Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Barack Obama on Religion and Politics (Call to Renewal speech, June 2006)

Reconciling Faith and Politics

“(Obama's speech on faith) may be 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...Obama offers the first faith testimony I have heard from any politician that speaks honestly about the uncertainties of belief.”

— E.J. Dionne, Op-Ed., Washington Post, June 30, 2006

I already blogged Obama speech here:
. The transcript of the full "Call to Renewal" June 2006 speech is here.

Here is the IHEU repost of his speech

Given the great debate that has raged for decades in the United States regarding the role of religion in politics it was good to see a presidential candidate giving support for secularism. The edited speech can be seen at:

Given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism are greater than ever. Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation, at least, not just.
We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation and a nation of non-believers.
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 it be 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 okay, that eating shell-fish is an abomination? Or should we go with 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 is doubtful our own Defense Department would survive its application? Before we get carried away, let’s read our Bibles now.

Which brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously-motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. What do I mean by this? It requires that proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, to take one example,
but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice I can’t simply point to the teachings of my Church, or invoke God’s will.
I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those of no faith at all. Now this is going to be difficult to some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do, but in a pluralistic society we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves compromise, the art of what’s possible, and at some fundamental level religion doesn’t allow for compromise. It is the art of the impossible. If God spoke then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts regardless of the consequences. Now to base one’s own life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing. And if you doubt that, let me give you an example. We all know the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham was ordered by God to offer up his only son. Without argument, he takes Isaac up to the mountain top, he binds Isaac to the altar, raises his knife, prepares to act as God commanded. Now we know the thing worked out. God sends down an angel to intercede at the very last minute. Abraham passes God’s test of devotion, but it’s fair to say that if any of us leaving the Church saw Abraham up on the roof of the 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 don’t hear what Abraham hears. We don’t see what Abraham sees. And 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. So we have some work to do here. I am hopeful that we can bridge the gap that exists, to overcome the prejudices that all of us bring to this debate. And I have faith that millions of believing Americans want that to happen. No matter how religious they may be, or may not be, people are tired of seeing faith used as a tool of attack. They don’t want faith used to belittle or to divide because that’s not how they think about faith in their own lives.

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