Southern Divide

Ever been in a Facebook free-for-all? It’s what happens when somebody posts an article or political cartoon and one of his or her friends shares it and so on and so on until, all of a sudden,  you and people you actually know are trading information and insults with people you’ve never personally met.

obamaI stumbled into one of these fracases the other day. It started with a Facebook “friend” I sort of know posting something  supportive of President Obama in his dust-up with Catholic bishops over birth-control coverage. By the fourth or fifth comment,  Obama bashers had jumped in, testifying to what an “idiot” he is and how he’s got anti-American tendencies and is endlessly promoting Islam, even “Sharia law,” while disrespecting Christianity, the flag, our troops, etc. When some annoyed Democrat (not me) demanded documentation for what he considered absurd charges, one of the anti-Obama folks, with a proud flourish, posted a pair of lists. I am very grateful to him. Scales fell from my eyes. I saw clearly. More about that in a moment.

First, those lists:

Ten Quotes by Barack Obama about Islam

  1. “Islam has always been part of America.”
  2.  “We will encourage more Americans to study in Muslim communities.”
  3.  “These rituals remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings.”
  4.  “America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
  5.  “So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed.”
  6.  “Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity and racial equality.”
  7.  As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.”
  8.  “I look forward to hosting an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan here at the White House later this week, and wish you a blessed month.”
  9.  “That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t. And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”
  10.  “I also know that Islam has always been a part of America’s story.”

Ten Quotes by Barack Obama about Christianity

  1. “Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation”
  2.  “We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation.”
  3.  “Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith?”
  4.  “Even those who claim the Bible’s inerrancy make distinctions between Scriptural edicts, sensing that some passages – the Ten Commandments, say, or a belief in Christ’s divinity – are central to Christian faith, while others are more culturally specific and may be modified to accommodate modern life.”
  5.  “The American people intuitively understand this, which is why the majority of Catholics practice birth control and some of those opposed to gay marriage nevertheless are opposed to a Constitutional amendment to ban it. Religious leadership need not accept such wisdom in counseling their flocks, but they should recognize this wisdom in their politics.”
  6. From Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope: “I am not willing to have the state deny American citizens a civil union that confers equivalent rights on such basic matters as hospital visitation or health insurance coverage simply because the people they love are of the same sex—nor am I willing to accept a reading of the Bible that considers an obscure line in Romans to be more defining of Christianity than the Sermon on the Mount.”
  7.  “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. That’s just not part of my religious makeup.”
  8. “Those opposed to abortion cannot simply invoke God’s will–they have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths.”
  9.  On his support for civil unions for gay couples: “If people find that controversial then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount.”
  10. “I believe that 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.”

I haven’t tried to document these quotes – that is, verify that Obama really did say them. I will accept the person who posted these lists at his word. And say, “So?”

As I said, this was eye-opening for me. I tend to believe – or want to believe – that I can persuade someone with whom I disagree by presenting facts. The mistake I’ve been making is to believe that agreed-upon facts resonate the same with everyone.

None of the quotes in either of these lists strikes me as radical or controversial, and I say this as a Mississippi Methodist who can show you the very birth certificate he used when he first tried out for Little League in 1958. These are all observations that I hold to be self-evident. For instance, Islam has been a part of America from the beginning. Not as big a part as Christianity, obviously, but a part nonetheless – and one protected by the Constitution. We are  now more than ever a nation of many faiths, all protected. Those of us who are Christian do tend to pick which passages in the Bible to abide by and which to ignore.

To the guy who posted these quotes, however, they’re incendiary proof of the President’s being an un-American, perfidious heathen. I don’t know what to say to a fellow citizen whose view of the world is so stunningly different from mine. And I worry more than ever about our chances of bridging our country’s bitterest divide since the 1850s.

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Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr photostream, used with Creative Commons 2.0 License.
Noel Holston

Noel Holston

Noel Holston, originally from Laurel, Miss., is a freelance journalist, songwriter, storyteller and actor who lives in Athens, Ga., with his wife, singer-songwriter Marty Winkler. In a previous life, he was the TV critic at Newsday in New York and, before that, a critic and feature writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Orlando Sentinel.

5 Comments
  1. Thank you for putting my thoughts into a coherent statement for me.  I was born just a couple of years after the crusades ended so I cannot say for certain, but I think many of the folks on those Facebook rants would have proudly joined that cause. 
    I can be the most patient of people until the debate becomes, “God likes me but he hates you.”  I have to walk away from those so my head doesn’t explode.
    But, I do like to say this to those that think our President is some sort of secret Muslim that wants to turn the United States of America into a Muslim country run by Sharia law. “He obviously really sucks at his job because he’s had nearly four years to do it and we’re still right here where we were when he was elected; churches on every corner and no one has yet forced me to wear a burka. ”
    Politics always serves to remind me that in The United States of America, you are free to shout out just how ignorant and racist you are; then I rub my temples, take an Advil, and watch travelogues.

  2. The religious interest in having the power of the state back up its moral dictates is not new.  It’s why the founders, wisely, decided to let religion go its own way.  In the colonial period, at least in New England, the secular agents of government provided sustenance to the religious leaders. That soon proved divisive as different sects arrived.
    Attacking President Obama for his appreciation of diverse faiths is not unlike the attacks on candidate Kerry’s military record.  Attacking a person’s strengths is effective because there’s no defense.  How does one counter the categorization of virtue as vice?  The answer is that there is no defense, as any virgin would be able to attest.  Which means that, since there’s no self-defense, the charge is inherently abusive and needs to be countered by interveners. To those who would call it vice, it needs to be said that tolerance is a virtue and a guarantee that they, themselves, will not be coerced.
    Will that be understood?  Can children be convinced there are no bears under the bed?
    We know some people remain infantile all their lives and yet we keep insisting they should grow up. How smart is that?
    “All men are created equal,” but not all men mature.

  3. Alex Kearns

    Well done, Mr. Holston. Sometimes a writer manages to capture something elusive. This article may not be a revelation – but it eloquently illustrates something that I’ve known but never really crystallized. If two people examine the same words and arrive at iron-clad, polar-opposite conclusions then how can decisions-based-on-facts be made by consensus?  (Apparently all that’s left to them is to stand on either side of the line in the sand and lob hysterical insults at one another).

    1. Noel Holston

      Thanks, Alex. I was being a bit hyperbolic when I said the “scales fell from my eyes.” It was more like they just got a little better focused.

  4. Tom Ferguson

    In Michael Parenti’s book The Face of Imperialism he comments that the supporters of war in Iraq weren’t concerned with “true facts” … they were concerned to “sell” a policy, just as merchants are not concerned with truth in their ads but are interested to sell products… so the ‘conservative’ you confront is attempting to smear Obama so the truth or falsehood is irrelevant… the smear is the thing.

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