Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama on Religion and Politics

Watch this video of a speech given by the new President Elect:

The speech is from 2006, transcript here, actually, you really should just read it all. Whoever edited the video took out a lot of good stuff (perhaps because the video on youtube is titled: Obama versus religion). But even edited it'd be hard to come to that conclusion. Here is a good part not in the video:
In fact, because I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality, I would rather have someone who is grounded in morality and ethics, and who is also secular, affirm their morality and ethics and values without pretending that they're something they're not. They don't need to do that. None of us need to do that.

But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Moreover, if we progressives shed some of these biases, we might recognize some overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country. We might recognize that the call to sacrifice on behalf of the next generation, the need to think in terms of "thou" and not just "I," resonates in religious congregations all across the country. And we might realize that we have the ability to reach out to the evangelical community and engage millions of religious Americans in the larger project of American renewal...

...[Conservatives] need 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. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn't the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn't want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves. It was the forbearers of the evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they did not want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it.

The part in the video about translating religious values into something universally acceptable makes me think someone has been reading Rawls (or, I suppose, almost any modern political philosopher). Do I think doing this compromises religious belief? Not at all. In fact, I'm glad of it. I've written about the role of religion in political life before, esp for Christians. This isn't new, though sometimes I struggle with just how much my personal convictions should influence how I participate in our political system (the short story: I care when there is negative interference with non-consenting others, where others can be human or, more broadly, animals and the environment). In essence, I think we are called to stand apart from society, not take it over. We are to be lights, not tyrants. We are to love, not discriminate or spread hatred. Etc.

As an aside, this is the 4th time in the course of 2 days that I've come across the Abraham and Isaac story. Once was after class with a fellow student. And then the chapters I happened to get to in my nightly read through the Bible were about it, and the devotion for the day in My Upmost. I feel like maybe I should be thinking more about it, what do you think? I'll probably try and revisit Kierkegaard's discussion about it too.

So, really soon I will have a post up about Abraham, God, and the irrationality of theism (and for the less religiously inclined, morality). I will try and magically tie it in with a paper I'm working on about Williams' Internal and External Reasons (and a response by Scanlon). I have high hopes.

In the meantime, you should read this if you haven't already. It's a letter from Jim Wallis contra Dobsons' idiodic scare letter (about what America would turn into if Obama got elected). Obama is left of the right, so he's no danger. What I'd really like to see is real wealth spreader in office (wink wink).

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