Friday, May 29, 2009

Gather Us In: The Obama Speech, Pt. 3

Obama then gives a segue about how the graduates will be exposed to lots of different opinions and ideas, mostly from people who really don’t know much.

And 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. In other words, stand as a lighthouse.

But remember, too, that you can be a crossroads. Remember, too, that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It's the belief in things not seen. It's 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.

And this doubt should not push us away our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open and curious and eager to continue the spiritual and moral debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us even as we cling to our faith 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 and charity and kindness and service that moves hearts and minds.

Theological side note: Faith does not necessarily admit doubt. Faith is a virtue wrought and infused by the grace of God. It permits us to know certain things with absolute assurance because those things have been revealed by God Himself, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

I’m willing to bet that Obama knows the Catholic view on this. He at least knows that the Church believes in some measure of infallibility, which necessarily means ultimate confidence in being right. Knowing this, he has exactly the right linguistic arrows to punch holes in this idea by equivocating and setting faith on the same level as precognition.

We arrive again at the problem that we are still being asked to pay no attention to the dead babies behind the curtain. Not only that, we are now being asked to consider that maybe we’re wrong in worrying about it altogether. The man actually says that FAITH should compel us to be OPEN AND CURIOUS to debate the issue! This is double-speak crap. If you don’t do this, you are running into “self-righteousness.” Ergo, you are a bad person.

Not content in staying there, Obama encourages doubt. Think about that. A guy stood up in front of a group of young people at an ostensibly Catholic university and encouraged them to doubt their faith. And why? So that we can avoid faith-based arguments and all be good rationalists and keep that nasty faith business on the shelf. Consider the hypocrisy in this statement after the above comments on being a “lighthouse.” I guess it’s ok to hold firm to our faith and let it guide us, as long as we doubt enough not to let it guide us too much and keep it out of debate so that we can focus on reason alone.

The Pelagian capstone about everyone being nice and moving hearts/minds really sets this section of the speech apart.

I say all this to compliment the president again. Only a man of the highest level of charisma could pull this off.

For if there is one law that we can be most certain of, it is the law that binds people of all faiths and no faith together. It's no coincidence that it exists in Christianity and Judaism; in Islam and Hinduism; in Buddhism and humanism. It is, of course, the Golden Rule _ the call to treat one another as we wish to be treated. The call to love. The call to serve. To do what we can to make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share the same brief moment on this Earth.

He does a good job here laying out the appeal of indifferentism. Of course, the dead baby problem still won’t go away. This is a good reference point for why we need the Magisterium so badly. Obama’s definition of the Golden Rule is defective, as it ignores things like the dead baby problem and the need for anyone who actually loves another to have concern for their eternity, not just our “brief moment” here. This requires, as with any loving teacher, condemnation and correction of error based on the certainty, through Faith, that the Church is right.

So many of you at Notre Dame, by the last count, upwards of 80 percent, have lived this law of love through the service you've performed at schools and hospitals; international relief agencies and local charities. Brennan is just one example of what your class has accomplished. That's incredibly impressive, a powerful testament to this institution.

I wonder what Obama feels drives the actions of the protestors. Would he use “love” to describe their motivation? Probably more “conviction” or “belief” is what he’d say. Love is apparently inapplicable to those still in the womb.

Now you must carry the tradition forward. Make it a way of life. Because when you serve, it doesn't just improve your community, it makes you a part of your community. It breaks down walls. It fosters cooperation. And when that happens, when people set aside their differences, even for a moment, to work in common effort toward a common goal; when they struggle together, and sacrifice together, and learn from one another, then all things are possible.

There’s that common ground again. Work on making the trains run on time. Work on doing stuff together. The babies are a secondary issue. What you need to focus on is the stuff happening to the real people around you. Anything is possible when you do this. Except saving the babies. We’ll just have to disagree on that.

After all, I stand here today, as President and as an African American, on the 55th anniversary of the day that the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Now, Brown was of course the first major step in dismantling the "separate but equal" doctrine, but it would take a number of years and a nationwide movement to fully realize the dream of civil rights for all of God's children. There were freedom rides and lunch counters and Billy clubs, and there was also a Civil Rights Commission appointed by President Eisenhower. It was the 12 resolutions recommended by this commission that would ultimately become law in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In a brilliant rhetorical move, the president shifts the discussion to an issue of almost climate change proportions, namely, segregation. We can all agree that’s bad, right? That means it must be bad. Since we can’t agree on abortion as bad, it either isn’t bad or it’s something we need not worry about.

The bit about “civil rights for all God’s children” makes for an interesting contrast given the bit above about children carried to term. Obviously, those children not carried to term have no civil rights. But never mind that.

And years later, President Eisenhower asked Father Ted how on Earth he was able to broker an agreement between men of such different backgrounds and beliefs. And Father Ted simply said that during their first dinner in Wisconsin, they discovered they were all fishermen. And so he quickly readied a boat for a twilight trip out on the lake. They fished, and they talked, and they changed the course of history.

The inclusion of this story should be considered irrelevant fluff, but I'm sure that it served to obfuscate the point of morality well enough. We already know that dead babies are not subject to such an agreement. Remember- “irreconcilable.” The bad comedy here is that the whole civil rights movement has been a success precisely because the search for common ground was not an option. There was a relentless and unyielding march towards equality. Whatever was conceded was gladly taken, but the movement never rested. It kept seeking more and more. There wasn’t any notion that disagreements on the issue could be ignored because, say there was a war in Viet Nam or the economy was bad.

The only message that one can take away from this is that these “irreconcilable” issues are not going to change, so they must be ignored in favor of more timely rail traffic.

I will not pretend that the challenges we face will be easy, or that the answers will come quickly, or that all our differences and divisions will fade happily away, because life is not that simple. It never has been. But as you leave here today, remember the lessons of Cardinal Bernardin, of Father Hesburgh, of movements for change both large and small.

Whose lessons are we to remember? Those with open hearts/minds who look for common ground, whether such a characterization is accurate or not. It’s the willingness to give up certain principles in favor of a secular common good that really matters. Those who refuse to do this are close-minded, self-righteous, unfaithful types who are shirking the true meaning of the Golden Rule.

Remember that each of us, endowed with the dignity possessed by all children of God, has the grace to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we all seek the same love of family, the same fulfillment of a life well lived. Remember that in the end, in some way we are all fishermen.

In going off with the “children” lingo again, we see the president trying to co-opt pro-life/Catholic terms for his own use. Stuff about dignity and what-not is very much in line with personalism, which is at the forefront of a lot of Catholic opposition to abortion.

The rhetorical circle is now complete. Secular common good, to dialogue, to common ground, to anti-dialogue, to faith, to certitude is bad, to doubt is good, to reason, to secularism, and finally to the only reasonable certainty is that God really just wants secular goods. And isn’t that what we all want?

Masterful work.

I do not have the president’s engaging personality or finesse with words. To both his and Fr. Jenkins’s requests for common ground, I can only answer with a question I had previously posed:

What concord hath Christ with Belial?

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