When pollsters as questions on matters of fact, they nearly always report dismaying results. At first glance, then, there’s no reason to be particularly surprised by the recent poll showing that 18% of Americans think that President Obama is a Muslim. But is the question of Obama’s religion really a matter of fact?
For the record, I do not think Obama is a Muslim. But it is not necessarily ignorant to think he is. Pew’s question did not ask what Obama says is his religion, it asks what is his religion. Although I’m sure that some of the 18% is simply ignorant, I’m also sure that most of them believe he is lying.
ASIDE: Usually, a considerable fraction of the public despises the administration in office enough to believe nearly anything negative about them. The idea that Obama might be a Muslim is pretty mild compared to the 22% that believed in 2007 that President Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance.
The press wants to treat this issue as a question of fact. Obama says he is a Christian, therefore he must be. MSNBC even goes so far as to say the fact that Obama gets Bible verses sent to his blackberry every day proves he is a Christian. For the press, Obama hits the sweet spot: religious enough not to damage his political prospects (if only they could get that stupid public to believe it), but not so religious as to actually affect his philosophy. Those guys, like George W Bush, are scary!
Personally, I don’t think that Obama has any well-defined belief system at all, Christian or Muslim. He says he is a Christian, but an interview he gave in 2004 shows he clearly is not, at least in any orthodox sense. I think he picked a church in Chicago for political benefit, and then spent years managing not to hear any of the hate preached from its pulpit. Having won the White House, he no longer saw any benefit to the trappings of religion, but with poll results like this and problems like the Cordoba House controversy, I think we will probably see him return to those trappings soon.