Friday, July 07, 2006

# Posted 12:26 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BARACK OBAMA'S CHRISTIAN VALUES: Last Friday, EJ Dionne praised Obama's recent address on liberalism and Christian faith as:
"the most important pronouncement by a Democrat on faith and politics since John F. Kennedy's Houston speech in 1960 declaring his independence from the Vatican."
I like Obama a lot and I am very interested in the politics of religion, so that got my attention. After listening to the address via podcast, I would have to agree that it is extraordinary. I have heard other Democrats enunciate many of the same ideas before, but none of them as prominent as Obama, and none of them able to reinforce their message with a personal declaration of faith in Jesus Christ.

Obama began by preacing to the choir. He told his liberal audience how Republicans such as Alan Keyes, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson embody the extremism and intolerance that brings shame to the political salience of Christian values.

But that was only a set up for Obama's much more relevant criticism of his own party. Besides, Keyes is a fool and Robertson is a scoundrel. As an independent who believes that Christian values can have a very positive role in US politics, I believe more centrists and conservative should denounce their brand of extremism.

In response to conservative accusations that liberals and Democrats are un-Christian, Obama said that:
Democrats, for the most part, have taken the bait. At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that - regardless of our personal beliefs - constitutional principles tie our hands. At worst, there are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word "Christian" describes one's political opponents, not people of faith.

Now, such strategies of avoidance may work for progressives when our opponent is Alan Keyes. But over the long haul, I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people's lives -- in the lives of the American people -- and I think it's time that we join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.
According to Dionne, perhaps the most important aspect of Obama's speech was his validation of thelogical doubts as legitimate for people of faith. Dionne writes that
Obama offers the first faith testimony I have heard from any politician that speaks honestly about the uncertainties of belief. "Faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts," Obama declared.
I think Dionne missed the point. Liberals and Democrats, including Christians, love to talk about the uncertainty of faith. Bill Clinton never shied away from talking about that while advertising his Christianity. And there's nothing wrong with that. I'm Jewish, and Judaism often seems to consists of more doubt than faith.

I think what really mattered is Obama's candid assertion that he was not able to live a fulfilling and meaningful life without Christianity:
The questions I had didn't magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.
Interestingly, Obama only referred to Jesus Christ by name twice in his address, both times while quoting Alan Keyes' wingnut speculation that "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama." I think that Democratic politicians' collective willingness to mention Christ's name in a positive context will be an important barometer of their ability to integrate Christian values into Democratic politics.

One day, will there be Democrats who are able to follow George Bush's lead and identify Jesus Christ as their favorite political philsopher? (Although my personal suspicion is that Jesus would've voted for Ralph Nader in 2000.)

One in area in which I think Obama will have to refine his ideas is the relationship between religion and policy. I don't think the Democrats will make much headway by invoking the Biblical injunction to care for the poor as a justification for defending taxes or social programs (which Obama did). That may strike many voters as simply too convenient.

For Democrats to establish their Christian credentials, I believe they will have to have the Christian equivalent of a "Sister Souljah moment". On some issue, Christian Democrats will have to demonstrate why their are different from secular Democrats.

I also think that Christian Democrats will have to provide a faith-based explanation for being pro-choice and pro-gay equality. On this point, Obama stated that:
Finally, any reconciliation between faith and democratic pluralism requires some sense of proportion.

This goes for both sides. Even those who claim the Bible's inerrancy make distinctions between Scriptural edicts, sensing that some passages - the Ten Commandments, say, or a belief in Christ's divinity - are central to Christian faith, while others are more culturally specific and may be modified to accommodate modern life.

The American people intuitively understand this, which is why the majority of Catholics practice birth control and some of those opposed to gay marriage nevertheless are opposed to a Constitutional amendment to ban it. Religious leadership need not accept such wisdom in counseling their flocks, but they should recognize this wisdom in their politics
This passage may strike many listeners as a license to oppose any religious stricture that is too inconvenient for those who live a "modern" life. By and large, I think Obama did a very good job of presenting religion as an integral aspect of modern life, and not its opposite. But I don't think he or other Democrats can afford to reverse that judgment when it comes to the selfsame issues Republicans have used to define the relevance of Christianity to politics.

What more can I say? Read the whole thing.
(18) opinions -- Add your opinion

I think he is a cynical opportunist who has decided that wrapping himself in a cloth of christianity lite is good for his brand.

I too was glad to read Obama’s remarks and hope that other left-of-centre Christian politicians will pick up on his lead.

RE: I also think that Christian Democrats will have to provide a faith-based explanation for being pro-choice and pro-gay equality.

I have written about my personal thoughts on the matter, but I wonder about putting a link to my blog out of courtesy. If the link offends, please remove this comment.
Obama just put himself out in the cold.

Opposing the bible-thumpers is integral to the dems' base. Labeling an idea they don't like as "bible-thumping" is integral to the dems' base.

The dems' base cannot stop showing vile intolerance to Christianity.

And without the base, you don't win primaries.

Maybe Obama would like to be a republican, or join Lieberman as an independent.

He's screwed as a dem.
I think Jesus drives a Corvair and will eventually have his revenge on Nader.
I disagree with your last point about dismissing parts of the Bible that are too inconvenient in a modern lifestyle. I've never met anybody who has literally followed every rule in the Bible. That would be absurd. Furthermore, I believe that there are certain parts of the Bible that we are morally obliged to oppose due to our adherence to the larger message.

Should I insist on beating my wife if she does something wrong (as long as the stick I use isn't thicker than my thumb)?

Should I oppose the teaching of evolution? To me, that would involve denying our power of reasoning---something that is celebrated throughout the Bible.

I also think that the idea that we should treat others as we would have them treat us is much more important than some obscure passage that supposedly forbids homosexuality.

These things aren't convenient; they are, in my opinion, morally right. I am glad that a politician is saying that to be a flexible, tolerant Christian is to be a good Christian.
can you find a phrase other than "christian democrats"? That just makes me think of Helmut Kohl, Konrad Adenauer, Aldo Moro, historic compromises, and assorted European coalition cabinet negotiations.
oh G-D!!!

Now we've got folks who dont know midrash spouting about which parts of the bible are immoral. I so wish Christians could have had their own book to debate, and could have left us alone with ours.

1. I know plenty of people who think they are obeying every rule of the bible. Of course theyre not doing it "literally" (peshat) cause the bible is to them the word of G-d, which means every word, every letter, every Hebrew grammatical particle has meaning, which must be drawn out, which leads to meanings often quite different from the "literal" ones. I dont know the midrash on beating your wife with a stick, but I know that folks who are follow the dietary laws in excruciating detail dont (generally) beat their wives.

2. There is of course nothing that says you can TEACH evolution. Genesis says what happened, it gives no instructions on what to teach. Laws dont come directly from narratves, only from the "thou shalts".

3. The ban on homosexuality comes from the Holiness Code, which is a key section of Vyikra (leviticus) Now there are some good reasons for questioning if it really does ban homosexuality (see the works of Rabbi Artson and Rabbi Dorff) but belittling this section of the bible is unworthy.

This of course has nothing to do with Obama. Hoever, all in all, I dearly wish the Christians had their own book that the fundies and liberals could fight over, so I didnt have to hear such constant inanity about the Hebrew bible

Im sorry if i what i just said sounds parochial, snobby, or just not inclined to win friends. Normally i like to be all ecumenical, but sometimes a rant is called for.
that should be "nothing that says you cant TEACH"
Liberals treat Christianity like the Constitution. If it doesn't support their values, then they change it to fit.
Obama may be the great black hope of the Democratic party but I lost any respect I had for him when I found out he was brought up by his mother and she never gets mentioned. Maybe it is because she is white.
"My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, was probably one of the most spiritual and kindest people I've ever known, but grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion herself. As a consequence, so did I."
--From the Obama speech being dicussed in this post.

"My father, who returned to Kenya when I was just two, was born Muslim but as an adult became an atheist."
--Same speech.

Perhaps Obama doesn't praise his father as much as his mother because his father is black.
In 3 years nobody will remember Obama
he is an opportunist and a light weight- maybe he can follow in jesse jacksons footsteps as a shakedown artist in line after rev al sharpton or maybe his claim to fame will be alledging he found a pubic hair in his coke can. Anyway he has pissed off the clintons so he is toast
In 3 years nobody will remember Obama
he is an opportunist and a light weight- maybe he can follow in jesse jacksons footsteps as a shakedown artist in line after rev al sharpton or maybe his claim to fame will be alledging he found a pubic hair in his coke can. Anyway he has pissed off the clintons so he is toast
you never hear condi rice preaching, she has a real job. those who can do those who can not preach
In response to David Adesnik's last comment, Obama probably doesn't praise his father as much as his mother b/c he didn't know his father as well. I believe his father left his mother when Obama was maybe three years old (or younger), and Obama only met his father one other time (again, based on what I've read of Obama's biography). So this should be considered before anyone starts considering "self hatred of his black side" theories.
well i guess this post did not get much traction because it is about a dead ender
I found Obama's speech positively enchanting. I am a Jew though quite unreligious. In fact, I'm probably more of an agnostic than a practicing Jew. I tend to view religion negatively - not for its irrationality but for its dogmatism. Science once suffered from the same pretensions until folks like Karl Popper helped situate the work of scientific rationalism within the larger body of human thought. Anyway, I'm exactly the kind of person who would rather we never discuss religion in public life. So I was probably a target of Obama's words.

And I think he was very convincing. I'm not reconciled to how or why he "discovered" Jesus on the South Side. But I am reconciled to the fact that for him, and for a majority of Americans, embrace of Jesus Christ is central to his humanity and to the way he makes sense of the world. What makes his speech so great, then, is that he rejects the dogmatism so often associated with Christianity (or any religion). His allusion to Abraham, Isaac and the Department of Children and Family Services was brilliant: not everybody "sees" what the believer sees. We can only go collectively on what we hold in common.
During the Civil Rights era, I can't imagine anyone suggesting that Dr. Martin Luther King just 'shut up' about his religion. At that time there was no disparity between his religious beliefs and the goals of attaining civil rights for Black people. In fact, religion was a major source of his strength.

This is why gay marriage has become such a contentious issue for Democrats. In order to support gay marriage Democrats have to eschew religion and embrace secular humanism which is a concept that is foreign to many in the Democratic Party.

Right now the Democratic party is hemorrhaging Black voters who comprise one of its major constituencies. After the 2004 election an RNC official stated that their goals was to gain at least 25-35% of the Black vote. Though that number might seem modest, losing that many Black voters would break the back of the Democratic Party. Worse, Republicans are picking off the demographic i.e. religious folks, who comprise the bulk of the registered voters within the Black community.

While gays might contribute more monetarily to the Dems, they don't have the numbers to carry elections. Therein lies the problem. With upwards of 70% of Blacks against gay marriage Dems face alienating a major part of the their constituency by embracing gay marriage.

Barak Obama is attempting to bridge the divide between the secular and religious factions of the Democratic Party. To this end he should be commended though I doubt he will be wholly successful.

It is horrifying to think that Dr. King would no longer be welcome in the Democratic Party.
Anonymous said...
I think he is a cynical opportunist who has decided that wrapping himself in a cloth of christianity lite is good for his brand.

Hmm, most people in America are religious, whether they be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu etc. They just don't want any religion rammed down their throat.I refer here to the Christian Right, who think they are ALWAYS right and to question anything they do or say, iw an abomination. Unreal.
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