14 June 2009

What was wrong with Catholics voting for Obama?

Looking forward on the calendar, the next few days are relatively quiet. So I decided I would share some thoughts I have on President Obama, and the fact that it appears a good number of otherwise faithful Catholics supported him in last year's election.

The Notre Dame commencement address was a moment of clarity as to President Obama's views on the social and moral life of the country. Reading the text of his address that day, and having watched the video, it is heartbreaking to me that a Catholic university, in an effort to engage our secular society in dialogue (assuming the best intentions), was the backdrop for the President's message which is very much opposed to the teachings of the Church.

President Obama's message is this - each of us has his or her own truth which we are individually entitled to follow, and where those truths differ we as a nation should engage in debate that is respectful (using "fair-minded words"), but our nation's policies and laws should embrace only that which is universal, empathy, and reject a truth that is restrictive, dogmatic, or imposes a moral standard.

This should not be a surprise. Indeed, it is a position consistent with what Mr. Obama said in the campaign; he made clear that anything more would be, in his words: "above my paygrade."

Here are snippets from the Notre Dame speech:
[O]ne of the vexing things for those of us interested in promoting greater understanding and cooperation among people is the discovery that even bringing together persons of good will, men and women of principle and purpose, can be difficult.
* * * *
Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved.

* * * *
How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?

* * * *
Nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion.

* * * *
[After reciting a story about criticism his senatorial campaign website received from a doctor because the website painted pro-life supporters generally as "right wing idealouges who want to hurt women," which Mr. Obama says he took to heart and prayed about.] Fair-minded words.

* * * *
Understand - I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it - indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory - the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature. Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.

* * * *
In this world of competing claims about what is right and what is true, have confidence in the values with which you've been raised and educated. Be unafraid to speak your mind when those values are at stake. Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey. Stand as a lighthouse.

But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

This doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open, and curious, and eager to continue the moral and spiritual debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works, charity, kindness, and service that moves hearts and minds.
President Obama first observes that it is difficult to bring people together, even people of good will--those who he says are people of principle and purpose. There is no doubt that in a pluralistic society we often have to compromise for the common good, and there is some accuracy in Mr. Obama's observation, but from the beginning he intimates a rejection of the categorical--of one truth.

All Christians are united in the love of Christ, and the belief that he is the Son of the Living God and the salvation of the world! It seems as though President Obama begins from a position of giving all believers (and all beliefs, including non-beliefs) an equal footing. Each believer has his or her own truth, and if they are people of good will interested in promoting greater understanding and cooperation among people, it will be at times difficult to bring such principled and varied people together. It is difficult, for Mr. Obama, because each person's view of truth is equal. The vision, from the outset, appears to be that Jews, Christians, Muslims, and other believers and those committed to being non-believers are all on equal footing with regard to having a claim on truth, i.e., being people of principle.

This equality of views is exemplified in his speech. He goes so far as to equate those who believe in the absolute sanctity of human life, and are opposing embryonic stem cell research, with those who would advocate taking some human lives to improve the conditions of other lives. Mr. Obama says that all views of truth are equal in value.

Not true! There is a universal truth. Christ is truth. However respectful of another's differing beliefs we may be, we cannot stand by mute as other beliefs are given the same prominence and respect as Christ. There is but one truth. Those who have different beliefs are, then, in some degree separated from the truth. We are not all on the same level.

In attempting to be respectful (I assume), Mr. Obama denigrates the Christian faith in Christ as the Word incarnate. By placing the beliefs of others, indeed even non-beliefs, on a equal footing with the truth of Christ, Mr. Obama deeply injures our Blessed Lord.

To further the acquiescence to those who may have different beliefs, then President Obama goes on to extol the virtue of using "fair minded words." Certainly, he says, this is necessary in the public discussion of abortion. Mr. Obama says we should not "[reduce] those with differing views to caricature." In attempt to appeal to his concept of fair minded words, however, Mr. Obama has reduced Christianity to such a caricature.

Christianity, for President Obama, is just one of many faith paths that can be taken. Which to him makes sense, because now he says: "I do not suggest that the debate surround abortion . . . should go away." Of course not. Mr. Obama, standing as a recipient of an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame, says that abortion should be debated because the faithful of the Church are wrong to impose our "parochial principles" on others. Again, Mr. Obama, albeit with a great deal of linguistic charm and eloquence, reduces the position of the Church and the faithful to caricature--mere parochialism.

President Obama then moves on to the virtue of faith. He says: let your faith guide you. "Stand as a lighthouse." Do not be afraid to "speak your mind." But, he continues, faith also necessarily involves doubt. I would disagree that to be faithful one must have doubt. I would also disagree with Mr. Obama's next point that it is impossible to know what God asks of us. The Church has been, in her magisterial teaching, proclaiming our duty to live the Gospel message for two thousand years. Christ Himself, through the Gospel, gives us our task: to love as He did. Our Lord's message of radical love is not impossible for us to understand.

It is also unacceptable, on the one hand, to encourage steadfastness in faith and, on the other hand, promote an inability to really know God and truth. Such a position reduces faith to just one of many options. Which is exactly Mr. Obama's point. He believes the Church is wrong on its teaching with regards to the sanctity of unborn life. However, he is admonishing his listeners to understand that the Church does not have the right to be categorical about such a teaching, because each of us has to decide what truth is. And, because there are many truths in the world of views, it is difficult work to reconcile the views of principled people to achieve common ground. So, according to President Obama, the best way to approach this task is through the use of careful, tempered, and respectful language in the debate. As he says: use "fair minded words" to "persuade through reason." At the very surface, this might sound acceptable even to believers (it certainly appeared to get a favorable reception from those in attendance). After all, the tone and delivery of the speech was pleasant enough.

But, Mr. Obama concludes (as to abortion) on this point: appeal to "universal rather than parochial principles." In other words, the weakest moral link--that point on which everyone in the debate can agree--should guide our Country's social policies. We are to avoid any absolutes. After all, for President Obama, there are none. So, Mr. Obama says that we all agree that abortion is a "heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions." That is it. The only universal truth that Mr. Obama can point to about abortion. His empathy for women is not without merit. However, he raises that empathy to the level of a super-truth--universal in a world of competing relative truths. This empathy, then, in Mr. Obama's view, blots out THE ABSOLUTE AND ONLY TRUTH--the Gospel, the Word incarnate.

So, in the end, that is exactly what was wrong with Catholics voting for Mr. Obama. In a Catholic institution, after receiving an honorary degree, he tells us that the faithful are wrong to believe in the categorical truth of the Gospel. He says we are wrong to believe in the universal truth of Our Lord. Instead, we should strive to find a universally understood point of empathy for those who need it, and act on that empathy. Mr. Obama reduces our faith, indeed the Church, to merely "parochial caricature"--the big bad institution that tells others how to think and what to do. How terribly sad that this message received Catholic support in the campaign, and continues to receive that support.

Please pray for President Obama, for our civic leaders, and for our country.

No comments:

Post a Comment