Sen. Barack Obama chastised fellow Democrats on Wednesday for failing to "acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people," and said the party must compete for the support of evangelicals and other churchgoing Americans.Obama's remarks included this soundbite:
"Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation."Agreed. But implicit in this kind of statement is the understanding that some public, religious exhortations do breach the wall.
Obama says Democrats should not "ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew ..." I disagree. People who are acting in a political capacity, who are prone to use issues for rhetorical flourish, self-aggrandisement and self-promotion are not appropriate people to weigh in on what makes someone a good Christian, good Muslim, good Jew, good Buddhist, etc.
If religious people are yearning to know what makes them good Christians, Jews, etc., they have plenty of outlets. They can read the relevant holy books of their religion. They can consult their clergy.
Dems and Republicans who insist on weighing in on such issues nearly always offer opinions that are predictably driven by their political agendas.
It is rather telling that the only justification Obama could give for why Dems should enter the debate about what makes someone a good Christian was that if we don't, "others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends."
Boil down Obama's argument, and this is what you're left with: we should do it because Republicans do it. No doubt, he's referring to Republicans when he cites the "others" who "will fill the vacuum."
When Republicans start talking as if they are God almighty, Democrats should be willing to say, quite proudly, that we will not turn religious faith into a political football. Faith is an individual decision; political democracy is a collective decision. This isn't just a sound intellectual stand -- as the Schiavo controversy revealed, the public is not always so keen on the use of religious rhetoric to justify political grandstanding.
But the statement from Obama's speech that was most annoying was this one:
"Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square."So where are all of the secularists asking believers to do this?
The notion, implicitly advanced by Obama, that religious people are isolated and marginalized in America is utterly ridiculous.
Presidents end their major speeches with "God Bless America." The mass media is rife with positive references to religion and religious figures. Virtually all major newspapers have "religion" sections.
In recent years, magazines like Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report have featured religiously-themed cover stories. Over just the past three years, US News has featured cover stories such as "Christ's Mission," "God's Storyteller," "Pope John Paul II," "The Power of Prayer," and "The Real Jesus."
A few years ago, the Learning Channel ran a series called "The Life and Times of Jesus." ABCNews.com recently invited clergy to send copies of their sermons for posting on one section of its site.
Yes, a handful of school administrators (or their attorneys) may occasionally disallow some constitutionally permitted forms of religious expression. But the opposite is also true. Long after the Engle v. Vitale decision, my school district in Arkansas continued to conduct programs and assemblies that prosletized.
However, I do believe that truly religious people do have one valid complaint -- their beliefs are used, again and again, as mere props by huckster politicians and political groups.
In any case, it's depressing to hear Barack Obama parroting the message of religious conservatives and the GOP. He may be considered a "rising star" by many Dems, but he spouted a lot of nonsense in this speech.