Thursday, April 17, 2008

Obama on Faith



In the wake of the controversy surrounding Barack Obama and his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, I thought I would resurrect an old idea I had for a post back in January: Obama on Faith.

The Audacity of Hope is not a fast or easy read by any stretch. Some chapters flew by, and others took a while for me to get through. He is a highly educated man with a very idealistic point of view. But the "political-speak"... well, it's just not my bag. I've never cared too much for politics, and this election year is the one I've taken the most interest in. But it's honestly just because of the ground-breaking nature of it. And while there are still so many political issues that I have yet to find myself on sure footing, at least I am working through that, which is more than I've done. Ever.


So when I decided to read The Audacity of Hope I realized it was the first time I decided to read a book by a politician. I searched for McCain's and Huckabee's book that same night in the bookstore, but had no luck. I knew that I should read them all if I was going to read one, to make sure I had the all the information I should have. If I get the chance, I might try before election day. But judging by the growing pile on books on my nightstand and bookcases, it probably won't happen.

So: Obama on Faith. He dedicated a chapter in the book to his journey and how it affects his job. I found it the most engrossing chapter of the book (surprise, surprise) but I also felt as though it left me with a lot of questions about his faith. Fewer than I had when I began, but there are still questions nonetheless.

This section lead me to a deeper understanding of what he experienced as a childhood more than anything I knew, heard or read about him:

Her [Obama's mother] own experiences as a bookish, sensitive child growing up in small towns in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas only reinforced this inherited skepticism. Her memories of the Christian who populated her youth were not fond ones. Occasionally, for mt benefit, she would recall the sanctimonious preachers who would dismiss three-quarters of the world's people as ignorant heathens doomed to spend the afterlife in eternal damnation... She remember the respectable church ladies who were always so quick to shun those unable to meet their standards of propriety, even as they desperately concealed their own dirty little secrets; the church fathers who uttered racial epithets and chiseled their workers out of any nickel that they could. For my mother, organized religion too often dressed up closed mindedness in the garb of piety, cruelty and oppression in the cloak of righteousness.

Sound familiar? It does to me.

It was this experience as a child that lead Obama's mother to view "religion through the eyes of the anthropologist... it was a phenomenon to be treated with a suitable respect, but with a suitable detachment as well". Obama's biological father was raised a Muslim, but was a confirmed atheist by the time he met Obama's mother. Obama's stepfather was skeptical like his mother. He grew up in Indonesia, a country with Hinduism, Buddhism and other animist traditions. So the people who shaped him the most had a huge and well-diversified catalog of experiences with religion to pull from. But exactly how Obama himself came to the Christian faith is not talked about. (It's eluded that he talks more throughly about it in his first book, "Dreams From My Father")

He spends most of the chapter on the idea of the journey of faith. How his mother took him to church on Christmas Eve and Easter, but also to Buddhist temples, the Chinese New Year celebration, the Shinto shrine, and ancient Hawaiian burial site. "...I was made to understand that such religious samplings required no sustained commitment on my part - no introspective exertion or self-flagellation." I found this an interesting read, and it doesn't hurt that Obama does have some mad skills in the writing department.

Some facts that many of you might find interesting:

  • Obama thinks that a literal reading of the Bible is folly.
  • He is not a creationist (which is implied by the above fact.)
  • He believes faith and reason operate in different domains and involve different paths to discerning truth
  • (This isn't exactly a "fact... just an interpretation) It's implied he does not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture
  • This guy knows his scripture. He quotes some obscure verses, using them in a sentences that aren't really about faith or church or the bible. (And he doesn't site them, so unless you are pretty familiar with scripture, you might not know he was quoting the bible. It's almost like they are second nature to him...typical in his vocab. But they are not common scriptures you hear quoted.

My favorite quote from the chapter? "...I was reminded that no matter how much Christians who oppose homosexuality may claim that they hate the sin but love the sinner, such a judgment inflicts pain on good people - people who are made in the image of God, and who are often truer to Christ's message than those who condemn them. And I was reminded that it is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided, just as I cannot claim infallibility in my support of abortion rights. I must admit that I may have been infected with society's prejudices and predilections and attributed them to God; that Jesus' call to love one another might demand a different conclusion; and that in years hence I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history. I don't believe such doubts make me a bad Christian. I believe that make me human, limited in my understanding of God's purpose and therefore prone to sin. When I read the Bible, I do so with the belief that it is not a static text but the Living Word and that I must be continually open to new revelations - whether they come from a lesbian friend or a doctor opposed to abortion."

Side note: he begins the chapter with a moving story about an email he received from a doctor opposed to abortion and an encounter he had with some pro-lifers protesting one of his campaign rallies.

5 comments:

Kansas Bob said...

Great job Stephanie! I linked here and quoted your points.

NoVA Dad said...

I found your post here through Kansas Bob's blog. Great post; I've got Audacity in my to-read stack; definitely will pay close attention to the areas you've noted here. Thanks!

Scott said...

Some good thoughts. I tried reading it and found it quite interesting, but I have a problem reading just about all non-fiction so I didn't finish it.

I'm defintely in the Obama camp (and also a Christian).

FWIW, I don't think that all of the Bible should be read literally. I am also not a young earth creationist perhaps as a result. Is he not a creationist at all or is he an old earther or can you tell? I think I agree about faith vs reason but would need to read more. And re: the inerrancy issue I suppse that too would depend on how you define that. We don't have a perfect copy of God's word. I do believe that the Bible is God breathed and the ultimate meaning is protected, but not each individual word.

On that note you should check this out.

stephanie said...

Thanks :)

Scott - to answer your questions - he straight up says "I believe in evolution." Then he goes on to say that faith and science both have truths, but that faith has truth that cannot be scientifically proven.

As the the inerrancy of scripture, I'm not entirely sure of which camp he would fall into, but when is talking about scripture he never talks about the translation as the issue. He references it in a "that may have been true then, but it's not true now." sort of way.

Scott said...

"Scott - to answer your questions - he straight up says "I believe in evolution." Then he goes on to say that faith and science both have truths, but that faith has truth that cannot be scientifically proven."

So here's the thing, I believe that. Evolution as an observable phenomena is true. And you can't prove God scientifically. Would you say that makes me interesting too? ;-)