Posted by: mutantpoodle | November 13, 2008

Obama on Faith

Was697181From 2004, an interview with Chicago Sun-Times columnist Cathleen Falsani, posted a few days ago on Beliefnet.

Among other things, Obama displays an appreciation of the power of religion and the wisdom of its separation from the apparatus of the state. Keep in mind this is over four years ago; Republican Jack Ryan (referenced below) bowed out of the upcoming Senate contest due to scandalous allegations in divorce papers filed by his ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan; Obama ran against Alan Keyes, and the rest is history:

FALSANI: Jack Ryan [Obama’s Republican opponent in the U.S. Senate race at the time] said talking about your faith is fraught with peril for a public figure.

OBAMA: Which is why you generally will not see me spending a lot of time talking about it on the stump.

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 chose 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.

I can give religious expression to that. I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper, we are all children of God. Or I can express it in secular terms. But the basic premise remains the same. I think sometimes Democrats have made the mistake of shying away from a conversation about values for fear that they sacrifice the important value of tolerance. And I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive.

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

OBAMA: 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.

I’d say two things. First, you can see some of the roots of Obama’s 2004 Democratic Convention Keynote speech here, and second, the whole interview is worth a read for an intelligent, nuanced look at faith.

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