10 June 2008

Barack Obama: "Before we get carried away, let's read our bibles."

(Repost with YouTube video)

Here's what Obama said last summer at the "Call to Renewal" conference.

...given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let's read our bibles. Folks haven't been reading their bibles. ...

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values.
...let me give you an example.

We all know the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham is ordered by God to offer up his only son, and without argument, he takes Isaac to the mountaintop, binds him to an altar, and raises his knife, prepared to act as God has commanded.

Of course, in the end God sends down an angel to intercede at the very last minute, and Abraham passes God's test of devotion.

But it's fair to say that if any of us leaving this church saw Abraham on a roof of a building raising his knife, we would, at the very least, call the police and expect the Department of Children and Family Services to take Isaac away from Abraham. We would do so because we do not hear what Abraham hears, do not see what Abraham sees, true as those experiences may be. So the best we can do is act in accordance with those things that we all see, and that we all hear, be it common laws or basic reason.

14 comments:

Andrew said...

That is brilliant -- not only is it exactly the right message, it's phrased well, avoiding contentious terms, and sourcing the whole thing from the Bible. Who can possibly complain about that?

The more I hear about Obama, the more I like him. By now he's almost too good... I'm beginning to suspect he's being written by Aaron Sorkin.

XXX said...

While I understand and appreciate much of what is quoted here, I'm not sure about the very end.

Is Obama saying we would be right to stop Abraham, that we would be wrong but acting in good faith (no pun intended), or is he purposely ambivalent on this?

Some other parts of the speech I find encouraging, and still others disturbing. It's hard to tell how much is pandering to the religious and how much he really believes. Some other quotes (the full speech can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/2bcpu7)

* He says due to his mother, he had a << healthy skepticism of organized religion >> growing up. He says he did not have an epiphany, but << kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to his will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.>> I don't know about a man leading the country who thinks he hears God's ghost calling out to him. Sounds a little too much like Bush for my tastes.

* He says it is important << to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. >> I would agree with the first half, but question the second half. I don't think this separation benefits religion, or at least that was not the intent in my opinion.

* Concerning church and state: << It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase "under God;">> I would agree most children do not probably pause over this phrase, but that is the whole point: the brainwashed person is not meant to realize what's going on. This statement, added by Congress to the Pledge long after it was first written, certainly is meant to show that belief in God is not only normal, but patriotic. What was that about separation of church and state again?...

* Concerning funding of religious groups: << one can envision certain faith-based programs - targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers - that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems. >> Government is supposed to be around to help individuals, it is not supposed to out-source this to faith-based organizations. I'll concede this is perhaps a liberal point of view on my part, but Obama's understanding is an equally if not more liberal interpretation of the concept of American government. Government is not meant to be in the business of religion, and unless they plan on funding all faith-based groups, then they are picking sides over which religious groups are more acceptable in America, which is something not provided for under the Constitution.

* He does say << No matter how religious they may or may not be, people are tired of seeing faith used as a tool to attack and belittle and divide. >> This I would agree with. Would this not be a clear argument from removing religion from the public square?

So his views on religion are complex, perhaps since it is a complex issue. He clearly seems to be the least overtly religious of the major candidates, which is welcome, and him citing some ridiculous passages from the Bible is certainly reassuring. But he does see a role for religion in public discourse, or at least this is his public stance. This is his right, but I would prefer a politician who separated the two and preferably didn't think a big spirit in the sky wasn't guiding him in his public life.

3D said...

XXX said...

(snip)

Is Obama saying we would be right to stop Abraham, that we would be wrong but acting in good faith (no pun intended), or is he purposely ambivalent on this?

He is saying that would be right to stop Abraham, but he is saying it in couched language so that the crazy people could interpret it to mean that it would be wrong to stop Abraham.

I don't know about a man leading the country who thinks he hears God's ghost calling out to him. Sounds a little too much like Bush for my tastes.

I think that's some fluff, myself, but I'll also add that it doesn't bother me if the president is religious. It bothers me when the president's religion affects policy. We're a long way off from an atheist president, so I'm fine with a religious guy who respects atheists policy-wise.

My gut feeling is that Obama is a really good politician, and knows that you can't alienate the crazies completely and still win the general election. So he pays lip service to being a Christian and hearing God's voice, etc. I don't know for certain that this is true, but I sense it, and I honestly have no problem with this if it is so. I mean, it's not like anyone really believes that God really talks to a genocidal dry-drunk cokehead like Bush, so why hold anyone else to that standard?

(snip)

So his views on religion are complex, perhaps since it is a complex issue. He clearly seems to be the least overtly religious of the major candidates, which is welcome, and him citing some ridiculous passages from the Bible is certainly reassuring. But he does see a role for religion in public discourse, or at least this is his public stance. This is his right, but I would prefer a politician who separated the two and preferably didn't think a big spirit in the sky wasn't guiding him in his public life.

So would I, but we're not gonna get it any time soon. For the time being, we should probably be content with someone who is at least going to make inroads into diminishing the oppressive role of religion in the US government, and hope that the flowery religious language used occasionally by Obama is just smart politickin'.

Rarus vir said...

"Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values."
That's a great line.

Nathan said...

I expect to see this re-surface somewhere, quoted as
"Whatever we once were, we are a Muslim nation", B. Hussein Osama.

That last line reads pretty much like a skeptic's manifesto, to me.

Nathan said...

He says it is important << to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. >> I would agree with the first half, but question the second half. I don't think this separation benefits religion, or at least that was not the intent in my opinion.

I think it does benefit religion, because it means that the government doesn't have any say in how individuals practice it. A state religion wouldn't only work against the non-religious, but against those who practice different religions, or the same religion in different ways. That's why I think it's ridiculous when some Christians complain about the separation, since it benefits them as well.

Jojo Chintoh said...

You know, it may just be lip service, but sometimes lip service still has meaning. By and large it's a truly welcome speech, especially in an election where I fear *both* Obama and McCain will be forced to court the religious vote.

Anon said...

The more I see of Obama, the less I trust him. He's for public finance and claimed he would "aggressively" try to work with the Republican candidate to come to an agreement on public financing, but then when the time came, he did no such thing. Yahoo News:

http://tinyurl.com/3j4e5v

So while this speech on religion might be inspired and inspiring, it might also just be lip service and pandering. I find some parts of the speech encouraging, but I agree with jojo. I'm afraid no matter which gets elected, we haven't seen the last of religious pandering in this election cycle, or any time soon.

voodooKobra said...

Obama increasingly strikes me as a competent person.

Anon said...

This made it into the news again:

Yahoo News

CNN

James Dobson apparently thinks that "What the senator [Obama] is saying there, in essence, is that 'I can't seek to pass legislation, for example, that bans partial-birth abortion, because there are people in the culture who don't see that as a moral issue,' " Dobson said. "And if I can't get everyone to agree with me, than it is undemocratic to try to pass legislation that I find offensive to the Scripture. Now, that is a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution."

"Am I required in a democracy to conform my efforts in the political arena to his bloody notion of what is right with regard to the lives of tiny babies? [...] What he's trying to say here is, unless everybody agrees, we have no right to fight for what we believe."

One of Dobson's minions, Minnery, also said about the Al Sharpton vs. James Dobson reference in the speech, "Many people have called [Sharpton] a black racist, and [Obama] is somehow equating [Dobson] with that and racial bigotry."

I don't think they actually read what Obama was saying at all. I guess Dobson is hoping people don't actually view or read the entire speech Obama made...

Read the articles for more points they raise. They do make one or two semi-good points, but they completely miss the mark in general.

Nathan said...

I guess Dobson is hoping people don't actually view or read the entire speech Obama made...

I think that's true of pretty much EVERYTHING Dobson talks about.

Sai said...

Good man.

dsc said...

On controversial views, Obama almost always appeals to both sides of the argument. He is master at that. Only time will tell what he really believes.

As for contributors who refer to Christians as crazies without respect, I would remind them that this is what backfired into Islamic extrimists. I doubt if some of you can dare use the same disparaging remarks against Islam. Should we start seeing Christian suicide bombers before we can see some respect from Liberals who claim they don't have faith in anything?

Darren Delgado said...

Blogger dsc said...

> As for contributors who refer
> to Christians as crazies without
> respect, I would remind them
> that this is what backfired into
> Islamic extrimists. I doubt if
> some of you can dare use the
> same disparaging remarks against
> Islam. Should we start seeing
> Christian suicide bombers before
> we can see some respect from
> Liberals who claim they don't
> have faith in anything?

I would argue that we have already seen Christians do tons of crazy things throughout history, on a par with suicide bombing.

All religions are equally crazy to me. Some have done more harm than others on a worldwide scale, but none deserve respect.

It seems like whenever Christian fundamentalists come over to comment on one of these sites, they usually are under the mistaken impression that atheists somehow prefer Islam to Christianity, like there's some perceived injustice there. Take a look around this site and at Steve's blogroll, there are at least a dozen right-wing anti-Muslim sites on it.

Most atheists don't prefer one religion over another, it would be like preferring unicorns over leprechauns; it doesn't make any sense if you believe they're both fake.