Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Barack Obama on "The Christian Nation"

Lindsey Shuman

At the risk of plunging into a political debate, I thought the following video would be quite appropriate for our blog. Considering some of the recent debates over the "Christian Nation" argument I am sure that this will be a very provocative video.

In the video, Barack Obama discusses why he believes America is not a Christian nation. In addition, Obama points out that to call America a Christian Nation is foolish because who's Christianity should we embrace? BTW, the video is from 2007 and has been used by Christian conservatives to demonstrate the fact that Obama is an evil man...or something like that.

36 comments:

Raven said...

Great stuff! I completely argree with our soon-to-be 44th president, Barack Obama.

I would like to be "enlightened" by our resident Christian zealots on this video. Please, Our Founding Truth, Brian Tubbs, Hercules, etc. WHat say you???

Pinky said...

Excellent choice to display.
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That video needs to get a lot of circulation.
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Jonathan Rowe said...

Brian isn't a zealot. OFT is. Herc. is usually (but not always) very polite but his view on the "Christian Nation" are far out there.

Brad Hart said...

Yep...I second Jon's comments. Brian is not a zealot. He is a religious man and certainly a man of faith, but Raven is wrong to call him a zealot or to lump him in with others. I've known Brian for a while now, and we usually see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues. He's very reasonable in his views. I think Raven is just holding an old grudge from the days when Brian would give him a smackdown over at the American Revolution Blog.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I just left some posts at my other 2 blogs directed here. I'm going to do a follow up post probably tomorrow on his speech.

He talks about the need to translate religious values into universal arguments. This isn't new; it's a John Rawls argument. The Abraham/Isaac example is interesting because I've blogged about it. I didn't come up with the example. As far as I know William Galston did. He mentioned it at a symposium I attended for the James Madison Program on the anniversary Father Neuhaus's "The Naked Public Square." Galston noted parallels between the Rawlsian public reason argument and the Roman Catholic's natural law tradition which uses "reason" and the "natural law" to translate sectarian religious arguments into universal arguments.

He used the Abraham/Isaac example to illustrate a piece of biblical faith that cannot be translated -- that must be taken on faith alone.

It seems like Obama's saying the same thing. So I wonder where he learned about it.

Pinky said...

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J.R. muses, "So I wonder where [Obma] learned about [translating sectarian religious arguments into universal arguments]."
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He has a keen intelligence--something we're not used to seeing in public leadership?
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It will be interesting to watch him operate during the presidential election debates. I'm sure he can be devastating.
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Brian Tubbs said...

raven is right that Barack Obama is our soon-to-be 44th President. Barring a major misstep, it's his election to lose.

Since raven's asked for my opinion on this video, I'll offer the following comments...

1. Obama is right that we are not an exclusively Christian nation (and we never have been). We are a religiously diverse people, and our government needs to be sensitive to this.

2. I agree with Obama that the US government should not pass policies or laws based solely on sectarian views or religious interpretations. But...

3. I would caution that our Founding Fathers DID stake the Declaration of Independence (and many of our subsequent laws) on a monotheistic perspective. The "self-evident truths" asserted in the DoI are based on the existence of a "Creator" and "Supreme Judge" who "endows" us with "certain unalienable rights." This is a religious worldview - and it's one that atheists and full-fledged secularists are not comfortable with. They prefer to focus on "Nature" instead of "Nature's God."

4. One other cautionary note...in a pluralistic and democratic society, people have the right to engage the political process, according to their religious and moral views. Obama has said this himself in other speeches. Thus, I disagree with him (in this particular video clip) that a person who feels a certain way about an issue, because of his or her faith perspective, must set that aside or find new ground upon which to rest his or her opinion. I disagree strongly. Each individual citizen must have the freedom to formulate his or her ideology and EXPRESS that ideology, without the government condescendingly telling him or her that he or she must leave religion at the door. Christians have as much right to play in the policy making sandbox as atheists do. And vice versa. If Christians win, they win. If they lose, they lose. The same goes for people of any interest group or "faction."

Brian Tubbs said...

One more thing...

Obama does the same thing that many critics of Christianity do, and that is he throws out some of the more provocative Old Testament passages as 'red herrings.'

One of the reasons I find this objectionable is that Barack Obama is a smart guy. I would say "brilliant" in fact. He should know better. He should have basic enough understanding of Christian theology and denominational tenets to KNOW....

1. The OVERWHELMING majority of evangelical Christians see the Bible in a dispensational framework -- and thus understand that the Mosaic Code (including those passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy to which he refers) was applicable to only the Hebrew people and only in that time period.

2. Moderate to liberal Christians see the Bible as a written record of the development of both the Jewish and Christian faiths. Thus, they do not see themselves bound by these OT passages, since they reflect a bygone era.

Combine the above two points, and probably 95% of all Christians in the western world regard the OT passages on stoning rebellious teens, killing witches and homosexuals, as well as animal sacrifices, etc. are NOT applicable today.

I'm not saying it's invalid to ask about those passages or to discuss them. What frustrates me is that critics just throw them out there with no context or explanation, solely (it seems to me) as a cheap debating tactic. We should expect better from someone like Barack Obama, who presents himself as a statesman and who is (by all accounts) one of the brightest figures on the political stage today.

bpabbott said...

I'd love to see someone do a post on McCain's position (or did I miss it?).

While it has been edited and thus may not give a proper view of McCain's position, there is this video on YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9izhjnaLa3M

Tom Van Dyke said...

I agree with Mr. Tubbs in that arguments from "universal values" or "natural law" are necessarily the lingua franca of public debate, if you're looking to change the other fellow's mind.

No use thumping the Bible at someone who rejects it.

However, many folks cannot translate their convictions into the other fellow's language. But this does not mean one cannot vote his conscience. To insist that people do is a tyranny of the mind as strong as any other dogma.

Noticeably missing from Sen. Obama's thesis about the undesirability of the Religious Right's alignment with the GOP is the other side of the coin, of course: the black American church's near-monolithic alignment with the Democrats. A useful thought experiment, per whose Gore is being oxed.

bpabbott said...

Brian: "One of the reasons I find this objectionable is that Barack Obama is a smart guy. I would say "brilliant" in fact. He should know better. He should have basic enough understanding of Christian theology and denominational tenets to KNOW...."

There are sufficient Christians that quote from the OT, that I don't think it is inappropriate for critics to do so.

As a devout Christian I understand your objection, and understand your desire to pick what you like from the book and explain away or dispense with the parts that are unreasonable (literally) to you in the context of modern day ... However, at the same time it is to be expected for critics to pick and choose as well, no?

Jonathan Rowe said...

I may be wrong; but I'm going to make a prediction that Lawrence Galston has some kind of affiliation with the Obama campaign.

Tom may remember my post on "Catholics, Natural Law, and the Founding" where I discussed Galston's paper he delivered at Princeton at the symposium on Neuhaus' book. It goes right from public reason and the need to translate religious arguments into universal arguments and then to the Abraham and Isaac example, just like in Obama's speech.

Brad Hart said...

We did do a posting a while back on McCain, Abbott. I think it was Lindsey as well. You could click on her label to find it.

I think that Brian has pretty much stated everything that I wanted to cover here. He is absolutely right when he talks about our founders invoke a "monotheistic perspective" in the various founding documents. While we may argue over which God, or what kind of God they were invoking -- and we've done that quite a bit on this blog -- I don't think that anyone will dispute that the founders were invoking some form of deity at the very least.

As far as Obama throwing out provocative passages from the OT, I think he is specifically addressing those who take a LITERAL interpretation of the Bible and consider it to be infallible. Obviously Obama has a problem with "infallible" religion and I can understand why. On this I agree with Obama. However, I think that Brian is right when he points out how 95% of Christians today would be against stoning a child, etc.

Oh, and Raven, what about Brian’s opinion? Let’s hear what you have to say about his “radical” Christian views.

Pinky said...

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Obama closes with, "No matter how religious people may or may not be, people are tired of seeing religion used as a tool of attack."
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In his first post, B.T. claims, "I disagree (with Obama) strongly. Each individual citizen must have the freedom to formulate his or her ideology and EXPRESS that ideology, without the government condescendingly telling him or her that he or she must leave religion at the door. Christians have as much right to play in the policy making sandbox as atheists do."
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Not really, Brian.
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Every person possesses the exact same rights except when it comes to getting the government to act on behalf of legislation that supports some form of religious worship. Atheists and all other persons have the right to demand that government not legislate on behalf or religious worship. There is a cutting edge and it is that wall of separation between church and state.
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But, we all share the same right to self expression.
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Ideological expression of beliefs and governmental actions on behalf of any religious organization are two distinctly different things.

Brad Hart said...

Interesting point, Pinky. I think that there is at least some pandering that is done in the halls of Washington to support Christian legislation. However, my guess is that it is not as prevelant as we might think. With that said, I must clarify that I am no political expert, and would certainly stand corrected if anyone had information to the contrary.

Raven said...

I never called Brian a radical, just a Christian zealot. It wasn't an insult, only an observation and his comments prove that I am right.

1.) the founders did not create the founding documents based upon a belief in deity as Brian, Brad, Jon and others point out. THey created these documents to counter religious zealotry in the colonies.

2.) Obama is right to state that people are fed up with religion. If you believe in the Bible you cannot simply pick and choose which parts to believe. The Old Testament is full of garbage like stoning kids, killing gays, etc. For Brian and others to say that these passages somehow don't matter as much today or that they only pertained to an ancient time is absurd. If that is true, then why are they still being read in churches across America?

3.) As for Brian's comment that, "Christians have as much right to play in the policy making sandbox as atheists do" this is only part true. The government of the United States is secular, therefore Christians cannot inject their doctrine and faith into public policy, YET THEY DO!!! This is not a problem for atheists.

4.)As for Brian expecting more from Obama when he supposedly throws cheap shots at Christianity, give me a break! The stuff is in YOUR BOOK! It is up to you to defend it. If you don't like it, take that stuff out! The problem is that most Christians can't because they have committed to this ridiculous notion that the Bible is 100% perfect. Sounds like the problem is in YOUR corner, Christians...not with the secularists or with Obama.

Pinky said...

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Two points.
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First in response to B.H. who wrote that he thinks, "...there is at least some pandering that is done in the halls of Washington to support Christian legislation."
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I think there is a lot of it even though it gets disguised as though it were some non-religious value. The wars in which our nation is engaged are related to religious purposes in the minds of a large segment of American society. To oppose something on a religious basis is a religious action. Our reason for opposing Iran can be seen--at least in part--as religiously based.
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Second, in response to the McCain video posted by B.P.A. in which McCain stutters out, "I just feel that my faith is probably a better spiritual guidance."
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Once again, all the religious talk is perfectly good and acceptable as long as no legislation comes from it. He isn't calling for a religious test; but, in the minds of a large segment, he makes the point that he passes such a test if it were to be given. And, doesn't he get such a sweet look on his face as he shows how well he passes the test?
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Pinky said...

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I think Raven is correct is saying that Brian is a zealot.
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Brian Tubbs said...

If raven and pink choose to see me as a 'zealot,' I don't think anything will dissuade them from that. I will say, however, that I'm not exactly sure what they mean by the word. One definition from the dictionary is simply "a person who shows zeal." Based on that definition, I would say that a LOT of us are "zealots." In fact, being an Ohio resident, I'd have to include all OSU Buckeye fans in the 'zealot' camp. :-)

Pinky said...

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You ARE militant in your Christian beliefs.
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And, Ohio wish I were in Mich again is a common call in Columbus.
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Brian Tubbs said...

Regarding the Bible...It's very difficult in a discussion forum like this to discuss theology. Some people just want to "flame" others and so they conduct rhetorical hit-and-run "raids." And, in general, attention spans are shorter on the Internet. And space and time just simply don't allow for much in the way of depth, nuance, and detail.

With the above limitations in mind, let me simply say the following...

1. Barack Obama's point on the OT passages (which triggered this whole exchange) was to ask which biblical passages would be applied if we became a "Christian nation." My answer is that I'm aware of no Christian engaged in the political process today, who wants to implement stoning, literal witch hunts, execution of gays, etc. So, for Obama to throw that out there is frankly pandering to secularist critics of Christianity. It was a cheap debating tactic designed to score points and put Christians on the defensive. Nothing more.

It would only be legitimate if some of the Christians he is criticizing (like, say, Dobson) were actually CALLING for these extreme measures - i.e., stoning rebellious kids, executing homosexuals, etc.

Have we lost the ability to accord some degree of FAIRNESS to the opposition? I don't mind people disagreeing with me, but is it too much to ask that those who DO differ with me make an honest attempt to truly UNDERSTAND my position(s)? Should this not be the case across the board?

Obama's rhetoric (and some of the other rhetoric seen here) just serves to further polarize various constituencies and inflame political discourse.

2. When it comes to the Bible itself, there are SEVERAL issues at play here, and we're talking past each other, unless we acknowledge them. If a Christian activist is saying that he or she wants to replace the Constitution of the United States with the Bible, THEN it would be fair to ask whether we're going to start stoning rebellious teens or what not. But which Christian activist is saying that? David Barton isn't. James Dobson isn't.

I'm NOT saying you have to agree with Barton, Dobston, et al, but can we lay off the scare tactics? Can we at least engage them based on what they are actually SAYING?

3. When it comes to theology itself, is it unreasonable to ask what the Bible means? What it intends? In other words, it's not "picking and choosing" for a Christian to conclude that certain OT passages are inapplicable today. Rather, it's being fair to the context and intent of the authors. For example, in the Old Testament, people made animal sacrifices to atone for their sins. This is not necessary today, according to Christian theology, because Jesus offered Himself as the sacrifice. This is why you don't see animal sacrifices at your Baptist or Methodist or Episcopalian church around the corner. It's not that these churches are picking-and-choosing what parts of the Bible to obey. They are respecting the full context of the Bible.

Bottom line...all I'm asking is that critics of Christians make some kind of honest effort to truly UNDERSTAND where Christians are coming from. Don't just throw accusations, labels, and attacks around. It only cheapens debate.

Brad Hart said...

Bravo, Brian! Well stated! And for the record, you are a zealot...a zealot of the American Revolution!!! =)

Lindsey Shuman said...

I had a feeling that this might turn out to be a hot topic. While I disagree with HOW Raven put the question, I for one AM interested in hearing what the more conservative contributors and commentators have to say. I'm curious not because I want to argue, but because I would like to hear your side.

Why the name-calling? I agree with Brian. Try to UNDERSTAND his argument, not simply throw cheap shots. I'm not saying we need to be touchy-feely on this blog. It is fun to "have it out" with one another from time to time. However, why are we singling out somebody who is neither a zealot or a fanatic, but simply a fan of this topic?

I'm not trying to stick up for Brian here. I believe that he is more that capable of doing that for himself. Nor am I saying that I agree with him. Instead I am simply stating that it would do some a world of good to actually LISTEN and then THINK about what he is trying to say. Is he calling Obama out? No. Is he attacking those that disagree with the "Christian Nation" theory? No. He is simply saying that Obama's rhetoric is shallow when it comes to Old Testament doctrine. He is simply "throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks" as Jon is fond of saying.

Though I disagree with this particular point, I at least feel that I understand where Brian is coming from (as opposed to a few others in this thread of comments).

As for my opinion, I agree with Obama 100%. He is not attacking religion in my opinion, but is instead attempting to put it in its place. As for his biblical references from the OT, I think we may be reading more into those examples than we should. Obama is simply using them to prove a point, which is that Christianity, broadly defined, cannot apply to the whole of the American populace. Hence his reference of Dobson's or Sharpton's faith.

Maybe he is pandering to the secularists, but that is ok as well. The Christian right is pandered to probably more than any other group, so Obama pandering to secularists is ok in my book, though I don't think he is doing that here. Instead, I think he sincerely believes what he is saying, and I for one agree with him.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Is pandering to the Religious Right bad but pandering to the secular left OK?

Just checking. ;-D And megadittoes about the name-calling.

Pinky said...

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Lindsey asks, "Why the name calling?"
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I was raised in a Fundamentalist Baptist church where to have said someone was a Christian Zealot was a compliment.
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I meant it sincerely.
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bpabbott said...

Brad: "I don't think that anyone will dispute that the founders were invoking some form of deity at the very least."

Certainly! I know of no one who claims otherwise.

From my perspective what many object to is individuals painting the faith of the founders with their favorite colors.

Brian: "I would say that a LOT of us are "zealots.""

I hope so! ;-)

Brian, you bring up a good point ... How is it that having zeal for some principle(s) came to have an improper context?

Personally, I feel remorse for those who have no zeal for some principle.

Regarding Obama's position, I don't interpret his position as implying anyone is claiming that teens should be stoned for embarrassing their parents, but rather the Bible should not be taken literally. It is unfortunate that so many Christians (among followers of other faiths) do attempt to justify their positions by literally interpreting scripture. I thought Obama was quite clear that we need to translate our opinions into secular language, and justify our opinions based upon a literal interpretation of scripture.

Lindsey: "Why the name-calling?"

Actually, I must admit, in most of Brian's posts, I infer him to be over-zealous with respect to Christianity. It did not even faze me that Raven implied Brian to be a zealot, simply because it would not be out of line to infer such from his posts.

Meanwhile, I think Brian capitalized on an opportunity to explain his position. However, I also find there is much about it is written in such a narrow perspective that I (and I assume many others) will not be able to appreciate it.

Lindsey, your latest comment makes some excellent points regarding Obama's speech! ... However, I don't think translating principles and values into a secular language is the same as pandering to secularists (I may have incorrectly inferred your point, if so correct me). For me, translating into secular language is needed to permit people of different religious perspectives to embrace an idea .. thus it is pandering to *everyone*.

Well, enough with the critical comentary from me. I greatly enjoyed this post and the passionate discussion that followed. I individuals passions aren't ignited then this blog wouldn't be what it should be.

Brian Tubbs said...

I am genuinely curious as to how I am coming across to some as overly zealous and "militant." I'm not offended, just perplexed.

Brian Tubbs said...

Back to Obama....I think his point about what brand or version of Christianity is a valid question. There are some churchgoing Christians who throw the term "Christian America" around without thinking that through. It's a valid point.

If I haven't made it clear, I agree with several points that Obama makes. In fact, I agree with Obama on several things generally.

Brian Tubbs said...

Oh, and I also agree with the argument that Christians can't (or at least shouldnt') use the legislative or judicial process to force others to practice their religion. I don't think very many Christians are trying to do this, but I will acknowledge the point anyway.

When I said what I said about Christians playing in the policy sandbox, I am referring to Christians voting for, advocating for, and/or organizing for laws that reflect their values. They have as much right to do this as any other interest group.

bpabbott said...

Brian: "I am genuinely curious as to how I am coming across to some as overly zealous and "militant." I'm not offended, just perplexed."

I'm happy to offer you my thoughts, but I don't think this is the right place for it. I'll send you an email so that we might pick a more appropriate forum for this discussion.

Ed Darrell said...

"whose"

"whose Christianity should we embrace?"

Tom Van Dyke said...

Why, Thomas Jefferson's, of course. Isn't that point of this whole blog?

Or is there more to it than that?

(bad) Jim Sweeney said...

I'm with Brian when he says "Christians have as much right to play in the policy making sandbox as atheists do." We atheists bring our values to the discussion as well, and it might be worth noting a general enthusiasm among liberals for the beatitudes.

However, an argument that government must do or may not do something "because Christian doctrine demands it" cannot be considered legitimate because ours is not an explicitly Christian government.

It's fine to say "As a Christian I must advocate this" but not to say "You must obey the word of God."

As to the question of the relevance of OT dicta, it's seldom clear exactly which are generally considered active in the current dispensation. If we can has cheeseburger, can we has gay marriage?

Pinky said...

The idea that Christians have as much right as Atheists is a diversion and, as such, is a feeble attempt to spin the truth.
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Atheists do not have the right to force legislation based on Atheism per se. Nor does any religiously based group have that right.
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The idea that "Christians have as much right as Atheists" is a foot in the door approach and it only works when you're preaching to the choir.
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I'm surprised anyone would use such a subterfuge.
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Brian Tubbs said...

Pink, there's no subterfuge intended. I'm saying that every American citizen (or group of citizens) has the right to engage the political process - to vote, to organize, to lobby, etc. They all have the right - and they have the right to do so, according to their value system and/or perspective. That includes religion.

Do I believe that Christians should have some kind of privileged position? No.

Do I believe they have a right to bring their faith or faith-based values to bear in their voting, organizing, etc.? Yes.

Pinky said...

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My problem with the point you're trying to make, Brian, when it is sooooooo very obvious every American has the same rights regarding self expression that to raise the issue makes it seem as though Christians are being silenced in some way or another. When, all the while, they have to be seen as the most outspoken of all Americans.
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