Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Religion in the State of the Union

We have come to expect soaring, religion-tinged rhetoric from President Bush. Michael Gerson has defended this language as an essential part of American culture, without which our political speech would be impoverished. I’ve discussed these matters here, here, here, here, and here.

That said, there were almost no explicitly religious moments in yesterday’s SOTU Address. The only one I can find is a reference to "the road of Providence" at the very end. Others have noticed as well, some with somewhat mean-spirited glee, some with perhaps a little concern. Terry Mattingly would like to see a broadening of the rather narrow focus of the President’s "culture of life" language, perhaps further in the direction of the Roman Catholic social teaching from which it is drawn. I don’t think he’s holding his breath, unless he’s happy with Michael Novak, whose latest book is The Universal Hunger for Liberty, and doesn’t long for the soothing words of J. Bryan Hehir.

The good folks at Christianity Today are also concerned:

Viewers who had to tuck their kids into bed may have missed the President’s brief remarks on life issues, wedged as they were between the speech’s far more detailed sections on Social Security and political freedom. Does this suggest that now that Mr. Bush, who ran on a pro-life platform, has safely won a second term, he is less than eager to spend some of his "political capital" to defend the sanctity of human life and marriage? We hope not.

Yet, in an hour-long address, the President devoted but two short paragraphs to what we’d broadly call "life issues" (for lack of a better term). The words were good, but they were too few if he is really serious about building a "culture of life." This brevity in the midst of the nation’s unfolding moral confusion is unsettling. Why is he bold and visionary on economic issues that may affect our children and grandchildren, but strangely reticent on the very definitions of human life and community? While "values voters" certainly care about Social Security, they didn’t return Bush to office on this basis.

Granted, the President is not the nation’s senior pastor. But his words and actions can set a tone that allows a culture of life to flourish.

And there’s this:

Political issues such as reforming Social Security and encouraging democracy overseas are worthy challenges—both of which in broad terms we support. But we dare not neglect the issues that touch upon the foundations of human dignity and the family. What will it profit us if we gain retirement benefits and freedom and lose our national soul?

I am at the moment willing to give the President a bit of a pass. There are more appropriate venues to elaborate on and defend the culture of life. But there do need to be speeches to explain the deeds. Most promising will be, I think, opportunities to connect human dignity and human liberty, about which I’d like to hear more. Mr. McGurn, are you listening?

Discussions - 2 Comments

I think the irony is that as I listened to the speech. I thought it was filled with nothing but a culture of life, while it is true that Bush did not specifically mention God. Bush certainly was speaking in the language of God. That is that he made numerous references to ideas that can only be enjoyed by a culture of life. If freedom is not the language of God, then I am in a great minority in how I understand the Almighty.

Bush made statements such as "Our generation has been blessed." Who could have blessed us but the Creator? Declaring that Congress make decisions that build a better world for future generations. Again, seeking a better future is not Godly? Urging legal reforms is a Christ like as Bush can get without mentioning anything about Christ. And that’s just scanning through the first two pages, I am confident I could numerous other references if I spent greater time on it.

The real problem is too many see God as a condemner and Christ as his soldier, who will strike down all who don’t believe. Does that sound like a loving God to anyone?

I was never more proud to have voted for Bush than this past Wednesday night. He showed real leadership much to the left’s dismay. I found myself a little disappointed when it ended.

When I responded last night, I had not read the links. I was merely responding to the general theme of Bush’s speech, or lack thereof, according to the links.

This morning I have taken some time to read them. Thanks to Mr. Knippenberg for providing some links I had never known before. Anyway, I stand by my initial response. I think most of the complaints are reactionary ones by those who hold a doom and gloom theology. Usually to this type of thinker, if you don’t praise God every fifth word you are going to hell. This always comes across to me as though they believe God is needy of praise.

Moreover, I believe this kind of religion limits the scope of the Almighty. God is much more powerful then this type of religion wants you to believe. If He is all knowing, then why does He need to hear praise constantly? He would simply know we do praise Him, even if when we do not say so.

Again, I think Bush was very "Godly" in his speech. He does not have to refer to God at the end of every sentence to include Him. If it sounds divine, it is divine. Human freedom, culture of life, and others are all divine goals that need no introduction.

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