The Hopelessness of Audacity

I have been reading President Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope. It’s actually well-written, exept for one section–the Faith section. Take this paragraph from page 218:

This brings us to a different point–the manner in which religious views should inform public debate and guide elected officials. Surely secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square; Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr.–indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history–not only were motivated by faith but repeatedly used religious language to argue their causes. To say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public-policy debates is a practical absurdity; our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Obama is correct that it is impossible to keep one’s faith out of public debate. He continues:

What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy does demand is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals must be subject to argument and amenable to reason. If I am opposed to abortion for religious reasons and seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or invoke God’s will and expect that argument to carry the day. If I want others to listen to me, then I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

At this point he has said two things: 1) that everyone brings their faith to public debate, and 2) that the only theological position that is allowed in public debate is Universalism. He further posits that only Universalist arguments are “amenable to reason.” Like all Universalists, his god is reason. For Universalists, reason makes the rules, whereas for Christians, God makes the rules. So, Christians can engage in public debate as long as they ignore God’s demand for exclusive religious allegiance (the First Commandment), as he does. President Obama’s position here is fundamentally pagan (regardless of what labels he assigns to his faith) in that it is a denial of God’s exclusive claim on humanity.

His example is abortion, and he suggests that religionists cannot consult their religious teachings or holy books for guidance, but can only appeal to reason. If, then, there is a reasonable argument against murder, he should not support abortion. But he does support abortion, and he does so based upon his religious views that a fetus is not a person. His support of abortion constitutes an insistence that all people understand and accept his view that a fetus is not a person–because if it is, then he would be supporting murder! So, he is doing exactly what he doesn’t want Christians to do in public debate. He is imposing his view as the only acceptable view of the matter by suggesting that it is universally held. which it is not.

He then tackles the inerrancy of the Bible:

For those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do, such rules of engagement may seem just one more example of the tyranny of the secular and material worlds over the sacred and eternal. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Almost by definition, faith and reason operate in different domains and involve different paths to discerning truth. Reason–and science–involves the accumulation of knowledge based on realities that we can all apprehend. Religion, by contrast, is based on truths that are not provable through ordinary human understanding–they “believe in things not seen.” When science teachers insist on keeping creations or intelligent design out of their classrooms, they are not asserting that scientific knowledge is superior to religious insight. They are simply insisting that each path to knowledge involves different rules and that those rules are not interchangeable

Yes, his rules of engagement are an example of the tyranny of the secular and material perspective over a faithfully biblical perspective, a perspective that honors God’s exclusive claim on humanity. He posits that faith and reason operate in different domains, but do they really? The answer is yes and no. This argument originates from the biblical statement that “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). This line of argument of his actually serves to uncover his own folly in the matter because he is arguing that reason is superior to faith in the public domain because not everyone has access to the things of the Spirit of God. But as a Christian he should understand that the things of the Spirit of God are not unreasonable, but actually extend the domain of reason to include the perspective of God. This means that the perceptions of faith provide additional information that the faithless do not have. So, if we are to use all of the information at hand for public debate regarding policy, the things of faith should be no less denied than, for instance, than the math and/or physics involved in the development of nuclear reactors. The understanding of the math and physics involved will not be equally available to everyone. Similarly, the things of the Spirit of God–of faith–are not equally available to everyone either.

It seems pretty clear after reading his chapter on faith that President Obama has only a Universalist understanding of Christianity, which is not a biblical understanding of Christianity. He appears to be a liberal Christian in the Machen sense that Liberalism constitutes, not a Christian perspective, but a completely pagan perspective. (See Liberalism and Christianity, by J. Gresham Machen.)

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