Last night on CNN, John King decided to ask Franklin Graham, son of Rev. Billy Graham and head of his father's evangelist association, whether he harbored "any doubts about this president's Christian faith." The only thing worse than the question was the answer: Graham blamed President Obama for the growing misperception that he is a Muslim:
I think the president's problem is that he was born a Muslim. His father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim. His father gave him an Islamic name. Now it's obvious that the president has renounced the Prophet Muhammad and he has renounced Islam and he has accepted Jesus Christ. That's what he says he has done. I cannot say that he hasn't.
So I just have to believe the president is what he has said. But he -- the confusion is, is because his father was a Muslim, he was born a Muslim. The Islamic world sees the president as one of theirs. That's why Qaddafi calls him "my son".
They see him as a Muslim but of course the president says he is a Christian and we just have to accept it as that.
Setting aside Graham's peculiar view that being Muslim is an issue of DNA rather than faith ("seed of Islam"), three things jump out at me:
- President Obama has never renounced "renounced the Prophet Muhammad" or "renounced Islam" because he is not and has never been a Muslim.
- What Qaddafi (or anybody else) believes about President Obama is irrelevant to President Obama's personal faith.
- In the midst of the preceding innuendo, Graham says "we just have to accept" what President Obama says about his faith. He casts this as a grudging concession based on insufficient evidence, even though when it comes to matters of faith, the only thing we can ever go on is one's word.
Last night, Keith Olbermann characterized the false belief that President Obama is a Muslim as the belief that the president is a "secret agent for another religion." And when you listen to Franklin Graham's words, you can see that it's people like Graham -- not President Obama -- who are responsible for fostering that conspiracy theory.
Although Graham and his ilk are spreading disinformation such as the claim about renouncing Islam (which King failed to correct), they are not literally claiming that President Obama is a secret agent. In questioning his beliefs, however, they are trying to exploit the soft underbelly of faith -- which is that faith by its very nature cannot be proven -- for political gain. In the process, they aren't just undermining President Obama. They are also undermining the power of faith.