Monday, November 17, 2008


All those who have been saying that Barack Hussein Obama is a closet Muslim pretending to be a Christian need to shed their prejudices. All those who believe that he is a Christian who believes that all those who don't follow the Faith are going to 'burn for eternity' need to discard their blinkers. And all those who think that Obama's Gandhi-inspired call to 'be the change you wish to see' is a political rather than a 'value' call also need to put their cynicism to rest.

By now, the whole world knows that among the lucky charms that Obama carries with him are a tiny Madonna and child, and a tiny monkey god, revered by Hindus as Hanuman. By now, it is also widely known that a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi adorned his office. Whether it will move to the Oval Office with him will be known only on January 20, 2008. Be that as it may, all these are indicative of the global and liberal influences that have shaped Obama, thanks to his mixed parentage and his growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia.

But what exactly are Obama's views on religion? What are his spiritual beliefs that are going to have a profound impact on the manner in which he understands and responds to international developments as President of the United States of America?

In 2004, much before he emerged as a Presidential candidate, he had given an interview to Chicago Sun Times columnist Cathleen Falsani, one of the most gifted interviewers on matters of Faith. The column that she wrote after that has been quoted and misquoted many times. The full conversation, which had never been published earlier, is now available and can be found at beliefnet.

Going through the whole interview will be illuminating in more ways than one. Before you do that, soak in some of his salient beliefs that he had revealed to Falsani. Here they are:

I am a Christian.

I believe there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people. That there are values that transcend race or culture...

I'm not somebody who is always comfortable with language that implies I've got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others. I'm a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at its best comes with a big dose of doubt. I'm suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding

I went to a Catholic school in a Muslim country. So I was studying the Bible and catechisms by day, and at night you'd hear the prayer call.

My mother was deeply spiritual person, and would spend a lot of time talking about values and give me books about the world's religions, and talk to me about them. And I think always, her view always was that underlying these religions were a common set of beliefs

I think that the difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and proselytize. There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they're going to hell. I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell.

I can't imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity.

In my own sort of mental library, the Civil Rights movement has a powerful hold on me. It's a point in time where I think heaven and earth meet. Because it's a moment in which a collective faith transforms everything. So when I read Gandhi or I read King or I read certain passages of Abraham Lincoln and I think about those times where people's values are tested, I think those inspire me.

I think Gandhi is a great example of a profoundly spiritual man who acted and risked everything on behalf of those values but never slipped into intolerance or dogma. He seemed to always maintain an air of doubt about him.

Barack Obama is quite clearly someone else. He is not just another ambitious politician who has risen to be the most powerful man in the world.

Many of us in India have been brought up with the timeless, liberal and inclusive belief that the Supreme Being, call Him by whatever name you like, can be reached by many paths. It is quite possible that some people who were earlier accusing Obama of being a closet Muslim may now mistakenly start accusing him of being a closet Hindu for echoing that belief.

Is there any other living leader in the world today who has been similarly enriched ethically and spiritually by values and influences from all over the world?

That is why he is one leader who is already more than the President of the US that he is going to be. That is why when he talks about the triumph of hope over fear, his words don't ring hollow. That is why when he tells the people of the world in his victory speech that "our destinies are shared", they don't disbelieve him. That is why there is great expectation all over the world that he will prove to be a truly transformational, secular global leader.

Change is here.
Readers may also read:
1. President Obama is Barack indeed
2. Wife, mom and first lady Michelle
3. Obama and Biden Vs Osama bin Laden: coincidence?
4. Obama and Jindal: Hanuman and the Monkey
5. Osama and Obama: Saul and Paul
6. Creating thousands of Obamas in India!