Unmosquing Obama’s remarks: God is not a generic god if He is GodFebruary 6, 2016
America’s first freedom, the freedom of religion, took center stage Wednesday during President Obama’s religious liberty speech at a Muslim mosque in Baltimore. Trumpeting the presence, contribution and value of people of Muslim faith throughout American history, the President encouraged the American public to embrace Muslims today by suggesting that differences in religion do not matter as much as similarity in nationality or family concerns. But if we attempt to make “god” and “faith” generic, however, we are not acknowledging freedom of religion at all. We are instead eroding our First Freedom in a false attempt at harmony. Certainly Christians, Muslims and Jews hold values in common, but we do not share a common faith. We do a disservice to people of all faiths by saying that all faith is common.
Familiarity seemed to be part of the President’s agenda. Abolishing the idea that people of different faiths are different, the President sought to make people of all faiths feel for each other in the midst of their common concerns and the face of their shared fears.
Now, a lot of Americans have never visited a mosque. To the folks watching this today who haven’t — think of your own church, or synagogue, or temple, and a mosque like this will be very familiar. This is where families come to worship and express their love for God and each other.
There’s a school where teachers open young minds. Kids play baseball and football and basketball — boys and girls — I hear they’re pretty good. (Laughter.) Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts meet, recite the Pledge of Allegiance here.
The problem is, God is not a generic reality. The God under whom we live as “one nation” is not a mythical generic imagining designed to assuage our fears and galvanize our nationalism. God is either really God or He is not God at all.
Furthermore, if God is really God then He cannot be both the Allah of Islam and the YHWH of Christianity made known through the incarnate second member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.
The President’s attempt to blur the difference and deny the veracity of religious conviction is not helpful if the goal is an honest respect of the faith of the other in a pluralistic society. Because we know this is the power of the First Freedom: each person enjoys the same right to worship and live their faith in every arena of life, whether they hold the faith of the majority or not. Freedom of religion is only meaningful when we acknowledge the real differences among faiths and yet still choose to protect the right of the other to believe and live out their faith as vigorously as we would our own.
So, while the President is right when he says:
If we’re serious about freedom of religion — and I’m speaking to my fellow Christians who are the majority in this country — we have to understand that an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths,
Like so many faiths, Islam is rooted in a commitment to compassion, and mercy, and justice and charity. Whomever wants to enter paradise, the Prophet Muhammad taught, let him treat people the way he would love to be treated,” he said, to an applause. “For Christians like myself I’m assuming that sounds familiar.
First, at a time when others are trying to divide us along lines of religion or sect, we have to reaffirm that most fundamental of truths: We are all God’s children. We’re all born equal, with inherent dignity.
And so often, we focus on our outward differences and we forget how much we share. Christians, Jews, Muslims — we’re all, under our faiths, descendants of Abraham. So mere tolerance of different religions is not enough. Our faiths summon us to embrace our common humanity.