The Foolish, Historically Illiterate, Incredible Response to Obama’s Prayer Breakfast Speech

Feb 10, 2015


By Ta-Nehisi Coates

People who wonder why the president does not talk more about race would do well to examine the recent blow-up over his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. Inveighing against the barbarism of ISIS, the president pointed out that it would be foolish to blame Islam, at large, for its atrocities. To make this point he noted that using religion to brutalize other people is neither a Muslim invention nor, in America, a foreign one:

Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

The “all too often” could just as well be “almost always.” There were a fair number of pretexts given for slavery and Jim Crow, but Christianity provided the moral justification. On the cusp of plunging his country into a war that would cost some 750,000 lives, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens paused to offer some explanation. His justification was not secular. The Confederacy was to be:

[T]he first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society … With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so.

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33 comments on “The Foolish, Historically Illiterate, Incredible Response to Obama’s Prayer Breakfast Speech

  • Obviously the issue with Obama’s comments were that he was comparing a current even to something quite a ways back and very long ago. That’s not an issue of forgetting history, it’s a question of current relativism.

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  • Obama’s comments are further evidence of his shameful duplicity. He refuses to connect the words “Islamic” and “terror” and repeatedly claims Jihadis have corrupted true Islam, a peace-loving faith. Yet he does not hesitate to offend Christians by comparing it directly to the barbarism of IS and political Islam today.

    Those who have defended him here should examine his contrived defence of Islam wherein he states that Jihadi killers are not genuine Muslims. The problem, as I see it, is that Islam encourages violence, both interpersonal and between groups, and that western politicians are unwilling to acknowledge the religious origins of today’s extremist violence.

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  • He’s right – the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity probably exceed those in the name of Islam. HOWEVER… here and now, I am more concerned about ISIS than the Holy Roman Inquisition.

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  • The problem, as I see it, is that Islam encourages violence, both interpersonal and between groups, and that western politicians are unwilling to acknowledge the religious origins of today’s extremist violence.

    True… but so did christianity 200 years ago. They are both tarred with same brush. Just the timing is different.

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  • I think it would be hard to pick either the Christians or the Islamics from being the worst throughout history.
    As far as today if a Muslim really believes the quran is the word of god, and he follows it to the letter, then he will feel totally justified in committing murders rapes, beheading children who are of another faith.
    From what I understand with the quran if there is a contradiction, and one is not sure what path they should take. Whatever is the last word on the subject supersedes anything said before. It’s interesting that the early part of the quran talks about being at peace with other religions, but the last word on the subject of dealing with other religions was anything but peaceful.
    Of interest apparently it also says it’s OK to lie to non believers if it helps promote the Islamic cause. Not that you are going to get anything honest from a politician, but one that has an interest in the Islamic cause is surely not looking after the interests of mainstream Americans on this issue.

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  • 10
    dcrobertson01 says:

    The Southern States had apartheid in my life time. That is not ‘quite a way back’. That is recent. The people involved in changing that are still alive.

    Have a look at Ghosts of Ole Miss or listen to one of the Greensboro four

    Americans have to stop trying to sweep this under the carpet and forgetting how recent it was. Stop flying your confederate flags and calling people redskins.

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  • dcrobertson01 Feb 12, 2015 at 6:15 am

    How about the Lords Resistance Army? Remeber Koni? Maybe we’d rmember him if there was oil involved.

    People have indeed remembered some of them!
    A Ugandan commander of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army arrived at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on Wednesday to face war crimes charges.

    His detention means the world is “one step closer to ending the LRA’s reign of terror in the African Great Lakes region,” the court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said.

    Dominic Ongwen was brought to the court following his surrender to U.S. special forces in the Central African Republic earlier this month.

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  • 13
    Trondesson says:

    Don’t be hasty. There are other traits of Obama which are a lot less pleasant, as a politician for example. Okay, I grant that he is a victim of circumstances, of the blockheads all around him who first smashed his plans and then steered him on a course to their liking while continuing to block his every effort to modernize society.

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  • Yes, let’s not get on our high horse regarding children tortured and brutally murdered. And let’s also not get on our high horse about men roasted alive in cages. Because after all, you did it first.

    Not 700 years ago, not 200 years ago, not 50 years ago, but last week! Last week children were crucified for not accepting Mohammed. Last week an entire school full of young boys were shot to death in retaliation for Charlie Hebdo cartoons (That they would probably never even look at if they had the chance). Last week a man was roasted alive in a cage. Last week! Let’s not get on our high horse. Atheists should be equally offended by these statements as Christians. Tell me something, what effing high horse are we talking about? The one that is outraged by such atrocities? If that is the high horse being referred to, I will continue to ride high!

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  • I accidentally conflated the account of the boys shot to death. The boys attacked because of CH were able to get away alive. It was another school where 145 were killed, mostly women and children, in December. The reason given was “they were against Islam”.

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  • Care to elaborate? Are you saying this website is only open to those who all agree? How very dull. I have done nothing to offend anyone, nor do I intend to. So what is your issue?

    Not sure how you fail to see ignoring murder of innocent people is an issue for all people, regardless of faith, or lack of.

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  • When push comes to shove the racist ‘my religion is better than yours’ always comes out Paul. I just imagines you had come here to defend all religion that’s all. My bad.

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  • I do believe my faith is the correct one, otherwise I would not embrace it. However, I have no interest in or desire to force my beliefs (or lack of) in anything on anyone. “Always” and “Never” are words that should be avoided and only used when 100% true. I do not relish other people’s misfortune, and this regardless of what they do or do not believe. Is that so difficult to believe?

    Think about it this way, you may have met 100 men, but perhaps the 101st is completely different. Open mind and all that . . .

    My comment above has nothing to do with “one religion good, the other bad”. Rather, it is to point out that although the past cannot be changed, it should never be an excuse to overlook or excuse current atrocities. I stand by my statement.

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  • I’m not sure how old you are. This is not “history”. This is still going on today.

    I was ten when the four girls were murdered. Nine years later, I was there.

    There has been no changes.

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  • “Excuse or explain? Does the invasion in Iraq have any effect?”

    I think we both know the answer to that question. However, my comment was directed toward the POTUS and his comment which refuses to acknowledge what happened in the past does not disqualify what is happening today. You are clearly an intelligent person, of which there are many on this website. I have to say I am rather surprised you are giving him a pass on this. Don’t get caught up in your hatred (or whatever) for religion and throw the baby out with the bath water.

    We cannot disqualify current atrocities in the world by exclaiming that others have committed similar in the past. Where does that end? It doesn’t – ever.

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  • It’s not a disqualification Paul but an understanding, an admission with the chance of stopping the killing. If all we do is keep blaming then THAT is what will keep the whole thing repeating it self. My reaction to religion is not hatred. It can be described as bewilderment that people still think that way. It can be described as frustration that people need it that badly that facts are dismissed, but not hatred.

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  • I think the concept of”improving humanity” is actually a more fundamental threat than that of religion. The evils of Christianity, Islam, Communism and countless other ideologies can all be attributed to this notion. I don’t care what fairy tale someone ascribes to if they leave everyone else alone.

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  • Religion allows psychopathic wankers a justification for their horrendous crimes. What more acceptable justification is there for bestial serial killing than “I did it for piety and the honour of god”?
    Religious should start rehabilitating themselves by ostracising these maniacs and the first step could be to re-examine the notion of “martyrdom”. Since when has the callous killing of innocents usurped the term?

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  • I get a bit irritated when “communism” gets lumped in with the “sky fairy philosophies” I know reading Marx requires prodigies of concentration and I certainly tried but failed to complete reading “Das Kapital”, but I don’t recall any calls to slaughter, just economic arguments in the vein of Adam Smith and a call for fairness and cooperation. If economics are going to be included what about the savage consequences of “Monetarism”? etc.

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