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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. Preaching to the Choir

    I couldn't agree more. I student taught in a rural area of central Illinois- a school with two people who were black (and that was it for the racial diversity) so they created their own minorities thorugh religion. I grew up outside of Chicago in an area as ethnically and religiously diverse as you could get. I was SHOCKEDwhen a student told me that Catholics didn't beleive in God and that they worshipped statues....as you can guess there were very few Catholics in the area. We did end up having a discussion about different faiths- expressing nor endorsing opinions on any in particular but merely educating the students on the differences (and then they pointed out the lack of difference between many). Religion should be taught in schools just as learning about other countries should be taught. Keep the facts in and opinions out and it shouldn't be an issue.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • ObamaJoe

      There are so many religious dude worship statues,,,,,,,,,,,in this silly world,,,,,,,

      It's easier for a kid to worship a toy,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,they don't understand what is heart,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      July 27, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Preaching to the Choir

      btw this was at a high school teaching seniors- people who were just a few months away from either going to college or joining "the real world". This wasn't a grade school class- heck even my daughter thought Jesus was a zombie after I (pathetically) explained why we celebrate Easter.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, ghouls, goblins or guns

      Re: "Keep the facts in and opinions out" – that doesn't leave much to talk about. How long does it take to say "There are no facts supporting religion."?

      July 27, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  2. jobdespair

    I am not confused about Obama's faith. The only people confused are those who aren't smart enough to understand how "big lie" strategy works. Only those without critical thinking skills think Obama is a Muslim.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  3. Joyce Andrews

    Let me proof-read and re-write my opinion:
    Joyce Andrews

    I studied the basic tenents of Hinduism, "Mormonism" (LDS) , Islam (Moslem) and Christianity
    as well as other religions.
    I would be happier with a president who is a Hindu than a Mormon. Of the choices we
    currently have, II would rather have a president who is a Christian though labeled by the uneducated as a Moslem.
    I would hope everyone would be interested enough in the values (religious practices, beliefs) of our future president to
    do a little self-educating on the values and beliefs before making your choice.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • ObamaJoe

      If you would be happier with a president who is a Hindu than a Mormon,,,,,,,,,,,Mitt will be a Hindu for your vote 🙂

      July 27, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  4. ObamaJoe

    Romans 14:17 ESV / 18 helpful votes

    For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • ttt

      Can you knock it off? You are filling up the ledger with this drivel.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • ObamaJoe

      ??????????????

      July 27, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  5. ObamaJoe

    Hebrews 13:8 ESV / 20 helpful votes

    Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • PAUL

      EXACTLY....AND HE INTERPRETED FOR THE JEWS TO LET MY PEOPLE GO!!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWkS7pf9hKE

      July 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • ObamaJoe

      ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      July 27, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  6. Joyce Andrews

    I studied the basic tenents of Hinduism, "Mormonism" (LDS) , Islam (Moslem) and Christianity
    as well as other religions.
    I would be happier with a president who is a Hindu than a Mormon. Of the choices we
    currently have, II would rather have a president who is a Christian who is mistaken as a Moslem.
    I would hope everyone would be interested enough in the tenets of our future president to
    do a little self-educating on the values and beliefs before making your choice.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  7. s~

    Everyone has his/her religion... yes, even atheists.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • ObamaJoe

      Because they can feel,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,they know what feels good,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,such as: pay less tax:)

      July 27, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • plaster city

      So what are the tenants of athiesm?

      July 27, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • ObamaJoe

      I don't know,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,but it seems there are different kinds of that too,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      July 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • ME II

      As someone said, "Atheism is a religion, like bald is a hair color"

      July 27, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • ObamaJoe

      hair style???????

      July 27, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Xdoc

      For there to be religion, there has to be faith. What do atheists have "faith" in... and please don't say science. Science is based on experimentation and observation which can be PROVEN. Faith requires not PROOF!

      July 27, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • ME II

      @ObamaJoe,
      Atheism is a lack of belief in god(s). There is no doctrine, no tenets of belief, no rituals, etc.

      July 27, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  8. RobS

    I agree that Obama is not a Muslim, and I think he believes many elements of the Christian faith, but he also has indicated that he believes in "many paths to the same place" and other universalist teachings that are contrary to the Bible. Oprah Winfrey and others have expressed similar beliefs in recent years.

    Interesting interview: http://blog.beliefnet.com/stevenwaldman/2008/11/obamas-interview-with-cathleen.html

    July 27, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Serpent Handler

      I woul dhave to say So!!! they are politicians what do you expect a politician to do????? to tell the truth???? people are counting on them to aways lie !!!! 🙂 🙂

      July 27, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  9. ObamaJoe

    Micah 6:8 ESV / 24 helpful votes

    He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

    July 27, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Xdoc

      He also said that women should shut up when in the church. That women should cover their hair when in public so as to not give men a hard-on (I'm paraphrasing here obviously). You get my point though, can't pick and choose only the "nice" parts of the Bible. You need to follow every word "gawd" spoke.

      July 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  10. bc

    Why don't we ask a more important question? Namely, why is religion even 'so darn important in public life?' How about we stop catering to everyone who's decided to believe in that which there is no evidence for? How about we stop pretending like having faith is a good thing? From now on I'll just have faith that it is going to rain from the ground towards the sky and I expect all of you to talk about how awesome I am for having faith in lieu of evidence. If we actually care about why the public is so uninformed then why don't you (the video/internet media) look in the mirror. You are the ones force feeding misinformation to an ignorant public. Until the public stops depending on you and actually starts educating themselves there is no hope. Thanks by the way for being horrible.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  11. ObamaJoe

    2 Timothy 2:15 ESV / 32 helpful votes

    Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  12. ObamaJoe

    Colossians 2:8 ESV / 62 helpful votes

    See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  13. ObamaJoe

    James 1:26-27 ESV / 132 helpful votes

    If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  14. Adriana Birmingham, Al

    I think it is is funny that the evangelicals support Romney who is NOT a christian and they do not support Obama who actually is a christian. Just goes to show how twisted up they really are. PErsonally I don't care one way or the other, christian, mormon, muslim, jew, it is all the same crazy shi to me.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • marlamuppets

      i don't know how many times we have to proclaim this, but mormons ARE christian. we always have been.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Serpent Handler

      @Marta... whater ...

      Hey..... but Christains do not accept mormons as Christians ...unless of course as always if it's convient... 🙂

      Christians especially conservatives have alwasy been hypocrites...and we all need to admit that!

      I'll be the first here today... I have been a hypocrite before ...whenever it was convient for me to be so... of course i repent....
      now I repent of something that I haven't really been guilty of but I know I'm human and I have to have been one a hypocrit sometime before... 🙂 🙂

      July 27, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  15. T J

    Well I guess this is one issue that the US have in common with Middle Eastern countries: religion in politics.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  16. 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 12:33 pm |
  17. Turnaway

    How can anyone have the audacity to say someone is not a christian when he/she clearly says that he/she is a christian? "Jesus says judge the spirit by the spirit" This president has displayed a Jesus like quality and character in himself that is missing from a lot of self proclaimed christian and so called christian leaders to date. He has shown humility and faith, he has been self sacrificing as a God appointed leader that is unparalleled by these so called, "the christian right." Romney on the other hand, is totally what Jesus, warns us against. For Jesus says "It is easier for a camel to fit through a eye of a needle then it is for a rich man to get into heaven. Need I say more?

    July 27, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • tim young

      i LOVE WHAT YOU SAID. GOD BLESS YOU

      July 27, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  18. ObamaJoe

    What is religion ???????????

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

      It is a kind of mantle disease. Hard to cure. Patient lose ability to reason and solve problems using violence.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • ObamaJoe

      ,,,,,,,,,,,fake goodness,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      July 27, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  19. REG in AZ

    Want to recognize a real example of religion being used as political propaganda, ... remember when GWBush was sold as a born-again Christian? Well that really started in Texas politics when Rove told Bush if he wanted to succeed he had to strongly identify with the Christian faith as that was an important factor in the area – low and behold, Bush became a born-again Christian ... even though he is a text-book example of a sociopathic personality, without a conscience, and that really becomes an impossibility (although sociopaths are quite capable of faking most anything). Just some trivia of interest.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • REG in AZ

      Then also remember Palin, standing on the stage in her Alaskan church, professing she knew what God thought. Some politicians will do / say anything to get what they want and some biased critics will say anything to discredit the politicians. It is an area where the voters have to be very careful in determining who / what to believe and stick to what they can know to be reality.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Adriana Birmingham, Al

      Wow sociopath, I thought he was just stupid.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  20. Joe

    I guess CNN is warming up for the attack on Romney for his faith. At least Romney has faith in something. Obama believes in nothing but what he can get away with.

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

      What's Mitt's faith?????

      Flip ???????

      July 27, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • plaster city

      Believing in something without evidence is BAD not good. Let's get that straight.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • ObamaJoe

      believe in what ??????

      July 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • REG in AZ

      When you say something to slander someone that obviously has no validity or merit (like Obama believes in nothing) and it really is just an emotional outburst, it actually demonstrates that you just don't have anything negative to say ... and then it actually is a compliment.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:44 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.