US Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama calls himself a Christian. He has long been a member of Rev Jeremiah Wright‘s church, and although he has now left this church he has been attending other churches. And only in the last few days he has been “making a full-throttle push for centrist evangelicals and Catholics”.
Obama has often been accused of being a Muslim. There is no truth in this allegation if you accept the definition of a person’s religion as their personally accepted set of beliefs, faith commitments and practices. But there is another definition of religion which is held to by Muslims (and, in effect, Jews) as well as by some in the West who call themselves Christians, which is that religion is passed on by inheritance from parents to children. According to these people, because Obama’s father was a Muslim (although non-practising), Obama himself counts as a Muslim. But even they can hardly claim this after he has publicly renounced Islam, although they might consider him an apostate.
But now comes a new claim that Obama is in effect a Hindu. The evidence for this seems to be that he carries about in his pocket “a tiny monkey god”, as well as “a tiny Madonna and child”. This is reported by Time Magazine, with photographic evidence. According to Visi Tilak of the Christian blog Casting Stones (which lists Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren among its contributors), this monkey god is “none other than the Hindu god Hanuman”, and indeed Visi reports that “over the last couple of days every Indian newspaper has carried this story and photograph, with “Hanuman” and “Obama” on practically every headline.” The BBC reports that a group of Indians are planning to present to Obama a “two-foot tall, 15kg gold-polished, brass idol” of Hanuman.
It might be suggested that by carrying both Christian and Hindu lucky charms Obama is trying to be both Hindu and Christian. But polytheistic Hinduism has long accepted that Christian images can be used alongside originally Hindu ones, and I think that carrying lucky charms is accepted. Orthodox Christianity, on the other hand, has always condemned any kind of devotion to idols of non-Christian divinities, and has not approved of lucky charms. So by carrying this Hindu idol in his pocket, as well as a Christian one, Obama is showing himself to be either a good Hindu or a very bad Christian.
Obama is already facing an uphill challenge in his drive to win Christians over to support him, because of his positions on abortion and gay “marriage”. He may be able to win them over if he holds to a consistent Christian position on other matters of public and private morality, and promises to turn America away from the cult of self which has been promoted during the Bush administration towards caring properly for the poor and needy in America and worldwide. But this whole drive is endangered if Obama becomes seen as an inconsistent and compromising Christian, and especially if he is seen as trusting in evil demon gods (Hanuman is considered an incarnation of Shiva the destroyer) rather than in the true God and Jesus Christ.
Neither the prophet Jeremiah nor the prophetic preacher Jeremiah Wright would let Obama get away with this. He needs to read what the prophet had to say about idols in Jeremiah 10:1-16, and then publicly repent and get rid of his idol – and reject the gift from India. This may not win him immediate friends in India, but in the long run they and religious people of any faith will respect him more if he is consistent in his professed faith. Anyway, the Hindu vote in America is tiny, so this move would make electoral sense for him. More importantly, it makes sense for his own destiny and for the destiny of the country which he hopes to lead. For what God said to Israel in the past can apply also to America now:
“If you, Israel, will return,
then return to me,”
declares the LORD.
“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight
and no longer go astray,
2 and if in a truthful, just and righteous way
you swear, ‘As surely as the LORD lives,’
then the nations will invoke blessings by him
and in him they will boast.”
Jeremiah 4:1-2 (TNIV)
For too long the name of America has been considered a curse throughout much of the world, not just in countries which it has invaded and otherwise bossed around but also in countries which have been reduced to poverty while America enriches itself. If Obama repents of his idolatry and trusts only in the true God, then not only is he in a good position to win the election but he will also have the opportunity to restore to his own country the blessing of God and respect among the nations.