Patricia Nell Warren

Burning Obama -- and His Family -- at the Stake

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | June 25, 2008 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Muslims, Obama's family, religious freedom, religious tests for politicians

As the U.S. heads into the last frenzied months of Presidential campaigning, attacks on the belief history of Obama's family grow ever fiercer. Right-wing commentators aren't content to question Obama's positioning on his former pastor and former church. They keep hammering on their accusation that Obama is really a secret Muslim. In recent statements, they allege that Obama had a "Muslim upbringing" (Jon Christian Ryter), that his Muslim father was a "radical," an "atheist and polygamist" (WorldNet News), that his mother was a "Unitarian" who turned "atheist as a young adult" (Free Republic). To hear them talk, you have to wonder how four Unitarian and two Quaker "heretics" ever got elected to the White House.

It's unfortunate that Obama has bobbed and weaved on the family issue. He tries to shade his bio the "right" way, and explains himself endlessly, which only digs him deeper into the quagmire that his enemies are making for him.

Obama might have made a more powerful impression by drawing himself up and saying, "So what if my father was a Muslim? So what if my mom was an atheist? So what if I was enrolled as a Muslim, and learned about Muslim religion, when I was a school kid in Indonesia?"

I could compute a more fearless response like that from Obama. My own parents checked my box as "Presbyterian" in grade school, and I learned all about Presbyterians in Sunday School...but that doesn't make me a card-carrying Presbyterian today.

And don't we Americans supposedly have the right to follow a non-Christian religion or spiritual way if we so choose? Last time I checked, it was even legal to be an atheist in America.

This campaign against Obama and his family is not only despicable - it's un-American in the worst way. And it's proof that many Americans are still stuck in the Dark Ages, where attitudes on office-holding and image are concerned. Today the religious-affiliation rules for Presidents are a lot stricter than they used to be. Abraham Lincoln didn't even belong to a church; if he tried to run today, he'd probably get run out of town. Today a candidate has a shot at the White House only if he or she looks like a squeaky-clean mainline Christian with impeccable family credentials on churchgoing.

Attacking the belief history of your enemy's family is nothing new. So-called "Western Christian civilization" has a long and lurid record of prosecuting the families of prominent but problematical people for their "heresy."

Example: 15th century Spain, when King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabel were paranoid about secret Jews and Muslims. They had ended Muslim occupation of Spain and were uniting the country under Catholic rule. But a percentage of their citizens -- especially certain powerful old families -- were descendants of intermarriage among Christians, Jews and Muslims. These marriages had happened when a tolerant brand of Islam ruled most of Iberia. So in 1481, to deal with the "problem," Ferdinand and Isabel established their own Inquisition in Spain. They used that dreaded ecclesiastical police-force against any families that might challenge their newly-asserted royal power - and didn't hesitate to accuse them of worshiping secretly as Jews or Muslims. Being able to prove the long-time Catholic faithfulness of your entire pedigree became a matter of life and death... and your death happened at the stake, after enough torture to make you confess to anything, and a rigged trial.

Another example: England, where rulers were paranoid about secret Catholics. For several centuries after England went Protestant under Henry VIII, it was a crime to be Catholic. Henry's daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, developed a system to weed out anybody and their families who still practiced Catholicism underground. In 1559 "Elizabeth's Supremacy Act" was decreed, requiring that all clergy, judges and office-holders had to swear an oath of loyalty to the queen with their hand on the Bible. Since no Catholic would swear on the Bible in those days, this oath was used to expose closet Catholics.

Moreover, Elizabeth and her advisors assumed that crypto-Catholics were also plotting against the crown. So if you even refused to take the oath, you could be executed as a traitor.

Conservative church-adhering colonists brought these ugly practices to North America and modified them for use in the new republic. I could go on at length about Protestant efforts to keep American Catholics and Jews from holding office -- efforts that lasted well into the 20th century. Few Americans realize that our cherished oath of office, with the hand laid on the Bible, is a transplant of "Elizabeth's Supremacy Act" to the New World. U.S. law requires the oath, but it doesn't specify that the oath must be sworn on the Bible. That would make the oath a religious test and our Constitution forbids religious tests. But the hard-shell church people have succeeded in making swearing on the Bible a tradition that few dare to flout -- it almost has the force of law today. Hence the kerfuffle in 2007 when Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, a Muslim, swore into office on a copy of the Koran.

Indeed, out of 43 Presidents, the American people have elected only one Catholic, following an uproar over John F. Kennedy's alleged "allegiance" to "a foreign power" called the Vatican. Kennedy managed to look squeaky-clean enough, and made the oath work for him by swearing on a Catholic edition of the Bible. A few Quaker and Unitarian Presidents have squeaked into the Oval Office... but not recently. Meanwhile a Mormon doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell, because the Protestant establishment consider Mormons to be the spawn of Satan. And, despite all we hear about Jewish roots of Christianity and Jesus being a Jew, we've never had a Jewish president... which ought to tell us something about how backwards and bigoted our nation can still be.

So I'm appalled to see Obama being subjected to a classic Inquisition on his family's record of belief. No, his enemies haven't put him on the rack. But they make it painful in other ways.

As I write this, America's grand inquisitors are now attacking Obama's personal brand of Christianity, item by item. Fundie hack Cal Thomas says loftily, "Obama can call himself anything he likes, but there is a clear requirement for one to qualify as a Christian and Obama doesn't meet that requirement." Thomas comes off sounding like the French inquisitors who told Joan of Arc that there was a clear requirement to qualify as a woman, namely she had to wear a dress.

Imagine what people like Cal Thomas would do to other Americans if only they enjoyed complete control of the government and the penal system the way they once did in darkest Europe... the way they aim to do again, if they get John McCain into the White House.


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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 25, 2008 11:51 AM

Bravo! I would have been kinder to QE I only in that she followed the Protestant repressions and tortures of Henry's other daughter "Bloody Mary," wife to the king of Spain. I would suggest that Elisabeth was a far better monarch.

Your conclusions, however, are spot on. Did you catch Mrs. Obama on "The View?" I think that she is his real secret weapon.

While I agree with your conclusion that Obama is being subjected to today's version of religious test, he has pandered to the voters of the Religious Reich as a wlling participant with his deliberate inclusive superiority by saying marriage is between a man and a woman. I, for one do not want MY life dictated by religious mores and mythology. I'm an American who values the liberties and rights of all Americans as granted under our Constituion over the dictates of religion. Obama has attempted to draw similarities between patriotism and religion just as Republicans and the current person posing as President of this country do to scare some of us and oppress others.

What really scares me is it appears we as a society have not progressed much since the 15th century!

I would like to add I intend to vote for Obama, but again, it is a vote for the lesser of two evils. And I'll adapt to Obama's simple saying for simple minds, I'll "hope."

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 25, 2008 12:34 PM

Leslie, I think a lot has been accomplished since the 15th century. I'll suggest just one thing, all of Shakespeare.

Leslie, we old grizzled types can remember much worse times. Obama has already made the point that his presidency would not be about religion or it's application to common law. On record, said it, did it and barring a "no new taxes" ala Bush One I believe he will maintain his word.

Now, if I could just find a way to tax all church property...Just sewer tax even for the bile certain ones spill out...

Just for the record, I agree with Leslie that Obama has pandered on the marriage issue. It shows the degree to which the Inquisitors have rattled him.

John R. Selig | June 25, 2008 2:03 PM

Two quotes come to mind (which I unfortunately cannot attribute):

1) "Marx said that religion is the opiate for the masses. It no longer pertains. Religion is now crack cocaine!"

2) "The Australian commenting to the American, 'Thank heavens we got the convicts and you got the Pilgrims!'"

Wow. I didn't know Nixon was a Quaker.

I agree - I think that the comment was a sign that these folks have shaken Obama. Not just Obama, but the whole Democratic Party establishment for years (still today!).

This election's about more than just Obama and McCain, I hope people can see that.

LOL, Robert, yes, we old geezers, I mean, grizzled ones do remember worse times. I can still remember when sodomy was against the law in Texas, DSM labelled homosexuality a sexual deviance and ministers preached against sex outside of marriage. Some things have changed, but to what avail when religion is still alive and well, and even worse, respected as a legitimate view?

Let me step out on a branch here, they're talking about a fairy tale! And in our national elections about government, there should be no place for it. Then again, I do like to know which candidates prescribe to that kind of thinking. Texas' own governor Rick Perry was as proud as a pig* to include the words "under God" in the pledge to the Texas flag just last year so children in our school system are educated.

As I said, I'm hoping for change, but I still don't hear it from Obama.

*No disrespect meant toward 4 legged pigs.

I wholeheartedly agree, Patricia. I wish I could find the link but earlier today I watched a video of a woman claiming Barack had "Arabic tendencies." What the hell does that even mean?!

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 26, 2008 1:13 AM

Maybe he used to smoke Camels! *grin*

Gerri Ladene | June 26, 2008 9:53 AM

I can't stop laughing over John R. Selig' quotes! I love humor with a touch of cynicism!!!!