all things, and HE alone has the power to determine the fate of all things.
    HIS are the keys [to the mysteries] of the heavens and the earth: and they who are bent on denying the truth of G-D’s messages – it is they, they, who are the losers!
    Say: “Is it, then, something other than G-D that you bid me to worship, O you who are unaware [of right and wrong]?”
    And yet, it has already been revealed to you [O mankind,] as well as to those who lived before you, that if you ever ascribe divine powers to anything (or anyone) but G-D, all your works shall most certainly have been in vain: for [in the life to come] you shall most certainly be among the lost.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  5. Article6

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

    So what, Stephen "the know nothing" Prothero?

    July 27, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  6. Bishop Hairy Palms

    Republicans have been lying about Obama's religion and Romney refuses to talk about his because it's so nutty.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Xdoc

      So are all the religions, especially Christianity.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Pure ignorance&lies

      This links reveal what the original poster has posted.

      http://www.thestraightway.org/

      http://lettingfreedomring.com/2012/06/26/obama-said-i-am-a-muslim-egyptian-foreign-minister-ahmed-aboul-gheit/

      And...

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/07/21/romney-strikes-rare-notes-of-faith-in-aurora-speech/

      July 27, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  7. Gary

    The greatest Ha Ha That' s not what the numbers show He is the greatest in spending money not keeping his word.

    "I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank.

    (CBS News) The National Debt has now increased more during President Obama's three years and two months in office than it did during 8 years of the George W. Bush presidency.

    The Debt rose $4.899 trillion during the two terms of the Bush presidency. It has now gone up $4.939 trillion since President Obama took office.

    And Bush sucked outloud

    July 27, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • cedar rapids

      and romney has said the first thing he will do, on his first day, is repeal Obamacare.
      You reckon hes going to do that do you?

      July 27, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  8. LWJR

    Obama is a GREEN-LIBERAL Religionist. Romney is a wealthy Mormon. First time in history we don't have a Christian to vote for.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Peter

      Wasn't Obama a member of the Trinity BAPTIST Church for 20 years?

      Or did you forget all the firestorm about that?

      By the way, Ronald Reagan rarely attended church as President. Any comments on that?

      July 27, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Slimmons

      lol, this fool still thinks obama is a muslim haha. Learn to read. You have a christian to vote for. And actually you have two christians to vote for since mormons are christians. Sure narrow minded people can say all they want that they aren't christian, but by definition they are. Define christian, look up mormons beliefs, face/palm. Please respond that they aren't, because you saying they aren't, and other mainstream christian religions saying they aren't doesn't mean they really aren't. I believe that George Bush is actually a goat sent here by satan, hiding in the skin of a man......I said it, does it make it true? Should we sacrifice him to my god?

      July 27, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  9. aaron

    Call him what you want, but his support for the Muslim brotherhood and his hatred toward Israel are as plain as the nose on his face. Calling it like I see it. We have a Muslim President...

    July 27, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • JJ

      And call like it is, WHO CARES?

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

      Who cares about Israel, why is our support of a one sided relationship a prerequisite for a pres?

      July 27, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • GIgi

      Why are you trolling CNN? Wouldn't you prefer Fox News? Do you have a full set of teeth?

      July 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Madtown

      troll.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      hatred towards israel huh? care to provide some examples of this 'hatred'?

      July 27, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  10. Manuel

    well written, but why do people care what religion they belong to, I sincerely think it should matter how well qualified they are to be president and not what religious beliefs they have. What if they have no affiliation to any "religion", would that make them a bad presidential candidate ?,,,,

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

      Whoa, a president with no religion? Now that's a thought, too bad they'll burn em at the stake here. Let's make a proposition even more insane to the religious zealots, "a president who doesn't believe in a GOD"? Uh, oh, he'll be shot the first day in office.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Postal

      People care because politicians and media use it as talking points and attack points to influence and manipulate the voters. To scare or intimidate people with regards to the "other guy" and how "his belief system" may hurt the people. Or to justify decisions and policy they make by giving it a rationalization based on "common beliefs" or supposed "common beliefs" that tie to religion. First step in convincing someone to join you or support you is to build a relationship of trust. What better foundation than to have a "common belief system" through religion, or to have or reinforce (or even invent) a common prejudice regarding someone else's religion to generate distrust towards that opponent?

      July 27, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  11. L Rivera

    The confused ones are those two. Well, at least Romney knows he's a Mormon, Obama appears to be deluded in believing he's a Christian. Of course, that could be from the teleprompter forward.

    Here's the deal: Mormons are not Christians, (just like Islamics are not Christians, even though Jesus shows up in the pages of the Koran). And Obama is just an agnostic whose god is his belly and convenience.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • RHope

      If you are a Christian, I'm ashamed.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Patricio

      Mormons are not Christians? Where did you get that from? For the sake of giving people the benefit of the doubt I'll ask if you mean Mormons are not of the Presbiterian, Protestant, etc. faith, but being Christian is to believe in the divinity of Jesus and to believe that he is the Son of God.

      Any christians agree?

      July 27, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Postal

      So glad you are the expert in religions and can define what "category" different religions fall into based on personal belief and perspective, just like a politician.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Slimmons

      L Rivera is right, I guess mormons aren't christians....I just looked up the definition of a christian, and then the mormon beliefs, and they do match exactly.....but......I also looked up L Rivera, and as it turns out, he is allowed to change definitions based on personal belief.....turns out we're all wrong, and so is logic.....damn......so many periods, and idiots

      July 27, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  12. Carol

    I personnally was brought up as a Roman Catholic and at 64 I am still confused over my religion ... so who really cares what religion they are. It's one of our freedoms and not something we should be considering when we vote for a a president.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Slimmons

      You sound smart. You shouldn't be posting here, this isn't the place for that. Please include a racial comment or ignorance in future comments.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • RKM

      @Slimmons awesome comment. You win the internet.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  13. bxgrrl

    It's not like this information isn't readily available, assuming you don't rely on media sources that are deliberately misleading, like Fox News.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  14. Rainer Braendlein

    Faith and virtue are connected, that is a natural law. Let us seek for virtue concerning Obama and Romney, and it will give us information on their "faith".

    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 11:35 am |
    • Phillip

      Obama's viewpoints and support for the Muslim Brotherhood, lack of support for Israel paint a man who has no religious background, which seemingly "swings" to public knowledge when he needs the votes/support.. a very thin skinned religious person who basically focuses all of his energy on worshiping on himself... What do you call it when the President disregards the definition of radical islamic muslims... wolf in sheep clothing...The bigger issue at hand is the economy, job creation, national debt, and maintaining a good middle class... all of which over the last 4 years has been failing.. This issue on religion is nonsense and is only intended to distract from the real crisis at-hand. His job record is practically taboo to discuss.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @Phillip

      Well said. Today politicans (though their method is very old) want us to focus on minor matters, in order to prevent us from regarding what really matters.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  15. Your Religion Might Be Bullshіt If...

    Learn the truth about Mormomism and other world religions.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z4iaUFSkME

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

      This is what happens when you let rednecks try to critique religion. Considering how intellectualy stimulating this video is, I am going to assume you only like it because it allows you to blindly judge others, thus allowing you to feel more comfortable about yourself.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • John

      Great video!

      July 27, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Bishop Hairy Palms

      Awesome!

      July 27, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • adam

      Offensive, but in a way its true. all believe in G-d and killing in the name G-d

      July 27, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  16. Lisa Gottlieb

    And to learn more about the beliefs of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), go to mormon.org.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  17. Smeagel4T

    I'm not confused. Just follow their actions. President Obama is a Christian, and Mitt Romney worships Mammon. It's clearly demonstrated in their actions. What's the confusion?

    July 27, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  18. ObamaJoe

    =============When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men..=================

    Now we pray on TV show 🙂

    July 27, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  19. MarkinFL

    Its all about politics and at least partially race.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  20. Really?

    I am a member of St. John's Episcopal Church in DC and I have personally witnessed President Obama and his family worship and I have seen the President take Holy Communion. The President & Mrs. Obama also support our church financially. He was a long time member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. President Obama is clearly a Christian and has said repeatedly that he is a Christian. How can the majority of Americans be so ignorant??

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

      Really wrote: "I am a member of St. John's Episcopal Church in DC and I have personally witnessed President Obama and his family worship and I have seen the President take Holy Communion. The President & Mrs. Obama also support our church financially. He was a long time member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. President Obama is clearly a Christian and has said repeatedly that he is a Christian. How can the majority of Americans be so ignorant??"

      Because we live in an era where many people believe virtually anything that appears on some fool's blog, is posted on the internet, or is said by some ridiculous politico-entertainer on talk radio.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • L Rivera

      Going to a McDonald's doesn't make you a hamburguer. Obama has more than denied his "Christianity" almost every time when the chips are down.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Peter

      L. Rivera wrote: "Going to a McDonald's doesn't make you a hamburguer. Obama has more than denied his "Christianity" almost every time when the chips are down."

      He has? Where? Who said that? Where did you read that? What talk show clown uttered those words?

      If you can't spell "hamburger" I guess I can't expect you to have any intelligence when it comes to possessing a "BS detector".

      July 27, 2012 at 11:51 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.