American politics and religion

Barak Hussein Obama will be sworn in as America’s 44th president on the 20th of January 2009. There has been some unneeded controversy around his middle name ‘Hussein’ and if he will take oath using his full name including ‘Hussein’. And I am glad he took the dignified route of using his full name.

This incident made me think about the place and importance of religion in American democracy and politics. The current religious affiliations of members of the senate and house of representative show that they are all of a Christian denomination or practice Judaism. That’s it – No other religion!!.

America has achieved an important milestone by crossing the racial divide with Obama’s election. What about religious divide? When will America be ready to accept a Muslim or a Buddhist or an atheist as their leader – even as a senator or house representative? What is it going to take for Americans to mentally break-through this religious shackle?

And why are they not ready yet? And why has India been able to accept and elect leaders of various religions? Example – George Fernandez – a Christian elected multiple times and of course the current Prime Minister who is a Sikh (though one can argue that Sikh is just another derivative of Hinduism). We have had many non-elected Muslim leaders such as Dr. Abdul Kalaam as well.

Here is one theory – India, at various times has been ruled by Islamic rulers and has been colonized by Christianity affiliated countries such as England, France and Portugal. So, historically and culturally, we have been accustomed to being ruled by non-hindu leaders.

Or are we politically more mature as a country when it comes to politics? I highly doubt this. We would still blindly vote for anyone with ‘Gandhi’ or ‘Nehru’ as a surname.

As glad as I am about the religious tolerance that India has shown in politics, I am hoping that this is not just a surface level attitude but a deeper level understanding of politics and governance. Given that we have seen goondas and shady elements elected, I am afraid it is the former.

(Sidebar1: If Martin Luther King Jr. was alive today, he might have perhaps modified his “I have a dream” speech to include religion as well and here is my version – I have a dream that my daughter will one day live in a nation where she will not be judged by the color of her skin or the religion of her choice but by the content of her character.)

(Sidebar2: Of course, there has been no non-Christian American president yet. I do know that Mayor Bloomberg is a Jew. Could Mr. Jindal have become the governor of Louisiana if he had maintained his identity as a Hindu? Bobby Jindal claims that his conversion to Christianity was an intellectual process and the words in the bible “jumped out to him” and he felt as though they were just written for him. The cynic in me thinks that the dynamics of American politics made the words jump out to a savvy Bobby Jindal. 🙂 )



  1. Quote
    Vamsi (subscribed) said January 24, 2009, 9:39 pm:


    Why are you ignoring/simply putting this important issue under the carpet? What is the bias you are talking about? Can you please explain?

    Also check the title of the post. It is about America because the author and almost everybody in this community are impacted/ influenced by America. Why America? You read the above comments in chronological order, then you get answers to all questions raised in your conclusive comment.

    And, you should not conclude by tweaking the message that is black and white in the same post and few comments above.

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