Saturday, February 10, 2007

Obama's Call to Renewal

Last June 28, the Reverend Jim Wallis' Christian evangelical organization of political progressives, Call to Renewal, sponsored a conference entitled, "Building a Covenant for a New America." Attending this conference were religious leaders, social activists, and major politicians including Hillary Clinton and keynote speaker Barack Obama.

Obama has attracted extraordinary attention for a relatively inexperienced politician ever since his bedazzlingly brilliant keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention. He has continued to deliver remarkable speeches since then including his keynote address at the Call to Renewal conference. Here is an excerpt from that speech urging people of all faiths and political persuasions to work together to achieve common goals and good:

And that is why that, if we truly hope to speak to people where they're at - to communicate our hopes and values in a way that's relevant to their own - then as progressives, we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.

Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome - others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

In other words, if we don't reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, then the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and Alan Keyeses will continue to hold sway.

More fundamentally, the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms. Some of the problem here is rhetorical - if we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice.

Imagine Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address without reference to "the judgments of the Lord." Or King's I Have a Dream speech without references to "all of God's children." Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible, and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.

Our failure as progressives to tap into the moral underpinnings of the nation is not just rhetorical, though. Our fear of getting "preachy" may also lead us to discount the role that values and culture play in some of our most urgent social problems.

After all, the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten point plan. They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness - in the imperfections of man.

Solving these problems will require changes in government policy, but it will also require changes in hearts and a change in minds. I believe in keeping guns out of our inner cities, and that our leaders must say so in the face of the gun manufacturers' lobby - but I also believe that when a gang-banger shoots indiscriminately into a crowd because he feels somebody disrespected him, we've got a moral problem. There's a hole in that young man's heart - a hole that the government alone cannot fix.

I believe in vigorous enforcement of our non-discrimination laws. But I also believe that a transformation of conscience and a genuine commitment to diversity on the part of the nation's CEOs could bring about quicker results than a battalion of lawyers. They have more lawyers than us anyway.

I think that we should put more of our tax dollars into educating poor girls and boys. I think that the work that Marian Wright Edelman has done all her life is absolutely how we should prioritize our resources in the wealthiest nation on earth. I also think that we should give them the information about contraception that can prevent unwanted pregnancies, lower abortion rates, and help assure that that every child is loved and cherished.

But, you know, my Bible tells me that if we train a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it. So I think faith and guidance can help fortify a young woman's sense of self, a young man's sense of responsibility, and a sense of reverence that all young people should have for the act of sexual intimacy.


uncle buck said...

Of course you have no way of knowing this, but his appeal escapes anyone who does not confuse feeling and thinking, which precisely excludes the emitionalized girly men of the left, such as yourself. He couldn't be a more vacuous man, unless the outer banality of his soul-deadening prose is just a means to conceal the fact that he has a 90% leftist voting record. Out of womb of liberal white guilt, the Numinous Negro springs forth!

Naturally, our foreign enemies will love this cipher as much as our domestic ones.

uncle buck said...


Look for Hillary to pick Obama as her running mate, as she'll need some feminine energy to balance the ticket.

Nagarjuna said...

Perhaps I should reconsider what I posted in my previous entry about people on the political right possibly tending to be more substantive, even if not necessarily correct, in their arguments. No, I wouldn't want to jump to hasty conclusions as a result of two anonymous comments. :-)

But maybe you'd like to explain, as the "thinking person" you purport to be, with substance rather than unsupported personal insults, just what Obama said in his speech or in the excerpt I quoted that you disagree with and why.

Or is that asking for more than you can deliver?

CC said...

Hey Uncle Buck, I believe Ol' Sig Freud would have had a field day diagnosing you. :)

For one, he probably would have found that you *extraordinarily* "Project" your most inner feelings upon others; IOW, you accuse them *so vigorously* that these *must* be in fact your very own held subconscious feelings.

Translation: You are most likely a "Closet Homosexual."

CC said...

"Imagine Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address without reference to "the judgments of the Lord." Or King's I Have a Dream speech without references to "all of God's children." Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible, and move the nation to embrace a common destiny."

I can "Imagine" these men not mentioning the "Lord" and "God" very clearly and in my opinion, it would not have made one bit of difference.

Thanks, CC

copithorne said...

cc, I am a religious person and I would join you in saying that the use of religious language by Lincoln and King were rhetorical. They are not load bearing pillars of argument.

I find it pretty rhetoric. For some, it may do nothing.

Obama seems to be appealing to people to tolerate or accept this rhetoric as a way of finding common ground. It seems to me to be a reasonable appeal for tolerance.

At the same time he is flattering religion in a way that is not wholesome for religion. When politicians and people become required to flatter religion it helps support a lot of phony piety.

Nagarjuna said...

<< When politicians and people become required to flatter religion it helps support a lot of phony piety. >>

I don't see where Obama says or even implies that politicians and others should be "required" to flatter religion. It seems to me that he's merely suggesting that religious and non-religious people alike share common principles and goals and that they would have a better chance of fulfilling them if they understood each other better, respected each other more, and were willing and able to work together to accomplish this. And one way that so-called secular progressives might do this is to stop denigrating or ignoring the important role that religion plays in the lives of most of the American people.

Obama cautions, in a portion of his speech that I didn't quote, against effecting a phony piety or respect for the pious. But if we open our minds and hearts to the hopes, fears, beliefs, and needs of religious people and realize that, in some important respects, we all share a common dream, our tolerance and respect for religious people and their beliefs will be genuine, even in the face of disagreements with their specific beliefs, and can help to produce powerfully positive results.

CC said...


I believe there's a sad fact here, that in order to be elected to a national office in the good ol' US of A, one must at least claim he/she is Christian.


Nag, I wonder how Obama would have us open our "minds and hearts" to religious hatred and prejudice?

"Flattering religion" may be genuine or "rhetorical" but I believe a necessity for gaining any kind of national office within the USA.

Thanks, CC

copithorne said...

That's lovely, what you say, Nagarjuna. I guess rereading Obama, he does describe Lincoln and King's remarks as rhetoric, just as I do.

Lincoln and King are the two greatest Americans ever. They are our prophets, our figures of biblical stature. Still it is hard for me to get a handle on how Christian they were. I don't know enough of Lincoln's biography to know whether Christian faith was an active part of his life. And even though Martin Luther King was a Christian minister it is a mystery to me how much that was his inner life and how much it was a role he played. It seems to me that their powerful prophetic voice may transcend Christianity. I agree with cc that Christian language is not necessary and when Obama asks rhetorically, can we imagine .... without Christian language? the answer is yes rather than no.

My wife LOVES Obama in a way that other politicians have never appealed to her. For me, I don't relate to this way of speaking. If he thinks Democrats don't use moral or Christian language enough, then I would prefer he use moral language as he sees fit rather than attacking the Democratic brand. Demonstrate. Don't triangulate.

copithorne said...

cc, for discussion purposes, I would say that Jimmy Carter is the only president in this century who had Christian faith.

CC said...

>copithorne said...
>cc, for discussion purposes, I would say that Jimmy Carter is the only president in this century who had Christian faith.<

Cop, do you mean in social avenues, international affairs, or ???, could you clarify?

Thanks, CC

copithorne said...

I meant he had personal faith. He goes to church like he means it. Other presidents are nominal Christians at best.

I wasn't referring to his policies.

CC said...

Do you believe that if Christians do not attend Church they are "nominal" ones at best?

Thanks, CC