Among the litany of stories on Senator Obama’s faith, I saw an interesting little tidbit in Newsweek, which no doubt many will see, but few will realize how wrong it is:

Obama calls his mother “an agnostic.” “I think she believed in a higher power,” he says. “She believed in the fundamental order and goodness of the universe. She would have been very comfortable with Einstein’s idea that God doesn’t play dice. But I think she was very suspicious of the notion that one particular organized religion offered one truth.”

Obama seems to think that “agnostic” means “lukewarm believer,” however that’s not what it means at all. Someone who truly “believes in a higher power” cannot be an agnostic. An agnostic takes the position that the existence of a deity cannot be known. Such a person cannot “believe” in a deity (or “higher power” or whatever euphemism one may apply).

Obama also misuses Einstein’s comment about dice and the universe, which was not an admission by Einstein of religious belief, but rather a disparagement of quantum mechanics — an area of science he later would accept, if grudgingly, meaning that he eventually changed his mind on the matter.

Lastly Obama refers to “organized religion,” as though his mother’s objection had been merely to “organized religion” rather than “religion” generally. This does not, however, make her an agnostic or any other kind of non-believer. It just means she was a believer in non-organized religion. Creating a distinction between “organized religion” and other things (such as “spirituality”) is common, often used to separate the objectionable aspects of religion from more acceptable parts. Unfortunately, such a distinction does not actually exist. Religion can be organized or not. All “spirituality,” or whatever alternative term one uses, is still “religion.” There is no difference!

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