Nearly 20% believe Obama is Muslim: disturbing, not surprising

I wish it were as surprising as it is disturbing that nearly 20% of Americans now believe President Obama is … Continued

I wish it were as surprising as it is disturbing that nearly 20% of Americans now believe President Obama is a Muslim, but it’s not. Nor is it simply possible to explain the situation by asserting that that many Americans are kooks or idiots for believing it to be true, even though it is certainly not. So what is going on?

In a culture increasingly unable to distinguish between available data and reliable information, more and more Americans will think themselves justified in holding beliefs which have no basis in fact. And it is the glut of available data, available in far greater quantity and with far greater speed than most of us can handle intelligently, which contributes to the spread of absurd notions such as the one reported by this recent poll conducted by Pew.

One might attribute the rise in those who think the President is a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009, to Mr. Obama’s recent comments affirming the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks, but the poll was conducted before the President made those remarks. And the idea that these numbers are related to Obama backing away from his beliefs as a Christian has no support either, having given numerous speeches in the past 18 months in which he spoke about his personal religious beliefs.

It has been said that the only difference between perception and reality is that it’s harder to change perception, and never has that been truer than it is right now. All of us have access to any information we seek with a few simple clicks of a mouse. But the fact that something is available to us doesn’t make it true and certainly doesn’t make it good for us. In fact, the more choices that we have as consumers of any product, and especially so when it comes to information, the more discriminating we must become as consumers.

In the case of the growing numbers of people who believe that President Obama is a Muslim, that means asking ourselves questions about how we came to hold whatever belief we have on the matter, upon what sources do we base the contention, do they include sources of information which differ from our own political views, and does our opinion about the President’s religious persuasion simply confirm all of our other opinions about him?

Answering those kinds of questions is how we move from being brain-dead propagandists who simply seek the “facts” which confirm that which we already believe, to intelligent consumers in a world suffering from too much available information and too little wisdom to know how to assess it. Happily, we can all cultivate the needed wisdom by simply slowing down, gathering views from multiple perspectives and remembering that it’s not possible for any of us to right all of the time. In fact, if you are never wrong, you are never learning, and unless you think you are God, there is always more to learn.

People need not approve of President Obama or anything he does, but when our beliefs about who he is are detached from reality, even the legitimate critiques we may have, can be written off as the ravings of fools. In a culture which thrives on intelligent critique, as all democracies do, that would be tragic.

The internet demands new skills from us. Once upon a time, we fought hard to obtain bits of information in a world where news traveled slowly and even then reached only a select elite. That too was bad for democracy. Happily, that era has passed.

Now we must shift from being miners chiseling out precious nuggets of news, to sharp-eyed sifters who can distinguish between precious facts and the fool’s gold of cheap propaganda. When that shift happens, the country will be stronger, whoever happens to be president and whatever faith they happen to follow.

About

Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • catdaddy1953

    I agree with some on here where it doesn’t matter what your Religion is ….But when you are dealing with two wars involving religious fanatics…IE Muslim fanatics….You better step back and look at the big picture…If he is??? and a lot of folks think he is….there will be Bias…and we are seeing that today…with the the ground zero crap!!!On the other front he is bankrupting this country….all in his plan…for the new World Order…step by step…hell it wasn’t the Bankers and Wall street Folks that caused this problem….its the Goverment…They have been manipulating this market to break the little man….and it shows in the stocks today…they prop it up a little….we get back in and Boom….loose another wad of cash…Hell yes its the Feds doing it…Ok I’ve ranted enough on this….LOL

  • eezmamata

    Remember, it’s the christians who think Obama is a muslim.Why not ask how many atheists think he’s a muslim?I’ll give you a one person poll — he’s not a muslim. He’s a phony christian like half of our presidents have been. You have to kiss the butt of the moron christians in this country, convince them you believe the same nonsense as they, or nobody will pay attention to you.Well, most of you don’t seem to ever ask yourself, how many people who say they believe this crap are just saying it to shut you up?

  • OpenYourEyes3

    How ironic. You have just defined the religious faithful, regardless of religion: “In a culture increasingly unable to distinguish between available data and reliable information, more and more Americans will think themselves justified in holding beliefs which have no basis in fact.”

  • Carstonio

    it is the glut of available data, available in far greater quantity and with far greater speed than most of us can handle intelligently, which contributes to the spread of absurd notionsThat’s an appealing theory, but I suspect it’s too simple. For many thousands of years, an individual’s level of contact with others who were different was relatively low, due to the arduousness of travel. Even information about different people and different cultures was relatively rare, since few people could read and most communication was through word of mouth. With that limited level of contact and information, it was easy for most people to believe the worst about different people or different cultures. My theory is that individuals and cultures are going through cognitive dissonance. They’re having trouble reconciling long-held beliefs about difference being bad with new information showing that people from different cultures are just as human as themselves. Another factor is that mass communication also enables people who don’t want to accept that difference to more easily find audiences for their misinformation.

  • WmarkW

    The poll’s shortcoming is not asking how many people think Obama is the Antichrist.Barack Obama is a universalist who thinks most religions are more the same than they are different. I’m more concerned about his fanciful attitude to universal health care than universal religion.

  • woodstock-41

    Eboo Patel & CO:ALL, EVERY & ANY {American Based} “iShlamite”s and or “Esuaite”s {aka PELEG-ians, aka, Stanic VerUS lovers of the “ELDERS OF AL-TAQIYAH” et al] islami’s should Become “METHODISTS” or Mormon’s..PS: “Nation Of Islam” don’t like “white-Crackers” let alone Kafirs. Please go clean-up Chicago ill-inois. Move Cardoba CULTture/SECTion House there.Note: G.W. & CO; TOld Ye/Yo’s a Big-Lie! He & they know the “Art of DO-n-Then-Deny”. Heck; Even (another Methodist) Bill Clinton, from Ala-mater George Town University, Know this tool (Wordmerchantizing; “Persuasion-Packaging” i[WE] call it). Note again:I’m Go’n Fish’n! {WE use sand-Worms n Spearings for Baith). Interesting. Did Ye Know that it is now proven that fish Listen n talk? But WW[i] Apocalyptic-ON’s; Not Pre-Apocalyptic-offs, art not Fish! “QUOTE” The old adage used to be; There is a Sucker Born’th every minute” [similar]; but, but now it’s more like ; “There a sucker Born every 15-Seconds” or So.

  • nomemoleste

    Watch what politicians do, not what they say or pray.For instance:What evidence is there? Why does it take a pole to find out?That’s clear and compelling evidence that if he ever was christian or muslim then he’s apostate. BHO is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.If you can’t figure out what they stand for — they’re cons — don’t listen. Be vigilant and watch!

  • areyousaying

    No coincidence this is the same percentage of Americans who drool over Soap Opera Sarah, RNC Fox news and Limbaugh hate radio.These propaganda arms of the intolerant and delusional Huckabees have been very effective in misleading the masses by scapegoating Muslims and then attaching the same hatred and fear to their singly focused enemy, Obama.

  • Secular

    Obama is as christian , as Bill Clinton was or is. For that matter the the idiot son of Bush 39 is, I mean Bush 41 or aka “W” or Shrub. This country of ours is so backwards, when it comes to the faith issues. It is a shame that no person can aspire to be elected to national office in this country unless (s)he professes faith in some skydaddy myths and complete obedience to this mythical character. With the RNC & Faux news 24/7 propaganda, some of the latent idiot-cracy that permeates any society bought into the nonsense.Pathetic part of this country is after some 234 years an atheist or agnost cannot be elected, but more newer democracies like India, and even Chile had already elected atheist only a few years after becoming truly democratic. In case of India, the very first head of government was an atheist (Jawaharlal Nehru)

  • Athena4

    And 20% of Americans believe that we’ve been visited by UFOs, too. And believe in Creationism. And Santa Claus.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    In trying to determine Obama’s one true faith, speculators overlook the obvious. If one listens carefully to his speeches, it becomes clear that he is a Hylomorphist. In all likelihood, he learned the rudiments of his belief from his Aunt Artemis’ son-in-law, Fred, aka Freddie H, who was a constant presence in the Obama household as the young future president was growing into his destiny (Hyplomorphically speaking).

  • striderrt

    Unmitigated disaster of an article from Brad Hirschfield. Assertions whether President Obama is a Muslim or is not pale in the light of available information. For example, Hirschfield should quote from the purported many Obama pro-Christian statements rather than just make counter assertions. People are believing Obama to be Muslim not for what he says, but for what he does. And what he does is take pro-Islamic positions.

  • Delongl

    20% thinks Bush has the Devil’s tail. 20% think Obama has three heads. 20% think Palin faked her pregnancy. 20% think the government planned 9/11 and the Kennedy assassination. There is no news here.

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