Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Courts Controversy With Remarks on Religion

President Obama revisited controversy during his inaugural speech with remarks about America's religious diversity. His remarks seemed to suggest that America's solid Judaeo Christian ideological foundation is slipping into the past. World Net Daily quoted the inaugural address transcript as follows.

"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers," Obama stated during his speech before a crowd estimated by security officials at about 1.8 million.

He continued: "We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."

Obama made a sweeping statement in a few brief lines. America is indeed a land of vast diversity. We started off with a collection of colonies, some of which had srongly sectarian foundations such as Puritan Massachusetts and Catholic Maryland. Rhode Island, though populated by religious people recognised the need to incorporate a respect for theological diversity into its approach to government.

Along with those who adhere to religious doctrine, America has given birth to a number of new religions. Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are among the most widely known denominations that started in America. If we are a nation that feels strongly about faith, then it is to be expected that some will differ passionately enough to set up their own congregations.

We have as a nation recognised that the right to differ must be protected. Towards this end, it has long been established that the government would not enforce the primacy of any religious denomination. This has on occasion mutated into attacks on religion. In the 1870's, a wave of anti immigrant bias found expression in the Blaine Amendment, which banned any tax money from being used to support sectarian schools. This has evolved into a blatant injustice. Parents who object to premarital sex and gay marriage being condoned in public schools to which they send their children must often pay thousands of dollars to send their children elsewhere. see story This seems to any fair minded person to be a punitive tariff on the religious choice of the parents.

There is an extreme lack of common sense in discussion of tuition vouchers from private schools. We are required to insure our cars. The companies to whom we turn for insurance must meet certain government standards. Beyond that, they are private companies.

We are required to send our children to school . Why can the government not allow private schools to educate children just as they allow private insurance companies to insure cars?

And if we really are "pro choice" why does that freedom of choice extend to how we educate our children?

Religious freedom is deeply rooted in our country's traditions. There are however limits to this. When someone believes that it is praiseworthy to kill infidels then they lose their religious freedom. When someone believes that married women not of their faith are fair game, then their faith should command no respect. These are not hypothetical questions. Killing for Allah is well publicised through videos released by terrorists. I have heard more than one story from married American women who had to terminate a taxi ride with a driver who did not recognise marriage rites of other faiths.Italic

Most Americans are at least nominally Christian. The calendar of Christian holidays and body of Christian religious texts strongly influences the atmosphere in the United States. The very fact that Sunday is the day of rest for America's majority is as a result of Christian influence. This does not contradict tolerance of religious and secular minorities. There is indeed a theology of tolerance and an accommodation of those who differ from the majority. America has evolved with time towards such an approach.

When Obama said " the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve", I do not equate that with an ascent to a higher level. There are different forms of collective existence. There is the family in its nuclear and extended form. Just as there are good people and bad people there are criminal gangs and mutual aid societies. There are peaceful nations and warlike nations. If there is a clear code of right and wrong, then tribes and nations can better themselves. I am very skeptical of any blanket condemnation of tribal or national loyalty. It makes me what new collective entity is waiting in the wings to replace it.

Not all faiths are equal. Some condone oppression. Some condone slavery. We have as a nation evolved towards the very idea of racial equality that made the election of a citizen of colour possible. It is not jingoistic to take pride in the path of moral evolution that our country has followed.

I am concerned about faith that is so watered down that it will not defend itself. Some societies are more just than others, and take better care of the weak among them than others. We must have the courage to laud this as a core value of our society.

Obama's past record of extreme support for abortion makes me wonder what sort of core values he invokes to lead the nation. Already, the our nation has graduated from supporting abortion on demand to supporting so called "mercy killings." How much longer will it be before we graduate from the "right to die to the "duty to die"?

This creeping culture of death in which each life is reduced to a profit loss statement should be resisted with zeal and with vehemence. Obama's fuzzy warm speech does not leave me convinced he would lead such a struggle

As a Jew I am very interested in the tolerance of which Obama speaks. I have found this tolerance most securely rooted among "fundamentalists", most of whom are devout Christians but some of whom are Mormons, Muslims and Hindus. A person who is passionate about their own faith can often respect that passion in others.

Obama has just become the President of a nation of 300,000,000 people. I understand his desire to embrace its full range of diversity. I do not share his stated desire to dissolve the "lines of tribe". I believe that we should work on improving the goodness of each and every individual and then the tribes of whom Obama speaks will be a force for good.


This video is chilling proof that not all faith communities are equal. If we have a better way in America, we should not be shy about saying so.

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