The Faith of Barack Obama

   Working through the book The Audacity of Hope, amid many other unfunded studies, we find the gullibility- a nice word for stupidity- of the Christian right to be astounding. I usually have trouble reading the books of politicians, though I was able to work through the books of Ben Carson when looking for a Republican candidate that is actually capable of being president.

   Barack and I share a peculiar combination of political philosophy studies and Biblical studies. This is peculiar because the political philosophers with whom I have studied tend to view faith as false but useful, necessary to political concord, if not quite what Marx said-if I remember correctly, and have not confused the few and the many, he said that Opium was the “opiate of the masses.”

   Having studied political philosophy at Harvard, where he was editor of the Harvard newspaper, Barack no doubt knows Harvey Mansfield, who guest taught a class on Machiavelli in my graduate pogram, so that we may even have a teacher in common.

   Barack knows about John Leland, the Baptist who is responsible for persuading Jefferson and Madison that it is possible to have a government that not only allows liberty to religious expression, but does not itself establish a religion (Audacity, p.217). Since the right, with their moral majority, attempted to use religion in part to restore ethics, but also in part to take political power, an ignorance has been cultivated regarding the sense in which we are a “Christian” nation. This ignorance is well remedied by the book of Steven Waldman on the Faith of the Founders, a beautiful and true book. But the republicans to whom it is addressed do not read and when they do, do not consider, since their faith is based upon the suppression of the doubt engendered by the view of the whole that we have been given by modern science. That, by the way, is our “reactionary” conservatism. I am not sure that Barack knows about Roger Williams, the forerunner of Leland and founder of Rhode Island, and Providence, “Where the new world shadows hang / Heavy in the air,” according to Glenn Fry.

   In a word, as Madison states, religion is a duty that we owe to God alone. Hence, being above political obligation, it is in regard to our government a right. We have a right to obey God, especially when no one else’s rights are being violated. Again, according to that magical sentence of Montesquieu that is superior even to the formulation of Jefferson, political liberty consists…

…in the power of doing what we ought to will, and in not being constrained to do what we ought not to will.

                                                           The Spirit of the Laws, Book XI.3

   When we are not forbidden to do the good, nor compelled to do what is wrong, we are free. But Barack and I share this Jeffersonian principle that the purpose of government is to secure rights. Hence, when no one else’s rights which the government is obliged to protect are being violated, the government has no business. “Our legislators,” Jefferson writes, are mistaken about their function, which is to secure our natural rights and to take none of them from us. He takes a couple paragraphs to explain there in his letter to Francis Gilmore. Jefferson himself defines liberty in just these terms, as the power of doing whatever one likes within the limits of the rights of others, but this is a very democratic definition. This principle governs our thought on religion, abortion and homosexuality.

   As Americans, we do not have the right, nor does the government have any power, to require of others that they be Christian, nor to establish the Biblical beliefs, for example regarding homosexuality, abortion or pornography, to govern their actions. Still, as Christians, we secure the right to teach that these things are wrong, and even as psychologists, to hold that they are harmful to the soul. But where no other rights that the government has a power to secure are being violated, (as the right of property is violated by thievery), government has no power. What if, for example, lawn chemicals or overpopulation affected the hormone balance in adolescents, leading to a genuine confusion of attraction? While indiscriminate lust might be proscribed by public policy, especially in the age of AIDS, homosexuality per se cannot be legislated against, nor can we require of the citizens a Christian view of marriage, any more that they can require us to cease teaching it. Homosexuality holds some great perplexities about the human soul, and we cannot assume we know the nature and the cause. No one even asks, let alone knows, for example, why one attracted to the male is attracted to the effeminate male. But if there is genuine love and monogamous relations, the question is surely beyond the authority of our government, given that citizens are not required to be Biblical.

   But my theme today is the Christian Democrats. Barack studied political philosophy, and then entered community organizing in Chicago as a way to “make justice real.” There is a line of thought shared by my old professor from Grand Valley, Steven Rowe, similar to the pragmatism of William James, impatient with the theoretical life, while so much injustice occurs in the world around us. From a theological point of view, Rowe, in his very vocation, would advocate “Community, action and commitment.” Indeed these are three things often good that we need.

   And while in practice, this may be a very good teaching, in theory it is, watery, or indeed a disaster, like the campaign slogan of Barack, “Change.” And now we have heard the same word from the right. Similar to our thousand jokes flickering around the embers of that saying, now some eight years under the bridge, we simply note, as we did back then at Grand Valley, that Nazi Germany was not lacking in “Community, action and commitment.” By contrast the political philosophy studied by the students of Leo Strauss is solid, as if built on a solid foundation.

   But to return again, the Democrats, as the party of the many, are good at the virtue of compassion, while the republicans, as the party of the few, are aristocratic when they are good, upholding the traditions that support the upright, noble and just character, like the heroes in the FBI T.V. shows. These are two different approaches to the good of the nation, and the Christian obviously does seek both the ends of compassion and the upright ethical character, so that these two together are parts of the common good that guides political action. These two stretch though every political issue including all points of religion, each concerned with a different part, even while accusing the other of irreligion on the basis of their failure to be concerned with the other part.

[p. 207] Barack was attracted to the “word made manifest” in the Black Churches, “To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and challenge the powers and principalities.” He leaned that religious commitment did not require his to retreat from the world in quite so literal a sense, nor to suspend critical thinking- that faith is not in contradiction with reason, nor, to say the least, with Socratic ignorance. As in music, the black churches are the source and repository of much of America’s “soul.”

   There is a way for the Christian minister to be in the world that Barack may well have leaned from the apostle, saint Martin Luther King Jr. Non-violence surely woks for protest movements, if it is not always sufficient to stop large men about to beat up small women and Children, or even armed police to kill innocent citizens. The way is to recede, but lay our bodies down, even in the street to prevent the entrance of Steve Bannon into Washington D.C.

   Learning these things, or removing these impediments about critical thinking and action in the world, and seeing the beautiful deeds of the happy people of faith, Barack (p. 208) states:

   I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized. It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South side of Chicago, I felt God’s Spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to his will, and dedicated myself to discovering his truth

   Of the Christian Democrats, Barack (p. 214) states:

When we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome- others will fill the vacuum. And those who do are likely to be those with the most insular views of faith, or who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

   Hence, Barack has been able to fulfill one of those seven roles of the president discussed in 101 textbooks. Our president is also chief of state, combining the roles of the Queen and the Prime Minister in Great Britain. As such, this includes something like the care for the religious direction of the nation as a whole, the role that Lincoln indeed fulfilled so well, presiding over national prayer. The president is the only office elected by the nation as a whole, in this sense the only federal representative.

   Barack is a centrist and a pragmatist in practice, aiming to prevent unwanted pregnancies, lower abortion rates and help ensure that “every child is loved and cherished.” His pragmatic position on abortion has surely prevented more abortions than the right has been able to prevent at the expense of the constitution. He adds (p. 215) that “faith can…

…fortify a young woman’s sense of self, a young man’s sense of responsibility and the sense of reverence all young people should have for the act of sexual intimacy.

   The abortion issue is deeply complicated, beginning from the confusing fact that even in the extraordinarily harsh law set through Moses for Israel, there is no law against abortion. Like the principle of abstinence from alcohol, the Christians have conserved a tradition that is derived from another source, from common sense and also from a partial error in reasoning, as has been addressed on another occasion. For American law, the question involves an attempt in each particular circumstance to balance the rights of the woman, who is a citizen, with the developing rights of the fetus, both of which the government is trying to protect. Barack knows that a fetus is “more than” even “a body part.” It is more than an animal, which our laws protect from cruelty and even accidental neglect. It is a developing person with partial rights. Justice Black attempted to address this anomaly by dividing the trimesters: we do not have funerals for miscarriages, but killing an unborn child in the ninth month, if not at at viability is probably murder. The pro-choice arguments cannot distinguish abortion from infanticide, that is, all their arguments equally justify the killing of one-year-olds. We are amazed that in the judgement, we do not place on one pan of the scale of justice the pain and difficulty of adoption to be balanced against the partial right to life of the fetus. The rights in law might be established through the rights of the father, who is a full citizen, though the fetus is not. A judge might then decide, when adoption is an option, whether it is more important to respect the right of a fetus to life and potentially, an eighty year future, over the right of the woman not to endure the pain of adoption, when maternal care awakens and the love of the mother for the child causes the great and unforeseen trauma, given that, discounting the tricks of nature, the pregnancy was voluntary.

   The law against abortion comes from the Hippocratic oath and Greek medicine, which was always observed in the Western world for well over two thousand years, although abortion just became possible en masse in the past century. It is an anomaly that the Christian right has been taught that it is murder, and also an anomaly that the left does not recognize the rights of the yet to be born. It is an even greater anomaly that the issue was just used to elect a tyrant that does not know why nor believe in the reason that murder itself is wrong, a theoretical deficiency that allows him to admire a tyrant with a great deal of blood upon his hands, and one which is soon to have the gravest practical consequences.

   Now I want some theologian of the “Christian Evangelical” to write a parallel study on “The Faith of Donald Trump.”

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