The Gospel according to Obama
President Obama is not just a racial trailblazer, but some say a religious pioneer as well. No president has ever shared his type of Christianity, historians say. Some say he may revive a form of Christianity that once dominated America.
October 21st, 2012
06:59 AM ET

The Gospel according to Obama

By John Blake, CNN

President Barack Obama was sharing a pulpit one day with a conservative Christian leader when a revealing exchange took place.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative Christian who has taken public stands against abortion and same-sex marriage, had joined Obama for an AIDS summit. They were speaking before a conservative megachurch filled with white evangelicals.

When Brownback rose to speak, he joked that he had joined Obama earlier at an NAACP meeting where Obama was treated like Elvis and he was virtually ignored. Turning to Obama, a smiling Brownback said, “Welcome to my house!”

The audience exploded with laughter and applause. Obama rose, walked before the congregation and then declared:

“There is one thing I have to say, Sam. This is my house, too. This is God’s house.”

Historians may remember Obama as the nation’s first black president, but he’s also a religious pioneer. He’s not only changed people’s perception of who can be president, some scholars and pastors say, but he’s also expanding the definition of who can be a Christian by challenging the religious right’s domination of the national stage.

When Obama invoked Jesus to support same-sex marriage, framed health care as a moral imperative to care for “the least of these,’’ and once urged people to read their Bible but just not literally, he was invoking another Christian tradition that once dominated American public life so much that it gave the nation its first megachurches, historians say.

“Barack Obama has referred to his faith more times than most presidents ever have, but for many it’s the wrong kind of faith,” says Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners, an evangelical activist group based in Washington that focuses on poverty and social justice issues.

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“It is not the faith of the religious right. It’s about things that they don’t talk about. It’s about how the Bible is full of God’s clear instruction to care for the poor.”

Some see a 'different' kind of Christian

Obama is a progressive Christian who blends the emotional fire of the African-American church, the ecumenical outlook of contemporary Protestantism, and the activism of the Social Gospel, a late 19th-century movement whose leaders faulted American churches for focusing too much on personal salvation while ignoring the conditions that led to pervasive poverty.

No other president has shared the hybrid faith that Obama displays, says Diana Butler Bass, a historian and author of “Christianity after Religion.”

“The kind of faith that Obama articulates is not the sort of Christianity that’s understood by the media or by a large swath of Christians in the U.S.,” says Bass, a progressive Christian. “He’s a different kind of Christian, and the media and the public awareness needs to reawaken to that fact.”

Some Christians, however, still see Obama as the “other.” He doesn’t act or talk like other Christians, says the Rev. Gary Cass, a conservative Christian president of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission.

“I just don’t see or hear in his accounts the kind of things that I’ve heard as a minister for over 25 years coming from the mouths of people who have genuinely converted to Christianity,” says Cass, pastor of Christ Church in San Diego.

Cass says he’s never heard Obama say he’s “born-again.” There’s no emotional conversion story to hang onto.

Obama talks about his faith and attends church, but Cass says that doesn’t mean he’s a Christian.

“Joining a church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. “You can put me in the garage, but that doesn’t turn me into a car.”

The origins of Obama’s faith

The suspicion about Obama’s faith may seem odd at first because he’s written and spoken so much about his spiritual evolution in his two autobiographies, “Dreams of my Father” and “The Audacity of Hope.” Other books, like “The Faith of Obama” by Stephen Mansfield, also explore Obama’s beliefs.

The 1925 “Monkey” trial of John Scopes, a high school biology teacher who taught evolution, drove fundamentalists underground, some say.

Mansfield says Obama is the first president who wasn’t raised in a Christian home. Obama’s mother was an atheist and his grandparents were religious skeptics (Obama’s family has challenged the description of his mother as an atheist. Obama called her “the most spiritually awakened” person he’d ever known, and his sister called their mother an agnostic).

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

Mansfield called Obama’s boyhood a “religious swirl.  He was exposed to Catholicism, Islam, and strains of Hinduism and Buddhism while growing up in Indonesia during the 1960s.

“In our household, the Bible, the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology,” Obama said in Mansfield’s book. “On Easter or Christmas Day, my mother might drag me to church, just as she dragged me to the Buddhist temple, the Chinese New Year celebration, the Shinto shrine, and ancient Hawaiian burial sites.”

Obama became a Christian while he was a community organizer in Chicago. He joined a predominantly black United Church of Christ. The UCC became the first mainline Protestant denomination to officially support same-sex marriage in 2005.

Obama’s faith showed many of the elements of a liberal Protestant church: an emphasis on the separation of church and state, religious tolerance and the refusal to embrace a literal reading of the Bible.

In a 2006 speech before a Sojourners meeting, Obama talked about his approach to the Bible:

“Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application?”

When many people think of Obama’s religious experience in Chicago, though, they cite his exposure to the angry sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and “black liberation theology,” a movement that emerged in the late 1960s and blended the Social Gospel with the black power movement.

Bass, the church historian, says another black pastor shaped Obama’s theology more: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

He attended liberal Protestant seminaries where he learned about the Social Gospel’s concern for the entire person, soul and body.

Obama has reached out to evangelical leaders like Rick Warren, seen here praying at Obama’s inauguration, but many still doubt his faith.

King once wrote that “any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them …is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.”

But King and the black church also fused the Social Gospel with an emotional fervor missing from white Protestant churches, Bass says. Other presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were influenced by the Social Gospel, but they weren’t shaped by the black church.

“This is the first time we’re hearing the Social Gospel from the perspective of the black church from the Oval Office. It makes it warmer, more emotive, more communal," Bass says. "There is less fear of linking the Social Gospel with the stories of the Bible, especially the stories of Exodus and Jesus’ healings.”

The emphasis on community uplift - not individual attainment - may strike some Americans as socialist. But the emphasis on community is part of King’s “Beloved Community,” Bass says.

King once wrote that all people are caught up in an “inescapable network of mutuality… I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be.”

“When I listen to Obama, I don’t hear communism, I hear the Beloved Community,” Bass says. “But a lot of white Americans don’t hear that because they never sat in those churches and heard it over and over again. It’s the whole theology that motivated MLK and the civil rights movement.”

Obama is not a Christian, some think

For some, Obama’s actions in the Oval Office seem to contradict Christianity.

Jesus was nonviolent. Obama has ramped up drone attacks in Afghanistan that have not only removed terrorists, but killed civilians.

The Bible talks about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. Obama invoked Jesus when he came out in support of same-sex marriage. “The thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule," Obama told ABC News during his announcement.

Jesus talked about helping the poor. But he never said anything about creating a massive health care law that taxed the rich to help the poor, some Christians argue.

But Wallis of Sojourners says Obama’s push for health care was a supreme example of Christian faith.

A situation where 50 million Americans don’t have health insurance is “a fundamental Christian problem,” Wallis says.

“Health is such a Gospel issue. Jesus was involved in healing all the time, and to have some people excluded from health care because they lack wealth is a fundamental Christian contradiction.”

Wallis has been one of the most persistent defenders of Obama’s faith. But no matter how much Scripture he and others cite, doubts about Obama’s faith have followed him throughout his political career.

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson once said that Obama distorted the traditional understanding of the Bible “to fit his own world, his own confused theology.” The Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, publicly questioned Obama’s faith, then later apologized.

Conservative Christian books and websites are filled with stories of Obama allegedly trying to suppress the nation’s Christian heritage.

The Rev. Steven Andrew, author of “Making a Strong Nation,” says Obama is trying to change the national motto from “In God we Trust” to “Out of Many, One,” and he’s ordered the Pentagon to remove biblical verses from its daily report.

“That’s the most serious thing someone can do to a nation, trying to separate a nation from God,” he says. “He seems to be trying to change the Christian laws our Founding Fathers made.”

Andrew says Obama is actually an enemy of Christianity. In his book, Andrew argues that the Founding Fathers were Christians who created a “covenant Christian nation” and calls for a “national repentance.”

“I think he’s an anti-Christ,” Andrew says.  Cass, of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, says Obama’s emphasis on helping the poor through social justice isn’t Christianity.

Christians who talk about “social justice” are often practicing “warmed-over Marxism,” Cass says.

“Do I believe in caring for the poor and oppressed? Yes. But you don’t do it along the lines of communistic redistributing.”

Obama’s support of same-sex marriage and abortion rights also disqualifies him from being a Christian, Cass says.

“It’s the most pro-abortion administration in the history of America.  On every social issue – the sanctity of life and of marriage between men and women – Obama is on the wrong side of every moral issue,” he says.

He says a progressive Christian is a contradiction.

“No Christian says I believe in Jesus Christ and I reject the Bible,” Cass says. “These progressives who say they’re Christians are liars. They’re using Christianity as a guise to advance their own agenda.”

Cass says he doesn’t know what Obama believes.

“He’s conflicted,” Cass says. “He has Muslim sympathies from his upbringing."

How progressive Christianity lost the public square

There was a time when Obama’s brand of Christianity would have been understood by millions of Americans, historians say.

Obama along with first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Malia and Sasha leave church after attending a Sunday prayer service.

The Social Gospel and progressive Protestantism dominated the American religious square from the end of the 19th century up to the 1960s. At times, the traditions blended together so seamlessly that it was hard to tell the difference.

The Social Gospel rose out of the excesses of the Gilded Age in the 1880s, when urban poverty spread across America as immigrants crammed into filthy slums to work long hours in unsafe conditions.

Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist pastor in a New York slum, urged the church to take “social sins” as seriously as they took individual vices. Churches began feeding the poor and fighting against other social ills.

“The notion that religious people should be about feeding the poor and helping the homeless is a carryover of the Social Gospel,” says Charles Kammer, a religion professor at Wooster College in Ohio. The Social Gospel was adopted by many Protestant churches in the late 19th and early 20th century, says Bass, the church historian. Some of the Social Gospel churches grew popular because they provided the poor with everything from English classes to sewing instructions and basketball leagues.

“The first American megachurches were liberal, Social Gospel urban churches,” Bass says.

The Social Gospel, though, sparked a backlash from a group of pastors during World War I. They were called fundamentalists. They published a pamphlet listing the “fundamentals of the faith:” Biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, Adam and Eve.

But the fundamentalists lost the battle for public opinion during the “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1925. John Scopes, a high school science teacher, was tried for violating a Tennessee law that prohibited the teaching of evolution.

Though Scopes lost, fundamentalist Christians were mocked in the press as “anti-intellectual rubes,” and a number of states suspended pending legislation that would have made teaching evolution illegal, says David Felten, author of “Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity.”

The trial drove fundamentalists underground where they created a subculture, their own media networks, seminaries and megachurches, he says.

That subculture thrives today, Felten says, and has infiltrated the political arena. It has created an “alternative intellectual universe” that denies science, rational thought – and any beliefs that violate their definition of being a Christian, Felten says.

“They have millions of adherents who believe in a literal six day creation and a literal Adam and Eve – so it’s not a stretch to believe that President Obama is a Kenyan-born secret Muslim bent on destroying the country,” Felten says.

Progressive Christians eventually lost the messaging wars to this fundamentalist subculture, Bass says. Their nuanced view of faith couldn’t compete with the “spiritual triumphalism” of conservatives.

“If you get up and say we’re right and we have the truth, then you have a powerful public message,” she says. “They have a theological advantage in the public discourse. It’s comforting to have things clear, to have things black and white.”

The result today is that the Protestant tradition that shapes much of Obama’s Christianity is fading from public view.

The share of Protestant Christians in the United States has dropped below 50% of the population, according to a recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

White mainline Protestants make up only 15% of the nation’s population, the survey revealed. The study also found that the fastest growing "religious group" in the country is people who are not affiliated with any religion.

Another generation of Christians, though, may bring a new version of progressive Christianity back.

The lines between younger conservative Christians and progressives are blurring, says Marcia Pally, author of “The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good.”

Pally spent six years traveling across America to interview evangelicals. She says her research revealed that more than 60% of young evangelicals support more governmental programs to aid the needy, as well as more emphasis on economic justice and environmental protection issues.

“What’s interesting is that these values, associated with Obama and the black Protestant tradition are now also the values of a growing number of white evangelicals,” she says.

Her perspective suggests that Obama’s faith may be treated by history in two ways:

He could be seen as the last embodiment of a progressive version of Christianity that went obsolete.

Or he could be seen as a leader who helped resurrect a dying brand of Christianity for a new generation.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: 2012 Election • Atheism • Barack Obama • Belief • Bible • Books • Christianity • Church • Courts • Creationism • Culture & Science • Culture wars • Evolution • evolvution • Faith • Fundamentalism • Gay marriage • Gay rights • God • History • Homosexuality • Interfaith issues • Obama • Protestant • Religious liberty • Same-sex marriage • Schools • Science

soundoff (8,626 Responses)
  1. gee

    The problem you nay sayers have is the Prestident is not a WASP. Get over it.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Rafael


      October 21, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  2. Guest

    My name is Barack Obama. I'm a Christian and my atheist/agnostic mother was the most spiritually awakened person I've ever known.

    That's not Progressive Christianity, folks. That's double-talk.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      My name is Martin Luther. My folks and everyone around me were Catholic, but I think the Catholic Church has made serious mistakes and needs to be reformed.

      Whatcha think? ALSO double-talk?

      October 21, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Guest

      Richard, that is not double-talk at all. There aren't any flat out contradictions unlike Obama's worldview.

      October 21, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Willyboy

      What are you gibbering about, "Guest"? Are you suggesting that religion is genetic and if his mother was atheistic then he must be as well? Or are you suggesting that an atheist cannot be spiritual? Either way, you are incorrect. And rather offensively ignorant, IMO.

      October 21, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Rafael

      Seriously mistaken Manichaeistic behavior on your part, and that of so many "so called christians" who actually don't do what Jesus Christ asked them to do: Love your neighbor as yourself.

      The misinformed are the pseudo christians who call themselves born again, yet have no idea that Jesus was awakening the individual so as to reach the masses with HIS good news of LOVE.

      Then you have perversions of Christianity like that of Mr. Cass:
      “I think he’s an anti-Christ,” Andrew says. Cass, of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, says Obama’s emphasis on helping the poor through social justice isn’t Christianity.

      October 21, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  3. God

    You know better than to write things like this. John I am very disappointed and waiting to have a few words with you.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • john

      Bring it on, God... I've got a few things to talk to you about, too. Most specifically, I want to know: What in the hell were you thinking?!

      October 21, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  4. .

    Who is John Galt?

    October 21, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Lance Gulick

      WHO CARES?!?!?!? Religion has no place in gov't!!! Or are we going to turn into the Taliban now?

      October 21, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      Libertarian Jesus.

      October 21, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  5. KTHill

    Being a Christian simply means you are a follower of Christ's teachings. If you isolate the gospel's: Matthew, Mark,Luke and John, and you teach solely from the teachings of Christ, without the following books: Acts, Corinthians, Hebrews, etc... You will find a stark difference from what Jesus Christ taught, and what his disciples taught.

    Jesus never focused on many of the mainstream things that Christians focus on today; when asked by one of his disciples what the greatest commandment was, he responded "love." If you look back at the Ten commandment recited in the old testament you'll find that love is not mentioned in the same context as Jesus stated it. The second commandment refers to love as in love no other God except for the one true God, as Jesus in the book of Matthew expanded on this notion stating that we should love our God with all our hearts, yet we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In John he called it a new commandment saying that we should love one another as we loved him.

    This is why many Christians are in a different mind frame, some choose to see Jesus' teachings as an outlier and focus on what Paul taught. If that's the case they should call themselves Paulinans instead of Christians. Other's choose to focus on Jesus' teaching solely and love others, the way they love Christ and the rest is subjective.

    Conservative Christians aren't the same as Progressive Christians, just as Catholics aren't the same as Protestants, and even within these different denominations no two are the same either. Religion is one thing, but Spirituality is another.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • sybaris

      and this Jesus fellow never wrote any of it.

      Chrisitanity is nothing more than a cult started by Paul based on the borrowed "teachings" of an Essene priest.

      October 21, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  6. Indyswimmer66

    This is a very scary article about some very scary, very closed-minded people. A Christian Taliban.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  7. erich2112x

    John Blake is a manipulative, dim-wit little worm.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  8. .

    We are in the Jimmy Carter phase of the next Ronald Reagan revolution.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Russell's Teapot

      Save for the fact that Reagen wouldn't muster much support from today's conservatives/tea party

      October 21, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • midwest rail

      If Ronald Reagan were in office today, espousing the same ideals and enacting the same policies he did then, he would be roundly decried as a RINO and targeted by the Tea Party for defeat.

      October 21, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Matthew Hayden

      No he is NOT the wrong type of Christan. If he is so was George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and all the founding fathers who all advocated a separation of church and state for a reason. You can not have a real democracy with the direct influence of church cannon on secular law. Your believes are your own, and need not be part of public policy. The founding fathers knew this and so does the President. While you use your beliefs to govern your personal moral compass, you do NOT use it to govern a nation.

      October 21, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  9. Willyboy

    Religion – especially Christianity – should have no relevance whatsoever in politics or governance. We have this wonderful thing called the Establishment Clause, frequently referred to as Separation of Church and State. It is goodness in the extreme. Religion is a cankerous sore on our politics and our society.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • GW

      It's the less-than-perfect mortals running the religions that have screwed it up.

      October 21, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Willyboy

      GW: True enough WRT religion itself. However, even if religion were uncorrupted by twisted and perverted dogma and was a true reflection of various holy texts and teachings, it STILL has no place in politics or governance.

      October 21, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  10. tratra

    Noone but God can judge what is in a man's heart. Not the trolls or well-meaning intellects or average joes/jills on this board, nor the author of this article.

    It flies in the face of God to play judge.

    Pray for our country, it's leaders and our future- I don't think it's a stretch that anyone of any faith is capable of doing that. It is what we SHOULD be doing.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  11. Erick

    I don't think he has anything wrong kind of christian. I am glad he is open mind because he understands very well than Billy Graham. We need to face the truth. That's why Obama has his eyes open to anything He has my vote!

    October 21, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  12. Bob

    Take religion out of politics. We have freedom of religion, let us also have freedom from religion.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  13. Nathaniel Hawthorne

    To determine "christian" read the Book. If you go counter to the Book, you are not christian. It's that simple.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • brad4nyc

      The bible is a book of myths and lies. God and jesus are imaginary. The bible is irrelevant.

      October 21, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      Nat, you the same guy pushing scarlet letters for harlots?

      October 21, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • nemo0037

      LOL! I've read "the book" - probably a LOT more thoroughly than most believers. There IS no comprehensive definition of the word "Christian." That's why they've been fighting over the definition and club membership since the day Jesus was BAPTIZED.

      October 21, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Leo

      So the Bible says I can have slaves as long as they're from neighboring countries. One of my friends says that this only counts for Mexicans, not Canadians, but I want a Canadian slave. So does the Bible let me keep Canadian slaves, or just Mexican ones?

      October 21, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  14. brad4nyc

    Christianity, like all religions, is a myth. It is scary to think that our leaders are deluded by myths. Consider:

    Let's imagine that I tell you the following story:

    There is a man who lives at the North Pole.
    He lives there with his wife and a bunch of elves.
    During the year, he and the elves build toys.
    Then, on Christmas Eve, he loads up a sack with all the toys.
    He puts the sack in his sleigh.
    He hitches up eight (or possibly nine) flying reindeer.
    He then flies from house to house, landing on the rooftops of each one.
    He gets out with his sack and climbs down the chimney.
    He leaves toys for the children of the household.
    He climbs back up the chimney, gets back in his sleigh, and flies to the next house.
    He does this all around the world in one night.
    Then he flies back to the North Pole to repeat the cycle next year.
    This, of course, is the story of Santa Claus.
    But let's say that I am an adult, and I am your friend, and I reveal to you that I believe that this story is true. I believe it with all my heart. And I try to talk about it with you and convert you to believe it as I do.

    What would you think of me? You would think that I am delusional, and rightly so.

    Why do you think that I am delusional? It is because you know that Santa is imaginary. The story is a total fairy tale. No matter how much I talk to you about Santa, you are not going to believe that Santa is real. Flying reindeer, for example, are make-believe. The dictionary defines delusion as, "A false belief strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence." That definition fits perfectly.

    Since you are my friend, you might try to help me realize that my belief in Santa is a delusion. The way that you would try to do that is by asking me some questions. For example, you might say to me:

    "But how can the sleigh carry enough toys for everyone in the world?" I say to you that the sleigh is magical. It has the ability to do this intrinsically.
    "How does Santa get into houses and apartments that don't have chimneys?" I say that Santa can make chimneys appear, as shown to all of us in the movie The Santa Clause.
    "How does Santa get down the chimney if there's a fire in the fireplace?" I say that Santa has a special flame-resistant suit, and it cleans itself too.
    "Why doesn't the security system detect Santa?" Santa is invisible to security systems.
    "How can Santa travel fast enough to visit every child in one night?" Santa is timeless.
    "How can Santa know whether every child has been bad or good?" Santa is omniscient.
    "Why are the toys distributed so unevenly? Why does Santa deliver more toys to rich kids, even if they are bad, than he ever gives to poor kids?" There is no way for us to understand the mysteries of Santa because we are mere mortals, but Santa has his reasons. For example, perhaps poor children would be unable to handle a flood of expensive electronic toys. How would they afford the batteries? So Santa spares them this burden.
    These are all quite logical questions that you have asked. I have answered all of them for you. I am wondering why you can't see what I see, and you are wondering how I can be so insane.
    Why didn't my answers satisfy you? Why do you still know that I am delusional? It is because my answers have done nothing but confirm your assessment. My answers are ridiculous. In order to answer your questions, I invented, completely out of thin air, a magical sleigh, a magical self-cleaning suit, magical chimneys, "timelessness" and magical invisibility. You don't believe my answers because you know that I am making this stuff up. The invalidating evidence is voluminous.

    Now let me show you another example...

    Another Example

    Imagine that I tell you the following story:

    I was in my room one night.
    Suddenly, my room became exceedingly bright.
    Next thing I know there is an angel in my room.
    He tells me an amazing story.
    He says that there is a set of ancient golden plates buried in the side of a hill in New York.
    On them are the books of a lost race of Jewish people who inhabited North America.
    These plates bear inscriptions in the foreign language of these people.
    Eventually the angel leads me to the plates and lets me take them home.
    Even though the plates are in a foreign language, the angel helps me to decipher and translate them.
    Then the plates are taken up into heaven, never to be seen again.
    I have the book that I translated from the plates. It tells of amazing things - an entire civilization of Jewish people living here in the United States 2,000 years ago.
    And the resurrected Jesus came and visited these people!
    I also showed the golden plates to a number of real people who are my eye witnesses, and I have their signed attestations that they did, in fact, see and touch the plates before the plates were taken up into heaven.
    Now, what would you say to me about this story? Even though I do have a book, in English, that tells the story of this lost Jewish civilization, and even though I do have the signed attestations, what do you think? This story sounds nutty, doesn't it?
    You would ask some obvious questions. For example, at the very simplest level, you might ask, "Where are the ruins and artifacts from this Jewish civilization in America?" The book transcribed from the plates talks about millions of Jewish people doing all kinds of things in America. They have horses and oxen and chariots and armor and large cities. What happened to all of this? I answer simply: it is all out there, but we have not found it yet. "Not one city? Not one chariot wheel? Not one helmet?" you ask. No, we haven't found a single bit of evidence, but it is out there somewhere. You ask me dozens of questions like this, and I have answers for them all.

    Most people would assume that I am delusional if I told them this story. They would assume that there were no plates and no angel, and that I had written the book myself. Most people would ignore the attestations - having people attest to it means nothing, really. I could have paid the attesters off, or I could have fabricated them. Most people would reject my story without question.

    What's interesting is that there are millions of people who actually do believe this story of the angel and the plates and the book and the Jewish people living in North America 2,000 years ago. Those millions of people are members of the Mormon Church, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. The person who told this incredible story was a man named Joseph Smith, and he lived in the United States in the early 1800s. He told his story, and recorded what he "translated from the plates", in the Book of Mormon.

    If you meet a Mormon and ask them about this story, they can spend hours talking to you about it. They can answer every question you have. Yet the 5.99 billion of us who are not Mormons can see with total clarity that the Mormons are delusional. It is as simple as that. You and I both know with 100% certainty that the Mormon story is no different from the story of Santa. And we are correct in our assessment. The invalidating evidence is voluminous.

    Another example

    Imagine that I tell you this story:

    A man was sitting in a cave minding his own business.
    A very bright flash of light appeared.
    A voice spoke out one word: "Read!" The man felt like he was being squeezed to death. This happened several times.
    Then the man asked, "What should I read?"
    The voice said, "Read in the name of your Lord who created humans from a clinging [zygote]. Read for your Lord is the most generous. He taught people by the pen what they didn't know before."
    The man ran home to his wife.
    While running home, he saw the huge face of an angel in the sky. The angel told the man that he was to be the messenger of God. The angel also identified himself as Gabriel.
    At home that night, the angel appeared to the man in his dreams.
    Gabriel appeared to the man over and over again. Sometimes it was in dreams, sometimes during the day as "revelations in his heart," sometimes preceded by a painful ringing in his ears (and then the verses would flow from Gabriel right out of the man), and sometimes Gabriel would appear in the flesh and speak. Scribes wrote down everything the man said.
    Then, one night about 11 years after the first encounter with Gabriel, Gabriel appeared to the man with a magical horse. The man got on the horse, and the horse took him to Jerusalem. Then the winged horse took the man up to the seven layers of heaven. The man was able to actually see heaven and meet and talk with people there. Then Gabriel brought the man back to earth.
    The man proved that he had actually been to Jerusalem on the winged horse by accurately answering questions about buildings and landmarks there.
    The man continued receiving the revelations from Gabriel for 23 years, and then they stopped. All of the revelations were recorded by the scribes in a book which we still have today.
    [Source: "Understanding Islam" by Yahiya Emerick, Alpha press, 2002]
    What do you make of this story? If you have never heard the story before, you may find it to be nonsensical in the same way that you feel about the stories of the golden plates and Santa. You would especially feel that way once you read the book that was supposedly transcribed from Gabriel, because much of it is opaque. The dreams, the horse, the angel, the ascension, and the appearances of the angel in the flesh - you would dismiss them all because it is all imaginary.
    But you need to be careful. This story is the foundation of the Muslim religion, practiced by more than a billion people around the world. The man is named Mohammed, and the book is the Koran (also spelled Qur'an or Qur'aan). This is the sacred story of the Koran's creation and the revelation of Allah to mankind.

    Despite the fact that a billion Muslims profess some level of belief in this story, people outside the Muslim faith consider the story to be imaginary. No one believes this story because this story is a fairy tale. They consider the Koran to be a book written by a man and nothing more. A winged horse that flew to heaven? That is imaginary - as imaginary as flying reindeer.

    If you are a Christian, please take a moment right now to look back at the Mormon and Muslim stories. Why is it so easy for you to look at these stories and see that they are imaginary fairy tales? How do you know, with complete certainty, that Mormons and Muslims are delusional? You know these things for the same reason you know that Santa is imaginary. There is no evidence for any of it. The stories involve magical things like angels and winged horses, hallucinations, dreams. Horses cannot fly - we all know that. And even if they could, where would the horse fly to? The vacuum of space? Or is the horse somehow "dematerialized" and then "rematerialized" in heaven? If so, those processes are made up too. Every bit of it is imaginary. We all know that.

    An unbiased observer can see how imaginary these three stories are. In addition, Muslims can see that Mormons are delusional, Mormons can see that Muslims are delusional, and Christians can see that both Mormons and Muslims are delusional.

    One final example

    Now let me tell you one final story:

    God inseminated a virgin named Mary, in order to bring his son incarnate into our world.
    Mary and her fiancé, Joseph, had to travel to Bethlehem to register for the census. There Mary gave birth to the Son of God.
    God put a star in the sky to guide people to the baby.
    In a dream God told Joseph to take his family to Egypt. Then God stood by and watched as Herod killed thousands and thousands of babies in Israel in an attempt to kill Jesus.
    As a man, God's son claimed that he was God incarnate: "I am the way, the truth and the life," he said.
    This man performed many miracles. He healed lots of sick people. He turned water into wine. These miracles prove that he is God.
    But he was eventually given the death sentence and killed by crucifixion.
    His body was placed in a tomb.
    But three days later, the tomb was empty.
    And the man, alive once again but still with his wounds (so anyone who doubted could see them and touch them), appeared to many people in many places.
    Then he ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God the father almighty, never to be seen again.
    Today you can have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. You can pray to this man and he will answer your prayers. He will cure your diseases, rescue you from emergencies, help you make important business and family decisions, comfort you in times of worry and grief, etc.
    This man will also give you eternal life, and if you are good he has a place for you in heaven after you die.
    The reason we know all this is because, after the man died, four people named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote accounts of the man's life. Their written attestations are proof of the veracity of this story.
    This, of course, is the story of Jesus. Do you believe this story? If you are a Christian, you probably do. I could ask you questions for hours and you will have answers for every one of them, in just the same way that I had answers for all of the Santa questions that my friend asked me in Example 1. You cannot understand how anyone could question any of it, because it is so obvious to you.
    Here is the thing that I would like to help you understand: The four billion people who are not Christians look at the Christian story in exactly the same way that you look at the Santa story, the Mormon story and the Muslim story. In other words, there are four billion people who stand outside of the Christian bubble, and they can see reality clearly. The fact is, the Christian story is completely imaginary.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • .

      Get a life, brad..... and stop cutting and pasting crap from hate-theist websites. It takes up too much room and nobody reads it because they know it's a bunch of crap posted by someone with a pea sized brain.

      October 21, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Peter Bishop

      Why don't you just print a book next time?

      October 21, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Elizabeth

      Stop. President Obama is following the Bible. Jesus said to help the hungry, the thirsty, the sick... Blessed are the poor in spirit... The humble of heart. That is the ONLY kind of Christian.

      I have some Mormon friends who follow the same ideals of Pres. Obama, and are going to vote Democrat. No, the Mormons are not all bad, but consider the politics these days. Republican Rep. Walsh says that no woman has ever died from pregnancy; it is both absurd and a war on women. Jesus was not that say; He healed a woman "with an issue of blood," a long-term reproductive organ problem like endometriosis. He talked to women, and He healed them. Bain Capital has one shareholder that owns the majority of stock named Mitt Romney; it is hardly a "blind trust." There is a huge difference between the candidates. Right now, there are still companies that Bain has taken over, fired all employees, and is sending those jobs to China. Right now, as in the employees will be fired in early November, and the Chinese engineers who were trained by the Americans did not understand the product, and will make parts for cars that will be defective. Is that an example of a "good Christian?" Remember, I am not against Mormons per se, but this one would not be considered Christian in any denomination.

      October 21, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • jd

      So is the substance of your life

      October 21, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • David Hoffman

      Your work is one of the best logical explanations on this subject ever. Thank you for taking the time to carefully compose such an essay. I will be using it, along with other similar works, as a way of calmly explaining my skepticism about many religious beliefs and practices.

      October 21, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • PLB

      What an excellent and logical post!

      October 21, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  15. Douglas Stoddard

    CNN, you have reached a new low and have completely lost me.
    FOX News light should be your new moniker.
    How dare you even bring up an issue like this about our President unless you are trying to make the opponent win.
    I am not religious and these types of issues shouldn't be a decision maker when it comes to politics.
    You drank the bloody Kool Aid though and I know where I won't be getting my news from online or on cable from now on.
    See ya and I won't be the only one tuning out.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Andrew Klein

      As an absolute agnostic, I disagree with you. Religion is a delusion. I seek to elect the person least effected by the idiocy and insanity brought on by the religious delusion.

      October 21, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • GauisCaesar

      You do realize Obama's language about Christianity is why many people are against him. They are bringing up the story because they expect to change peoples' opinions about Obama being a Christian. Most Christians realize his views about Christianity are completely opposed by the Bible.

      October 21, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      The recently departed Douglas apparently prefers being a low-information voter.

      October 21, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • nemo0037

      @GauisCaesar: Yes... care for the poor, the sick, the young... all of those are TOTALLY against the Bible (as defined by the Religious Right). I would suggest you read the Sermon on the Mount at least once. Cause I kind of doubt you ever read it even once, based on your statement.

      October 21, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  16. Jason

    Is Obama the wrong kind of Christian?....aaaahhhh...yea, it's called Muslim.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • OniSec3

      being the wrong kind of christian does not mean your muslim lol liberal catholics or liberal christians (gasp! the herresy of being a liberal member of the cloth!) was always frowned upon when I went to school... sorta like they forget those teachings spoken in the articles above. a convenient skip, forget, or just focus on the cliff notes edition and just use part of the book that works for u. apparently caring for the poor is the one majority of u mofo's forget lol.... very anti capitalist eh?

      October 21, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Russell's Teapot

      And Mormonism is what again exactly? Quite the can of worms you're willing to open by going after Obama's faith and the allegations pertaining to it...

      October 21, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • guest

      No, it's call realisme...

      October 21, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • anonymous

      state your source. what proof do you have for your statement? please start your sentence with "in my opinion" if you don't know the facts.

      October 22, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  17. Romney for the Rich

    Is Romney the 'right' kind of Christian? My Bible never mentions the planet Kolab, or God having thousands of wives there, and it especially doesn't mention that every Mormon can someday become their own God of their own planet. No, these were all ideas of the inventive mind of Joseph Smith, false prophet and author of The Book of Mormon. Once the Middle East catches wind of Romney's true faith in space aliens and magic underpants, guess whose country is going to be labeled INFIDEL? Mormons are not al-kitab (peole of the book, i.e. worshipers of the God of Abraham). Electing a President who belongs to a non-Christian cult spells bad news for the USA.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Beth

      Your right , Mormonism is not Christian...but he is prolife and pro traditional marriage which raises the bar above Obamas values ...and Obama has done nothing to help the middle class and poor...he said he gave the middle class a tax break , really?

      October 21, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Stephanie

      I agree R4R. Nothing is being said about Romney's faith, which is very much anti-Christ. The Bible is replete with scriptures warning Christians about deceivers and the spirit of the anti-Christ. Yet, Evangelicals are encouraging people to support Romney, because President Obama supports SSM and is pro-choice. If the Evangelicals say they vote based on theology (or Christian values), then they shouldn't be participating in this election at all. You cannot be against SSM, be pro-life and support someone whose faith is anti-Christ. It's just flat out hypocritical.

      October 21, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Stephanie

      @ Beth – Romney has told so many lies and changed positions left and right; it's pathetic. Lying is a sin. Didn't God say he hates liars? Furthermore, have you forgotten about James 1:8? "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." You quote two values (SSM and pro-life) but dimiss his lies and double-mindedness. How do you reconcile that as a Christian? (I'm assuming you are a Christian.)

      October 21, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  18. demsrule

    The GOP are itching to resurrect the same "Christianity" that existed during slavery. The Church in America, particularly in the South, could have stood against slavery- but refused. So-called Christian pastors and parishioners advocated this form of hate slavery and even sought to justify by using biblical support, which does not exists. The so-called Forefathers of the U.S. had different views of Christianity as well, even to the point that some did not accept Christianity. For some strange reason, some have actually adopted their version of God/Christ by the look of the picture that hangs in their family rooms. By the way- God/Jesus have never posed for a picture! When a man comes along, run for President and shock the pants off of so called Christians, because he was underestimated and concluded that he could not possibly become the first of his kind to hold the highest office in the land- then they conclude that he is not the "right kind of Christian"! A man who will not be bullied and will speak his mind and not that of some else- and do care who becomes upset because of his non-traditional character, seems to be more in line with the character of Christ than all the others!

    October 21, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • demsrule

      The GOP are itching to resurrect the same "Christianity" that existed during slavery. The Church in America, particularly in the South, could have stood against slavery- but refused. So-called Christian pastors and parishioners advocated this form of hate slavery and even sought to justify by using biblical support, which does not exists. The so-called Forefathers of the U.S. had different views of Christianity as well, even to the point that some did not accept Christianity. For some strange reason, some have actually adopted their version of God/Christ by the look of the picture that hangs in their family rooms. By the way- God/Jesus have never posed for a picture! When a man comes along, run for President and shock the pants off of so called Christians, because he was underestimated and concluded that he could not possibly become the first of his kind to hold the highest office in the land- then they conclude that he is not the "right kind of Christian"! A man who will not be bullied and will speak his mind and not that of some else- and do not care who becomes upset because of his non-traditional character, seems to be more in line with the character of Christ than all the others!

      October 21, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  19. Hello

    I think everyone should read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill and learn the truth about the Roman Flavian families myth.
    There are no gods.. and there never was a Jesus.... it is all lies.. created to control the population for political reasons..
    and it is maintained for the SAME reason.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  20. Anne

    Mr. Obama used religion to advance on the political stage. Of course he is not the only one, but he makes a big deal about being Christian reason why he is more hypocritical.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • cindy

      You All call yourself Christians yet you continue to Judge. You must be the WRONG kind of Christian. How dare you judge anyone else on their religion? You better open the bible and start reading because you are already far behind. I will pray for you all.

      October 21, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • sybaris

      Hey Anne, remember this from a few days ago?


      October 21, 2012 at 11:14 am |
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About this blog

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.