Notre Dame Law Prof Wants to Know If You Listened to Obama
Gerald Bradley, Professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School, wants to know if you listened to what President Barack Obama said when he spoke there in 2009.
Bradley argues that, if you did, you shouldn’t be surprised at all by what’s happened since.
President Obama’s main theme in the address was religion and American democracy. From John Winthrop’s first introduction into political idiom of the shining “city upon a hill” trope to its revival by John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, America’s Presidents have linked our political identity and fortunes to God’s Providence and to the American people’s faith. Some time shortly after World War II, however, the longstanding consensus that religion was essential to America’s identity and prosperity began to totter. For the first time in American history, major political figures (starting with the Supreme Court), began to assert that secularism was the anchor of our political culture, and the presupposition of our government institutions.
At Notre Dame, President Obama took this project in a novel direction. His unprecedented contribution was not to give new meaning to secularism, but to redefine the meaning and nature of faith, tout court. This new departure explains a great deal about his Administration’s narrow view of religious liberty as manifested, for example, in the HHS contraception, sterilization, and early abortion mandate. This important underpinning has been scarcely noticed.
Bradley recalls that the president’s speech was “full of musings” about faith and that he “spoke winsomely” about his own journey of faith. President Obama even demonstrated an ability to make use of the Christian vocabulary. But if you listened carefully…
The faith of which he spoke was not, however, the faith of our fathers. Therein lies the novelty of Obama’s initiative. He would protect the state from the church, not by privatizing faith, but by redefining it. In a bold and unprecedented challenge to the churches, Obama told believers, not what they believe, but what it means for them to believe it.
Quoting from the president’s words about “competing claims about what is right and true,” Bradley notes:
In these solicitous words the president affirmed a strong religious indifferentism and moral relativism. Obama endorsed all of his listeners’ “values” without qualification, and without reference to what those “values” might be. All those present should hold onto their “values,” defend them, and be guided by them in a world of moral disagreement. The same goes for “faith,” as well—whatever that faith might be. Faith per se is a reliable guide, a lighthouse.
With that, Bradley observes, “Obama conveyed the message that one cannot be practically certain about any conviction that is held by faith. He thus implicitly rejected many essential truths of the University of Notre Dame’s Catholic faith, including the truth that it is rationally defensible to assent with certitude to the tenets of the faith….President Obama used the incomprehensibility of God as his basis for claiming that what we think we know about God is, and should be understood by us as, inherently doubtful. But the president’s reasoning is unsound, and his conclusion is false.”
In a way, Obama put matters such as abortion and homosexual “marriage’ in doubt as they are brought under the banner of matters of faith — which, as Obama pointed out, are “beyond our capacity.” But apparently not the government’s?
You can read Bradley’s excellent piece at The Public Discourse: www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/05/5378