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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. TruthHurts

    Why are there articles on this? We all know the President is a Muslim and Romney is a Scientologist. Give it a rest!

    July 27, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  2. OLE

    Obama is not a muslim, he loves pork and eats a lot of it everyday. Devout or mild muslims know it, pork is a litmus test. Even if he was a closet muslim and wanted to hide his faith, he could have simply just avoided pork saying that it is not healthy or I just do not care for it. However, he loves eating it and eats it all the time which means that he is definitely not a muslim.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Xdoc

      You know that the Bible also says, just like the Koran and the Torah, that pork is an "unclean" animal and should not be consumed right?

      July 27, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  3. Seth

    "From the beginning of our republic, religion and politics have been in conversation with one another. Church and state have never been strictly separated."

    Like religion, this is not actually true, no matter how much you want it to be.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Mark

      I think he must be referring to the republic of Iran. They have a great record of a republic influenced by religion.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Serpent Handler

      While this may be true there have never been any legal binding agreements between the two except the first amendment... there has always been influiences .. but that was only jut influience not policy.... 🙂

      July 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  4. Jill

    Rainer Brandlein,

    Don't obfuscate the primary prenuptials with rasberries. Often, the pertinent cat presents fabled necessities in the parking chamfer. Realize your net precedent. Triangulate! Save the best for the alligators. Ever the bastille notches the orchestra but Wendy is not green and horses will capitulate. Filter out the log from the turnstile and cry prevalently.

    So there brown stare. Feed your inner walnut and resolve. Subject your lemon to the ingenious door in the presence of snow and animals. Aisle 7 is for the monetary cheese whiz. Faced with the kitchen, you may wish to prolong the sailboat in the cliff. Otherwise, rabbits may descend on your left nostril. Think about how you can stripe the sea.

    Regale the storm to those who (6) would thump the parrot with the armband. Corner the market on vestiges of the apparent closure but seek not the evidential circumstance. Therein you can find indignant mountains of pigs and apples. Descend eloquently as you debate the ceiling of your warning fulcrum. Vacate the corncob profusely and and don’t dote on the pancreas.

    Next up, control your wood. Have at the cat with your watch on the fore. Aft! Smarties (12)! Rome wasn’t kevetched in an autumn nightie. (42) See yourself for the turntable on the escalator. Really peruse the garage spider definitely again again with brown. Now we have an apparent congestion, so be it here. Just a moment is not a pod of beef for the ink well nor can it be (4) said that Karen was there in the millpond.

    Garbage out just like the candle in the kitty so. Go, go, go until the vacuum meets the upward vacation. Sell the yellow. Then trim the bus before the ten cheese please Louise. Segregate from the koan and stew the ship vigorously.

    And remember, never pass up an opportunity to watch an elephant paint Mozart.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Jerry

      Get help, Jill.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • John

      Ooh! I love madlibs.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • bpip

      jill,
      if u quote harry potter ... u gotta cite it too... pshhh amateur

      July 27, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  5. mac101

    The only issue I have with candidates are those like George Bush the Younger, who stuck his religious beliefs into everyone's face and made disastrous decisions (like supreme court judge nominations and a 'holy' war against Iraq) based solely on religion. I have no doubt that if he could have, he would have decreed that abortion be illegal, creationism taught in the schools, and the lord's prayer recited every morning in every school in the country, all based on HIS religious beliefs.

    While I have political differences of opinion with both Obama and Romney, neither strikes me as a man who will drag his radical religious beliefs into the presidency because neither man brags about his radical religious beliefs. So it doesn't matter to me if either man identifies as christian, mormon, hindu, buddhist, wiccan or any other belief system, or doesn't, as long as he can keep them private, separate, and out of the executive branch.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • hez316

      If your faith doesn't impact the rest of your life (including decision making), its not much of a faith.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • patrick

      Excellent. These candidates are not saying that God speaks to them personally. Amen to that.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  6. Jerry

    Instead of all the diversion on the candidates religion, let's have some articles about how unchecked illegal immigration has devistated communities along our southern border. Let's have some articles on how college grant money has dwindled for American citizens because illegals can now get those grants. Let's have some articles on what actually happened to the money from Obama's last jobs stimulus package.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Jerry

      If you are seeking to find those, you'll need to first, go to Political Blogs... and then look for only blogs that are one-sided about President Obama.

      I'm guessing you will find all you are looking for on Fox News.

      Peace...

      July 27, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  7. Bishop Hairy Palms

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtX_R-V5Cws

    July 27, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  8. REG in AZ

    I suspect that there are some who grab onto the claim that Obama is a Muslim (and the "birthing" argument and so on) as a cop-out because they don't want to declare they are really just racially biased. That is a shame because it is both ignorant and likely a significant disservice to their own best interests – blocking their ability to rationally and objectively evaluate all issues.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • patrick

      Yes, It is hiding predudice toward a race with predudice toward a religion, as if that we any better.

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

      Maybe the media should focus on the real issues instead of the religion of the candidates we might actually get some info to use for making an intelligent decision in the voting booth.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • JC Christian

      I totally agree with Reg (below), and I would add that many grab on because of political bias. They identify with one team (party), and don't want to hear the other arguments, even if they might be right. It's like me, I'm a Braves fan for no reason except that I grew up around braves fans near Atlanta.

      REG in AZ
      I suspect that there are some who grab onto the claim that Obama is a Muslim (and the "birthing" argument and so on) as a cop-out because they don't want to declare they are really just racially biased. That is a shame because it is both ignorant and likely a significant disservice to their own best interests – blocking their ability to rationally and objectively evaluate all issues.

      July 28, 2012 at 12:07 am |
  9. Pam

    Am I the only one who saw a part of an interview with Obama on TV, where he states "my Muslim faith?" The interviewer then states, "You mean your Christian faith, don't you?" with Obama stating, "Oh yea, I mean my Christian faith."

    July 27, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Saray

      No, you're not the only one and it is called selective memory.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • plaster city

      If that's true, it just shows me that religion is not that important to him. And that is a big plus for me!

      July 27, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • REG in AZ

      Pam, you are creating propaganda and that is very distasteful besides being dishonest. Shame on you.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Jill

      Pam, don't obfuscate the primary prenuptials with rasberries. Often, the pertinent cat presents fabled necessities in the parking chamfer. Realize your net precedent. Triangulate! Save the best for the alligators. Ever the bastille notches the orchestra but Wendy is not green and horses will capitulate. Filter out the log from the turnstile and cry prevalently.

      So there brown stare. Feed your inner walnut and resolve. Subject your lemon to the ingenious door in the presence of snow and animals. Aisle 7 is for the monetary cheese whiz. Faced with the kitchen, you may wish to prolong the sailboat in the cliff. Otherwise, rabbits may descend on your left nostril. Think about how you can stripe the sea.

      Regale the storm to those who (6) would thump the parrot with the armband. Corner the market on vestiges of the apparent closure but seek not the evidential circumstance. Therein you can find indignant mountains of pigs and apples. Descend eloquently as you debate the ceiling of your warning fulcrum. Vacate the corncob profusely and and don’t dote on the pancreas.

      Next up, control your wood. Have at the cat with your watch on the fore. Aft! Smarties (12)! Rome wasn’t kevetched in an autumn nightie. (42) See yourself for the turntable on the escalator. Really peruse the garage spider definitely again again with brown. Now we have an apparent congestion, so be it here. Just a moment is not a pod of beef for the ink well nor can it be (4) said that Karen was there in the millpond.

      Garbage out just like the candle in the kitty so. Go, go, go until the vacuum meets the upward vacation. Sell the yellow. Then trim the bus before the ten cheese please Louise. Segregate from the koan and stew the ship vigorously.

      And remember, never pass up an opportunity to watch an elephant paint Mozart.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Jesus Christ Superstar

      Yeah, and I'm sure it wasn't edited, you know, like all those other speeches on Foxnews by "obama" where he is "speaking" and it is "not edited"

      July 27, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Saray

      No, it wasn't edited. It was a liberal interviewer.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • plaster city

      Pam,
      What are you trying to say, that he is a muslim because he had a slip of the tongue? Spell it out.

      I just told you that I think if he made a slip like that it is because he doesn't care much about religion at all.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • me

      Pam, I saw that, too. While, I don't think it means he is Muslim it does make some wonder which one he is - if either.

      July 27, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  10. militarymike

    I agree with you. I too believe Romney is a Moron.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  11. Auntiegrav

    Good article. The comments support your points perfectly. In this democracy (not representative republic), it is one dollar = one vote. The money votes for controversy and discontent and instability because that is more profitable (stupidity sells).
    People do stuff. They have reasons for doing stuff. In that order. Since we have spent the last 100 years or so destroying the planet, all kinds of nuts are coming up with 'reasons' to justify their behaviors as the conflict between Intentionality and Somnambulance turns in favor of Somnambulance.

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

    There are Christians in Kenya???

    July 27, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Ryan B

      Actually the vast majority( over 83%) of Kenyans are Christian, with most Muslims(11.2%) located primarily on the coast

      July 27, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • JC Christian

      Soul Harvest Ministries is out of Kenya.

      July 28, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  13. cedar rapids

    "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?"

    Its not 'disinformation', its simply that they refuse to believe him when he says he is christian, which is a whole other issue than 'disinformation'. Christ could come down and tell them Obama is a christian and they would still refuse to believe it.
    Its not that they dont know, they just dont accept it.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Saray

      It's because he did not acknowledge the National Day of Prayer as past presidents have and let's not forget, in 2006, (when he was still a senator) he publicly quoted "we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation". In addition, (as someone else has already mentioned here) he also made the statement 'my Muslim faith' until the interviewer corrected him.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      "It's because he did not acknowledge the National Day of Prayer as past presidents have"

      The only president to officially acknowledge the day of prayer every year was bush jnr. Reagon hosted 1, and Bush senior hosted 1. That was it. Obama also came out in favour of the day of prayer when it was ruled illegal by a court.

      "and let's not forget, in 2006, (when he was still a senator) he publicly quoted "we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation".

      correct, the US is not a christian nation, it is a secular one. Which he then went on to explain by saying the US is made up of different faiths.

      "In addition, (as someone else has already mentioned here) he also made the statement 'my Muslim faith' until the interviewer corrected him."

      Yeah, im not going to worry about an obvious mispeak seeing as they were talking about Islam at the time.

      July 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  14. patrick

    Stephan – please note that the Pew forum rates atheists as being religiously literate even though they are not believers.
    Do you cover this in your book? I think it is because they(we) have no personal investment in any single faith that they just try to stay informed about people's faiths so as not to offend or appear ignorant. Also, I think most religious ritual seems pecular to the atheist and I think there is a tendency for something to stick out in your mind if you can't imagine why some one would believe something improbable without evidence.

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

    Does Romney wear his secret Mormon underwear? That is NOT a joke. Mormans wear special underwear as part of their belief system.

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

      I'm pretty sure most people still wear underwear regardless of their belief system....what's your point?

      July 27, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Dawn in Canada

      Because Mormon underwear is special underwear, with purportedly magical properties.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  16. Chiniquy

    Say: "Come, let me convey unto you what G-D has [really] forbidden to you: "Do not ascribe divinity, in any way, to anything (or anyone) beside HIM; and [do not offend against but, rather,] do good unto your parents; and do not kill your children (born or unborn)for fear of poverty – [for] it is WE who shall provide sustenance for you as well as for them; and do not commit any shameful deeds, be they open or secret; and do not take any human being's life-[the life] which G-D has declared to be sacred -otherwise than in [the pursuit of] justice: this has HE enjoined upon you so that you might use your reason; and do not touch the substance of an orphan – except to improve it-before he comes of age." And [in all your dealings] give full measure and weight, with equity: [however,] WE do not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear; and when you voice an opinion; be just, even though it be [against] one near relative. And [always] observe your bond with G-D: this has HE enjoined upon you, so that you might keep it in mind.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  17. Osama

    Is calling someone a muslim an insult now? Geez USA, when will you guys grow up?

    July 27, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Osama

      Yep... unfortunately, apparently so.

      Peace...

      July 27, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  18. DivideByZero

    Why do we have to vote on A or B? I'm voting for candidate C

    July 27, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Xdoc

      Ron Paul 2012!!! Woo...

      July 27, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  19. tom

    Who really cares. If someone is a Mormon, a Jew, a Catholic, or simply doesn't declare any religion. The fate of the United State of America is about the policies they bring to the table to fix what is wrong with our economic instability. Their faith what ever it is, isn't going to be what fixes what's wrong with America and our economy. Remember, I forefathers came here to get away from religion prosecution. If we make this about faith aren't we doing the prosecution?

    July 27, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • cmbarton

      Amen!

      July 27, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Saray

      I completely agree and would like to argue the same about race. Who cares what skin color our President is? I am so tired of hearing anyone who expresses dissatisfaction with the way Obama is handling the duties of office being referred to as 'racist'.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Xdoc

      Only thing is that faith can impact some decisions in policies. For example the abortion issue, gay rights, and even health care. I think that's why it matters to lots of folks. They know when it comes time to veto or sign a bill into law, faith can cloud someone's judgement.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Xdoc

      Why do you think Bush limited funding to stem cell research?-- Religion!

      July 27, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  20. Mark

    We're confused about their faith because faith is not truth.
    Only truth is not confusing.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
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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.