At the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama prefaced his welcome of His Holiness the Dalai Lama by saying that His Holinees “is a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion, who inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings.”
Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR Hall of Famer, who gave the keynote speech at the breakfast, talked about how “his personal life was a mess” in the early days, yet he managed to win the 1981 and 1982 cup titles. It was a crash in 1983 that made him adopt religion.
In answer to the speech, President Obama remarked: “There aren’t that many occasions that bring His Holiness under the same roof as NASCAR. This may be the first. But God works in mysterious ways. And so I want to thank Darrell for that wonderful presentation. Darrell knows that when you’re going 200 miles an hour, a little prayer cannot hurt. I suspect that more than once, Darrell has had the same thought as many of us have in our own lives—Jesus, take the wheel. Although I hope that you kept your hands on the wheel when you were thinking that.”
The President then went on to address the challenges that religion has posed.
“But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon. From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.
We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.
So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?
Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And 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. Michelle and I returned from India—an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity—but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs— acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.
So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try. And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.
And, first, we should start with some basic humility. I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt—not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.”
President Obama closed his remarks by quoting Pope Francis on how faith should guide us in becoming “instruments of peace.”