When I wrote my review of Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope, I hadn't yet gotten to the chapter on faith. Well, now I have read it, and I'm not particularly impressed.
Obama apparently grew up in a secular household, but converted to Christianity in his mid-20s. His reasons for adopting Christianity are patently utilitarian. He talks about the effectiveness of black churches in organizing blacks, improving neighborhoods, effecting social change, and instilling morals in the community. He talks about how his mother died after a long fight with cancer and how he saw fear in her eyes, and wished that she had religion to comfort her. And he talks about when his own young daughter asked him about death for the first time, and he told her something like "You don't have to worry about that for a long time." This skirted the question, but he says in his book that he hopes that his mother has gone to a better place where she can be with people she can talk to and love for all eternity.
Okay. But your desire to believe something that makes you happy certainly doesn't make it true. Obama also talks about how religious people shouldn't leave reason at the door, but as far as I can tell, he doesn't give a single justification for his beliefs based on reason.
I've talked here many times about the fallacy of utilitarianism. You could believe all sorts of things that are false that could make you happier and more productive. In the end what matters is your values. If you really do value truth more than happiness, then you'd never accept a pleasant fantasy over cold, hard reality. But if you value happiness more than truth, you'd certainly be willing to buy whatever someone's selling as long as it made you that much happier.
Obama at least speaks inclusively about non-believers, and he talks about the dangers of using the state to inflict religious beliefs on others. This is better than most candidates, I suppose, but I just wish he would apply the same level of scrutiny to what he says he believes about religion that he does to Republican policies.