Saturday, February 16, 2008

Barak Obama and the language of hope

In his book, What is the Point of Being a Christian?, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP observes that despite the fact that we in the West are in most ways "safer than our ancestors," that "we are more protected from illness, violence and poverty" than previous generations, we remain fearful. We have, rightly, even come to fear human progress, "ecological disaster, BSE [i.e., mad cow disease], nuclear power, genetically modified crops," etc. This fearful environment, which produces an anxious climate, Radcliffe points out, "is manipulated by politicians, who practise (sic)'the politics of fear'." He was writing this passage on the day of the 2005 General Election in the U.K. Just as with our current presidential election, some of those running for office tried "to impel [them] to vote by tapping into fear of hoards of immigrants, violence in the inner city, the collapse of the Health Service [oh that we had one!], and hospital bugs." If hope does not win our vote, then fear will, or at least-ironically-it is hoped it will. I think Fr. Radcliffe is correct in concluding that it is "fear that has justified the reduction of human rights since 9/11 and the scandal of Guantanamo Bay". This weekend it is fear mongering by the Administration in arguing for continued infringement on our civil liberties. I think Radcliffe correct in his statement that "Fear dissolves society and undermines citizenship" (pgs. 70-71).

I understand and even find legitimacy in concerns expressed about the messianic aura that Sen. Obama has for many. I, too, am dubious about political messiahs. On the other hand, like Bill Clinton, Barak Obama speaks the language of hope. This resonates with people. I think it important to note that his campaign, his message, is that he may not have all the answers, or even the best answers, but working together there is nothing we cannot do, no problem we cannot solve. At the heart of a speech entitled One Nation Under God?, which he delievered in June 2006, are these remarks by Sen. Obama about religion and public life:

"Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all."

To me at least, this sounds a lot like the late Jesuit John Courtney Murray.

I think then-Archbishop Levada's The San Francisco Solution shows us how we can be creative in the public square, not reactive, not constanly fighting a rear guard action. Things like this proposal are true to what the Church teaches. Access to neccessary heath-care, for example, is a human right according to Church teaching. Therefore, the more universal we make it the more we are in the service of the truth.

3 comments:

Christopher said...

"Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all."

I agree, it does sound like John Courtney Murray. In fact, it also sounds like something George Weigel said during the Presidential campaign of 2004:

"What belongs to everyone, since this is a national candidacy, is the responsibility to make clear that when Kerry says the Church's pro-life teaching is a sectarian position which cannot be imposed on a pluralistic society, he is willfully misrepresenting the nature of the Church's position – by suggesting that this is something analogous to the Catholic Church trying to force everyone in the United States to abstain from eating hot dogs on Fridays during Lent."

"This is simply false," Weigel told NewsMax.com. "The Church's pro-life teaching is something that can be engaged seriously by anyone. You don't have to believe that there are seven sacraments to deal with this, you don't have to believe in the primacy of the bishop of Rome to engage this position. You don't even have to believe in God to engage this [pro-Life] position because it's a position rooted in basic embryology and in basic logic, and anybody can engage that."


Then again, when I hear Obama speak directly to Planned Parenthood and proclaim his "unyielding" commitment to "choice", and elsewhere where he refers to the "potential life" of the unborn, and on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade profess his fealty to "choice" and commitment to passing the "Freedom of Choice Act"I have to question to what degree he has actually brought reason to bear on his own position.

On whether or not Murray would have countenanced abortion, Todd David Whitmore offers: What would John Courtney Murray say? On abortion & euthanasia" Commonweal Oct 7, 1994.

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

This is not a post supporting the candidacy of Sen. Obama. I, too, am committed to protecting human life. It is a post about why Obama's language appeals to people. It does not surprise me in the least that Weigel wrote along these same lines. The consonance of faith and reason is fundamental to Catholic thought and magisterial teaching.

The purpose of the post is to note that speaking the language of hope, as the Holy Father does beautifully in Spe Salvi, is what is needed. Who better to use this language than a candidate who is on the side of truth and justice? I mean Kerry used the worst excuse possible to explain his horrible voting record on abortion- not imposing his religious beliefs on others. Apparently he is unaware that, at least in the first instance, as Catholics, our opposition to abortion is rooted in natural reason, not revelation.

I do not believe that Murray would have supported abortion-on-demand. Frankly, I don't really care. Nonetheless, I think one of the most cogent articles written on abortion from a Catholic perspective, given the circumstances here in the U.S., was by Dennis O'Brien for America magazine in the 30 May 2005 issue, entitled: No to Abortion:Posture, Not Policy. The title of the article, in my opinion, accurately captures what is too often thought of as principled and prudent opposition to abortion.

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

"I have to question to what degree he has actually brought reason to bear on his own position."

I agree with you 100% in this observation. We both know that he has not brought reason to bear on his position on abortion.

Even though he is not a candidate for office, I would point out that Weigel's arguments seeking to show how the Bush concept of pre-emptive war is consonant with just war theory, were summarily rejected at the Vatican, where he and Michael Novak, at the invitation of then-U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, James Nicholson, tried make a moral case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.