The recent media kerfuffle over Barack Obama's religious inclinations presents us with a couple of ironies:
For example, why are the White House and its media mouthpieces so anxious to deny that Mr. Obama is a Muslim? Do they think there's some taint that attaches to that religion that they don't want the president tarnished by? Do liberals think there's something wrong with being a Muslim? If not, then why is the perception among so many Americans that Mr. Obama is a Muslim any more alarming to his supporters than the perception that he's Catholic, or Jewish?
For another example, why are Mr. Obama's supporters so eager to affirm that the President is, in fact, a devout Christian? Wasn't it just a few years ago that the media scoffed disdainfully at George Bush for his Christian piety? Wasn't it just yesterday that alarums were being raised about imminent theocracy now that a serious "Christianist," i.e. George W. Bush, was in the Oval Office? Weren't we admonished almost daily of the dangers of having someone in the presidency who took his Christian religion seriously? It seems amusingly odd that these same folks are now at pains to assure us that Mr. Obama is as committed a Christian as anyone since St. Paul.
We might also wonder why it is that the president's defenders are so surprised that so many people (24% according to Time) say that they think he's Muslim. It's probably the case that many of the 24% who were read the question actually "heard" a different question. When asked whether they thought Mr. Obama was a Muslim I suspect they interpreted the query as asking whether they thought the President has a fondness and sympathy for Islam. One can certainly have a place in one's heart for the religion of one's youth even though one no longer practices that religion. I think that's obviously the case with Mr. Obama, and I think it's why almost one fourth of the poll respondents said that they believe he's a Muslim. In their minds they conflated affection for with practice of.
I for one doubt very much that Mr. Obama is a practicing Muslim, but I have no doubt that he's much more sympathetic to Islam than are most Americans, and that his sympathy translates in many minds into a commitment to.