Cal Thomas’s syndicated column, which is printed in hundreds of newspapers, seldom strays from the right-wing line. There is one subject, though, where Thomas has been critical of the Right: The columnist, who helped establish the modern Religious Right as a lieutenant for Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, has since denounced such “cynical harvesting” of conservative Christians’ votes. There was a “perception that the church had become an appendage to the Republican Party,” he wrote, adding that “little was accomplished in the political arena and much was lost in the spiritual realm, as many came to believe that to be a Christian meant you also must be ‘converted’ to the Republican Party and adopt the GOP agenda and its tactics.”
But if Thomas is nominally a critic of the Religious Right, he is still unable to resist employing its most crass and shameless tactic: attacking the faith of his political opponents. Reacting to Barack Obama’s outreach to young Christians, Thomas attempts to disqualify Obama from the religion.
Obama has declared himself a committed Christian. He can call himself anything he likes, but there are certain markers among the evangelicals he is courting that one must meet in order to qualify for that label.
Thomas offers an interpretation of media reports on the particulars of Obama’s faith—what the candidate says about hell, for example—and pronounces a verdict: Not only is what is supposedly in Obama’s heart “contrary to what Evangelicals and most Catholics believe,” Thomas claims, but he is not even a Christian. Instead, according to the columnist, Obama is a “false prophet.”
Here’s Obama again: “I don’t presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. When I tuck in my daughters at night and I feel like I’ve been a good father to them, and I see that I am transferring values that I got from my mother and that they’re kind people and that they’re honest people, and they’re curious people, that’s a little piece of heaven.”
Any first-year seminary student could deconstruct such “works salvation” and wishful thinking. Obama either hasn’t read the Bible, or if he has, doesn’t believe it if he embraces such thin theological wisps.
Obama can call himself anything he likes, but there is a clear requirement for one to qualify as a Christian and Obama doesn’t meet that requirement. One cannot deny central tenets of the Christian faith, including the deity and uniqueness of Christ as the sole mediator between God and Man and be a Christian. Such people do have a label applied to them in Scripture. They are called “false prophets.”
This kind of perverse attack is nothing new—indeed, WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah offered a similar column a couple weeks ago on his far-right website. And in practicing this kind of politics, Thomas is merely joining alongside marginal groups who assert that only those with certain political views can be “true Christians,” and more broadly, rejoining the Religious Right effort to merge religion and partisan politics.
But while the rumors casting aspersions on Obama’s faith continue to swirl aimlessly in e-mail forwards, on disreputable websites, and among fringe groups, today they are being uncritically promoted in hundreds of newspapers. Thomas—even as he denounces in name the Religious Right, and even as he promotes a book against political polarization—is doing his part to legitimize religious inquisition as a campaign strategy.