We've moved!

Social Icons

twitterfacebooklinkedinrss feed

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama on Religion: Doubt, Suspicion of Dogma Good

And for those of you with any lingering questions about the religious faith of President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama, see this newly posted transcript of a lengthy interview he gave to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Cathleen Falsani on March 27, 2004. My favorite passage so far is his reply to a question about responding to an altar call at Trinity [emphasis added]:

So you got yourself born again?

Yeah, although I don't, I retain from my childhood and my experiences growing up a suspicion of dogma. And I'm not somebody who is always comfortable with language that implies I've got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others.

I'm a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at its best comes with a big dose of doubt. I'm suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding.

I think that, particularly as somebody who's now in the public realm and is a student of what brings people together and what drives them apart, there's an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty.

Also heartening:

[Obama]: Alongside my own deep personal faith, I am a follower, as well, of our civic religion. I am a big believer in the separation of church and state. I am a big believer in our constitutional structure. I mean, I'm a law professor at the University of Chicago teaching constitutional law. I am a great admirer of our founding charter, and its resolve to prevent theocracies from forming, and its resolve to prevent disruptive strains of fundamentalism from taking root in this country.

As I said before, in my own public policy, I'm very suspicious of religious certainty expressing itself in politics.

Now, that's different form a belief that values have to inform our public policy. I think it's perfectly consistent to say that I want my government to be operating for all faiths and all peoples, including atheists and agnostics, while also insisting that there are values that inform my politics that are appropriate to talk about.

A standard line in my stump speech during this campaign is that my politics are informed by a belief that we're all connected. That if there's a child on the South Side of Chicago that can't read, that makes a difference in my life even if it's not my own child. If there's a senior citizen in downstate Illinois that's struggling to pay for their medicine and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer even if it's not my grandparent. And if there's an Arab American family that's being rounded up by John Ashcroft without the benefit of due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

And on speaking of faith publicly:

Do you think it's wrong for people to want to know about a civic leader's spirituality?

I don't think it's wrong. I think that political leaders are subject to all sorts of vetting by the public, and this can be a component of that.

I think that I am disturbed by, let me put it this way: I think there is an enormous danger on the part of public figures to rationalize or justify their actions by claiming God's mandate.

I think there is this tendency that I don't think is healthy for public figures to wear religion on their sleeve as a means to insulate themselves from criticism, or dialogue with people who disagree with them.

Perhaps Governor Palin should review that last comment.

Overall, President-Elect Obama sounds like a man people of all faiths can respect and, more importantly, work with to get things done.


  1. Wow, he believes in everything and doesn't believe in anything really. I could have guessed this!

  2. I read this whole interview, which was done in 3-04. I pulled out a few other gems.

    1) FALSANI: Who's Jesus to you?
    OBAMA: (He laughs nervously) Right. Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he's also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher. And he's also a wonderful teacher. I think it's important for all of us, of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in history.

    2) FALSANI: Do you have people in your life that you look to for guidance?
    OBAMA: Well, my pastor [Jeremiah Wright] is certainly someone who I have an enormous amount of respect for. I have a number of friends who are ministers. Reverend Meeks is a close friend and colleague of mine in the state Senate. Father Michael Pfleger is a dear friend, and somebody I interact with closely.

    3) FALSANI: Do you still attend Trinity?
    OBAMA: Yep. Every week. 11 oclock service.

    Now for discussion.

    1) Jesus is a historical figure and a teacher?? Nowhere does Obama say Jesus is the Son of God or part of the Trinity, which are Christian beliefs. His view of Jesus in his own words coincides perfectly with the beliefs of a Muslim. Did I ever think Obama was Muslim before? No, but I wonder now.

    2) He has enormous respect for Wright and Pfleger? He didn’t claim this during the election, in fact he distanced himself as far as he could from them.

    3) He claims here that he attended Trinity every week at 11 AM, but during the election he made no such claims and in fact said he never heard any of Wright’s tirades. How could he not if he attended church weekly?

    Where was this interview during the campaign????

  3. Another comment Obama made in this interview; he stated, “I am a great admierer of our founding charter.”

    But, he also has said that the Constitution can be interpreted in many ways. He has stated that the Warren Court should have broken free from the constraints placed on courts by the Constiution. He believes in a living, breathing Constitution, in other words, reintepreting it. So much for his admiring the Constitution. He wants to remake this nation in his own image of what he thinks is right. This is dangerous.

  4. The way I look at it is everybody is entitled to their own beliefs. I kind of agree with Obama about Jesus. Only I am more apt to think of Jesus and the Bible as mythical.

  5. The thing though is that Obama claims to be Christian. And a Christian believes in the divinity of Christ. Obama never said he believed this.

  6. Anon 10:35

    There is no clear an singular definition of being a Christian. It's totally subjective and changes with the times.

    Also, does his religious faith determine his competency to be president? Honestly, I'd rather have someone that was extremely well grounded look out for the country.

  7. As far as I can see, Barack Obama has followed the teachings of Jesus Christ more closely than most people I know who call themselves Christians (myself included). The world could do a lot worse than to have such a person at the executive helm of the United States.

    Of course, I could be wrong.

  8. Common sense from Tony and Stan! Thank you.

    I guess for some people, it's not enough to be a Christian. You've got to be the right kind of Christian, say exactly the right words, hang out with exactly the right people. I'd sure hate to see the local churches subjecting all of my neighbors to scrutiny like that; membership would drop sharply... and they wouldn't be any closer to getting the Lord's work done.

  9. "He believes in a living, breathing Constitution, in other words, reintepreting it."

    Anon, if the Constitution were not a living, breathing Constitution, African-Americans would still be considered legal sub-humans, slavery would still be legal, and women and minorities wouldn't have the right to vote.

  10. The full interview reflects an inclusive view of religion, noticeably similar to a Unitarian Universalist, likely flowered by his grandparents. More than once he expressed the positive side of doubt and questioning, and specifically on the beliefs of his church “they may presume a set of doctrines that I subscribe to that I don’t necessarily subscribe to.” I found it a stable, well-rounded plural view that’s desperately needed to unite rather than divide. jh

  11. 8:37,

    Do you honestly believe that we should interpret the Constitution as it was written 200 + years ago? With that, African Americans would still count as 3/5ths of a person, women wouldn't be allowed the right to vote, and so on. The Constitution has survived because we interpret it. The Second Amendment is a great example - the Founders could never have imagined fully automatic weapons capable of firing thousands of rounds per minute. "Arms" in 1789 were single-shot, muzzle-loaded rifles and flintlocks.

    The Constitution is a living, breathing document that must be interpreted. Your narrow-minded cynicism of our newly-elected President is what's dangerous.

    Fundamentalism stops a thinking mind!



Comments are closed, as this portion of the Madville Times is in archive mode. You can join the discussion of current issues at MadvilleTimes.com.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.