The notion that the President is a “secular Muslim” is an interesting bit of shorthand. I’d expand it to: Obama is a secular Unitarian with Muslim sympathies.
Obama’s white grandparents occasionally attended a Unitarian church in the Seattle suburbs in the 1950s. His grandfather’s brother, a Berkeley Ph.D., was named Dr. Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham. His grandmother’s sister was a college professor in a long “Boston marriage” relationship with another lady professor.
Obama spent eight years at Punahou prep school, which was founded by the congregationalist New England missionary Hiram Bingham I (the bad guy in Michener’s “Hawaii
,” played by Max von Sydow) under the auspices of what’s now the very liberal United Church of Christ.
So, “secular Unitarian” seems about right.
As for “Muslim sympathies,” Obama’s African side of the family was Muslim. His black grandfather considered both Christianity and Islam and chose Islam as more manly. His stepfather’s Indonesian family, with which his mother remained close even after she broke up with Lolo, is officially Muslim.
Obama was educated for a career like his mother’s as a go-between between the U.S. and non-Arab Islamic cultures such as Indonesia, Pakistan, and sub-Saharan Africa. He’s like the State Department’s old Arabists, except his orientation was toward the non-Arab-speaking parts of the Muslim world.
Even after Obama switched identities in the mid-1980s from multicultural to black, he was attracted to the Islamic aspect of black power. For example, he regularly read the Nation of Islam newspaper put out by Minister Farrakhan, but eventually decided that there was more money in getting white people to put up money for blacks than in Farrakhan’s economic black nationalism.
Eventually, he joined Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s megachurch to connect him to the community he hoped to be elected to represent.
Obama detailed in his first memoir his thoughts as he joined. His feelings are racial rather than religious.
But, let’s also note that it’s not surprising that Wright had been a Muslim for awhile and that Wright’s church is part of the post-Puritan United Church of Christ, linking Wright to Hiram Bingham I.
So, “secular Unitarian with Muslim sympathies” sounds about right