The religion and politics of division

Washington Post: By , Published: February 24

With rhetoric like this, these Christian conservatives are playing an ancient game. They are using religion to separate the world into “us” and “them.” They are saying, “The president is not like us.”

The president’s Christian beliefs are hardly unusual. He was raised by a mother whom he has called “agnostic” and who today might be dubbed “spiritual but not religious.” (The fastest-growing religious category in the country is “none”: people who believe in God but don’t affiliate with any denomination.) When Barack Obama walked for the first time into Trinity Church on the South Side of Chicago, he was 27. He had read widely in theology — Saint Augustine and Nietzsche and Reinhold Niebuhr — but he had no formal religious training.

Perhaps he was drawn to Trinity for pragmatic reasons: As a young community organizer, he needed the credibility of a church base. Perhaps he was on an identity quest and found at Trinity the African American family he never had. Perhaps in Trinity’s fiery pastor, Jeremiah Wright, Obama found a guide to faith — a man of great learning, musical talent and homiletic gifts — and a friend whose friendship he would live to regret. Perhaps he found himself transported by the joyful, soulful sounds of Trinity’s 300-member gospel choir.

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