(CNSNews.com) - Professions of faith can be used both as instruments of great good but also twisted and misused in the name of evil," President Obama told the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on Thursday, in a speech that drew light smatterings of applause.
He reminded the faithful that just as some people "profess to stand up for Islam but in fact are betraying it," so people have "committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ."
The president discussed the various ways that faith is used for the common good, but also how it is "used as a wedge or weapon."
He mentioned the Taliban attack on a school in Pakistan and the terror attacks in Paris. He also mentioned ISIL by name, describing it as a "brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism."
"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."
Both the crusades and the Inquisition happened in the 13th Century or earlier, many hundreds of years before the establishment of the United States.
"In our own country, slavery, Jim crow, so often was justified in the name of Christ," Obama continued. And he mentioned the collision of faiths in India.
"So it's not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us -- a sinful tendency -- that can pervert and distort our faith."
'Not being so full of yourself'
Counteracting such intolerance, especially in cyberspace and other "hidden places," can be difficult, "But God compels us to try," Obama said.
"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 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....We should assume humbly that we're confused and don't always know what we're doing..."
Obama called for "civility and restraint and judgement" in modern, diverse societies: "And if in fact we defend the legal right of a person to insult another's religion, we're equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults -- and stand shoulder to shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities, who are targets of such attacks."
Obama apparently was referring to the terror attacks in Paris stemming from a magazine's caricatures of Mohammed.
"Just because you have the right to say something doesn't mean we shouldn't question those who would insult others in the name of free speech. Because we know that our nations are stronger when people of all faiths feel that they are welcome, that they too are full and equal members of our countries."
Meeting with Muslims
For the record, President Obama met with a group of Muslims at the White House on Wednesday, but his guests have not been named publicly.
A reporter asked White House spokesman Josh Earnest about the meeting before it happened on Wednesday:
"Well, I can tell you that the president is looking forward to -- to the meeting that he'll -- he'll do a little later this afternoon," Earnest said. "It's not unusual for the president to meet with the leaders of a wide variety of communities from across the country. Sometimes that includes religious leaders...
"What the president's hoping to do is to have a broader conversation about the wide range of issues that is -- that are of importance to the Muslim American community.
"Certainly, I would expect a robust discussion of a lot of the kind of middle-class economics that the president's been discussing in the State of the Union and in the context the rollout of his budget.
"I would anticipate that -- you know, that there will be an opportunity for the president to talk about some other things. I'm confident that he'll remind them of the upcoming deadline for the Affordable Care Act and encouraging them to get the word out in their communities about the opportunity that exists for people who previously couldn't afford health insurance but now be able to by going to healthcare.gov."