What's the reasoning behind Obama's statement? Perhaps this:
1. All religions are good.
2. Islam is a religion
3. Islam is good
4. ISIL is not good.
5. ISIL is not Islamic.
This little argument illustrates how one can reason correctly from false/dubious premises.
Are all religions good? Suppose we agree that a religion is good if its contribution to human flourishing outweighs its contribution to the opposite. Then it is not at all clear that Islam is good. For while it has improved the lives of some in some respects, on balance it has not contributed to human flourishing. It is partly responsible for the long-standing inanition of the lands it dominates and it is the major source of terrorism in the world today. It is an inferior religion, the worst of the great religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam). Schopenhauer is surely right that it is the "saddest and poorest form of theism." See article below. Its conception of the afterlife is the crudest imaginable. Its God is pure will . See Benedict's Regensburg Speech. It is a violent religion scarcely distinguishable from a violent political ideology. Its prophet was a warrior. It is impervious to any correction or enlightening or chastening from the side of philosophy. There is no real philosophy in the Muslim world to speak of. Tiny Israel in the 66 years of its existence has produced vastly more real philosophy than the whole of the Muslim world in the last 400 years.
So it is not the case that all religions are good. Some are, some are not. This is a balanced view that rejects the extremes of 'All religions are good' and 'No religions are good.'
But why would so many want to maintain that all religions are good? William Kilpatrick:
. . . if Islam is intrinsically flawed, then the assumption that religion is basically a good thing would have to be revisited. That, in turn, might lead to a more aggressive questioning of Christianity. Accordingly, some Church leaders seem to have adopted a circle-the-wagons mentality—with Islam included as part of the wagon train. In other words, an attack on one religion is considered an attack on all: if they come for the imams, then, before you know it, they’ll be coming for the bishops. Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t provide for the possibility that the imams will be the ones coming for the bishops.
Note that the following argument is invalid:
6. Islam is intrinsically flawed
2. Islam is a religion
7. All religions are intrinsically flawed.
So if you hold that Islam is intrnsically flawed you are not logically committed to holding that all religions are. Still, Kilpatrick's reasoning may be a correct explanation of why some want to maintain that all religions are good. Kilpatrick continues (emphasis added):
In addition to fears about the secular world declaring open season on all religions, bishops have other reasons to paint a friendly face on Islam. It’s not just the religion-is-a-good-thing narrative that’s at stake. Other, interconnected narratives could also be called into question.
One of these narratives is that immigration is a good thing that ought to be welcomed by all good Christians. Typically, opposition to immigration is presented as nothing short of sinful. [. . .]
But liberal immigration policies have had unforeseen consequences that now put (or ought to put) its proponents on the defensive. In Europe, the unintended consequences (some critics contend that they were fully intended) of mass immigration are quite sobering. It looks very much like Islam will become, in the not-so-distant future, the dominant force in many European states and in the UK as well. If this seems unlikely, keep in mind that, historically, Muslims have never needed the advantage of being a majority in order to impose their will on non-Muslim societies. And once Islamization becomes a fact, it is entirely possible that the barbarities being visited on Christians in Iraq could be visited on Christians in Europe. Or, as the archbishop of Mosul puts it, “If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.”
If that ever happens, the bishops (not all of them, of course) will bear some of the responsibility for having encouraged the immigration inflow that is making Islamization a growing threat. Thus, when a Western bishop feels compelled to tell us that Islamic violence has “nothing to do with real Islam,” it’s possible that he is hoping to reassure us that the massive immigration he has endorsed is nothing to worry about and will never result in the imposition of sharia law and/or a caliphate. He’s not just defending Islam, he’s defending a policy stance with possibly ruinous consequences for the West.
Of course, presidents and prime ministers say the same sorts of things about Islam. President Obama recently assured the world that “ISIL speaks for no religion,” Prime Minister David Cameron said that the extremists “pervert the Islamic faith,” and UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond asserted that the Islamic State “goes against the most basic beliefs of Islam.” They say these things for reasons of strategy and because they also have a narrative or two to protect. In fact, the narratives are essentially the same as those held by the bishops—religion is good, diversity is our strength, and immigration is enriching.
Since they are actually involved in setting policy, the presidents, prime ministers, and party leaders bear a greater responsibility than do the bishops for the consequences when their naïve narratives are enacted into law. Still, one has to wonder why, in so many cases, the bishop’s narratives are little more than an echo of the secular-political ones. It’s more than slightly worrisome when the policy prescriptions of the bishops so often align with the policies of Obama, Cameron, and company.
Many theologians believe that the Church should have a “preferential option for the poor,” but it’s not a good sign when the bishops seem to have a preferential option for whatever narrative stance the elites are currently taking on contested issues (issues of sexual ethics excepted). It’s particularly unnerving when the narratives about Islam and immigration subscribed to by so many bishops match up with those of secular leaders whose main allegiance is to the church of political expediency.
When the formulas you fall back on are indistinguishable from those of leaders who are presiding over the decline and fall of Western civilization, it’s time for a reality check.