Takfir is what excommunication is called in Islam – the process of declaring someone to be outside the faith. This is a pernicious concept because it is usually used by self-appointed guardians of the faith to try and impose their own strict interpretations on others. In many ways, it’s as much a political act as a religious one. This is why I find it interesting to see that President-elect Obama is now being declared insufficiently Christian, because he does not subscribe to the belief that those who do not accept the Christian faith are automatically damned to hellfire for eternity (including his own mother):
Obama: …There’s the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people
haven’t embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they’re
going to hell.
FALSANI: You don’t believe that?
OBAMA: I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell.
I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in
India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for
all eternity. That’s just not part of my religious makeup.
It’s an interesting twist that a man might be called un-Christian for being too compassionate and loving, and for believing that God is not merciful, but there you go. Islam has its own fair share of such rigidity – people who believe that even the slightest deviation from doctrine results in immediate damnation. That, despite the prayer that every muslim utters ten times a day: Bismillah a-Rahman al-Rahim, “In the name of God, most Benevolent, Most Merciful.” Perhaps Christians and muslims alike who are so ready to engage in takfir should consider how their own message and actions contradict the word of God, and ponder what that means for their own salvation.
Related – Steven Waldman makes the inconvenient observation that the majority of the world’s Christians would also be excommunicated by the standard being applied to Obama. Also, Rod Dreher follows up by pointing out that Obama did not strongly affirm the divinity of Christ, which is firmer ground for arguing his embrace of Christianity is lacking, but Obama did not deny that divinity either, and so it’s premature to infer such things from his words.