Saturday, February 5, 2011

Unlike George Washington and James Madison,...

Barack Obama is a Christian. The title to my post is a little tongue in cheek. Actually, more conservatively put, Barack Obama AGAIN gives evidence, this time quite a bit, of believing in certain traditionally held Christian minimums (granted he believes in some off-beat theology along with it) that James Madison and George Washington do not give. And Jefferson & J. Adams, as we know, bitterly rejected those minimums.

From Jacques Berlinerblau:

Well, when the President of the United States of America (a Democrat) delivers a 22-minute address about his personal faith, drops half a dozen Scripture bombs along the way, and declaims “I came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace Him as my lord and savior”—all I can say is that the sixties are over, man!

The Golden Age of Secularism has passed. The Secular Movement—if there ever was a viable one in this country—must look at events such the NPB as an invitation to think secularism afresh (something I am trying to do in my current research).

From Carter, to Reagan, to Bush, to Clinton, to Bush, to Obama, the modern Presidency seems far more "Christian" than the Founding era one at least in terms of explicit words given by each President, in public and private, about his faith.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

I think there are several factors that have led to this.
The Puritans, The Fundamentals of the Faith, and the Christian Right movement!

The Puritans based their understanding of society on Scripture.

The Fundamentals were a reaction to "secular" education. These established the inerrancy of scripture.

The Christian Right combined politics and religion in a unique way, stating that certain "moral principles" were absolute based on "The Creation account" in Scripture.

What is the answer? Education.

I, for one, had little exposure to education, and was taught to be hesitant and critical of "secular education". But, what is true is true, altho we don't know everything yer. Those seeking higher degree seeks to broaden educations' knowledge about the world and all that is in it, as well as have the goal to promote that knowledge.

I think it interesting that such bifucation of true knowledge and religious commitment has become the basis of our country's values. Isn't this what created the culture wars?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, President Obama used the occasion to sell his left-leaning "social gospel" religion. It had nothing to do with the Puritans or the Christian Right.

"But while I petition God for a whole range of things, there are a few common themes that do recur. The first category of prayer comes out of the urgency of the Old Testament prophets and the Gospel itself. I pray for my ability to help those who are struggling. Christian tradition teaches that one day the world will be turned right side up and everything will return as it should be. But until that day, we’re called to work on behalf of a God that chose justice and mercy and compassion to the most vulnerable.

We’ve seen a lot of hardship these past two years. Not a day passes when I don’t get a letter from somebody or meet someone who’s out of work or lost their home or without health care."

Etc., blahblah.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I took a look at several of "holy roller" George W Bush's prayer breakfast speeches. Quite more like the generic language of the Founding era. This is typical:

Also much shorter than President Obama's 20-minute address, and without direct references to Christ or specific political policies.

Perhaps the outlier here is President Obama.

Mark D. said...

It's bait and switch. "Look at me, I'm a Christian, I speak the lingo, I know the scriptures, I can talk a lot." Then look at the policies. At best, as Tom pointed out, it is social gospel.

Meanwhile, people of deep faith often don't spout it in public. Madison was a serious enough Christian to spend an extra year at Princeton learning Hebrew, for heaven's sake! (Pun intended!) But given the social mores of the time, people didn't yak about their faith in public that much. Washington was a serious, if not regular, church attender, and while there is no record that he ever took communion, he was a vestryman at his local Anglican parish -- a position that would have required him to affirm the Apostles' Creed.

Why didn't our founders usually talk about their religion all the time? Because it wasn't done public ally except by people (like Thomas Paine) who didn't have a commitment to organized religion. Even Jefferson and Adams, in their most overt statements on religion, made those statements in private correspondence, rather than in grandiose public speeches.

But it is a good opportunity to point out that the Founders never intended to create a public square devoid of religious belief or religious sentiment.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And of course, Ronald Reagan, the darling of the Religious Right, is barely on record atall with religious sentiment.

But that makes him a "theistic rationalist," somewhere between Christian and Deist, right?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

What I am hearing from you guys is:
Our Founders weren't devoid of religious commitment. True.

They were committed without "spouting off" about it. True.

Obama's presentation was a "social gospel" that he imploded with Christian lingo. True.

My analysis (for what it's worth)

Of course, the Founders were relgious as this was thier time and their time was a time of modesty in regards to private matters, such as faith.
They also sought to bring about peaceful co-existance among the diverse sects.
These men sought to provide for the "social welfare" regarding the environment of the culture, so people could pursue their own lives. Therefore, they didn't bring up controversial issues (except for Paine) because they didn't want to deal with the conflict.

I don't see how in today's present situations and cultural mores, that America can become "modest" in regards to expressing faith in public, and yet, seeking "public good", regarding the state of the nation. People are taught in evangelical settings to "express" their faith, evangelize, etc. Those that want to promote a "social gospel" might use this time to promote such "virtue" because of the belief that "someone has to do it". So, it must be "imposed" upon the common person. Therefore, the rhetoric of "social gospel" and Christian the Christian audience.

Lindsey Shuman said...

"Actually, President Obama used the occasion to sell his left-leaning "social gospel" religion."

Somebody has been watching a little too much Glenn Beck.

jimmiraybob said...

It's bait and switch. "Look at me, I'm a Christian, I speak the lingo, I know the scriptures, I can talk a lot." Then look at the policies. At best, as Tom pointed out, it is social gospel.

Etc., blahblah.

Oh the horrors of the social gospel and its twin abomination, social justice. The horrors I tells ya. Of course we all realize that these were a large part of undoing slavery, the scourge that many of the FFs lamented and could do nothing to stop?

Don't you think that this is a little silly, judging a man's spiritual commitment by your bias against his perceived politics? How is it that you and Tom can see so readily into his heart? Special "True Christian" goggles? Do they convert to seek out true Scotsmen also?

More to the point of the post, our modern American president, Obama, does seem to offer more specific Christian confession than many others before him, except possibly Carter, who is also vilified as not a true Christian by those on the right. He (and Carter) may be, as TVD speculated above, an outlier when compared to the political language of the founding. That, I guess, could say a couple of things about the founding: 1) that the founders were more cautious due to the fragility of the new nation and the looming sectarian discord that could pull it down, and/or 2) the founders were'nt as Christian as some are today, and/or 3) the founders themselves practiced a separation of church and state as a mater of good secular republican government (private faith, public virtue).

I find it somewhat amusing - some of today's presidents employing copious Christian language and imagery while being vilified by the Christian right. You'd think that, even if Obama doesn't get down on his knees every morning and every night, there might be a little appreciation that he brings the game they all profess to adore.

Even Homer and Bart Simpson get more respect for being apparent nominal Catholics.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You do have an ax to grind, and we are all biased, if it regards "faith claims".

The question that puzzles man/science is; is there an objective reality that we discover, or is there only subjective theories about reality that come closer to what we discover?

Believers believe that they have found "objective reality" and this is what Church dogma is about. Natural philosophy was intially understood to be a causal reality, which was interpreted to be "god". This was Aritotle's "First Cause".

But, with more and more information bringing more and more questions about what is real/truth and applicable in an absolute sense, one could not be so sure. And that is the scientific dilemma.

The religious dilemma is about "the human" and "authority". What should be the authority of "a human"? How should one view positive and negative liberties and rights? And how should one understand the social and fiscal realities in the political realm? These are what drive the political. Religious people will play out their faith differently, if they are thinking about the complexity of the political and "real life". But, unfortunately, we have a two party system, for the most part, that doesn't lend itself to nuances or thinking about things in a deeper way. It is a direct correlation, or correspondence of reality to the real world of politics.

If we still believe in liberty, as our Founders did, then we must allow for diverse viewpoints in policy, without it defining whether one is a Christian or not!!!

jimmiraybob said...

...You do have an ax to grind

What ax am I grinding? Jon makes an interesting observation on the use of Christian language and imagery, contrasting examples of then and now, and the comments immediately turn into a flame forum on Obama. If the discussion had turned to a general skepticism of politicians of all ages and persuasions using religion as a tool, or how one can know the level of sincerity of a public figure using religious language and imagery, then I probably wouldn’t have said anything – this is a good general skepticism and, I think, all politicians are fair game. The, "Look at me, I'm a Christian, I speak the lingo, I know the scriptures, I can talk a lot," should be judiciously applied to all politicians.

The "you can't look into people's hearts" defense has been used here before in reference to David Barton (re: lies v. sloppiness) and it should be just as valid now if it had any validity then.

I at least made an attempt to include three possible mechanisms that might account for the apparent contrast highlighted in the post, which I think might count as trying to move the discussion along. I’ll mention another possible reason the founders might have been reluctant to use more specific and overtly Christian/scriptural language and imagery, it’s that they recognized the hollowness of feigning piety in appealing to the people. Arguable, but possible.

If we still believe in liberty, as our Founders did, then we must allow for diverse viewpoints in policy, without it defining whether one is a Christian or not!!!

Couldn't agree more.