Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Obama and religion...again

This article suggests that Clinton has been outpolling Obama among Catholics who vote in Democratic primaries. There’s no magic bullet explanation. Some point to her lead among Hispanics, others to her support among "traditionally Democratic" urban working class voters, and still others to the fact that he sounds more Protestant, while her religious appeals are less distinctive sounding. Of course, as Obama has gained momentum, Clinton’s Catholic margin has been diminishing somewhat. Except on life issues, where these isn’t much (of substance) to choose between Clinton and Obama, Catholics aren’t all that distinguishable from the American electorate as a whole. (To be sure, that’s potentially a very big "except.")

In a nutshell, I think Clinton’s margins among Catholic Democrats were the product of her early status as the presumptive nominee. As people have come around to Obama, so have Catholics, with one possible caveat or qualification: older folks are probably somewhat more likely to identify as Catholic and somewhat less likely to change their minds.

Bottom line: if he wins the nomination, he’ll get the kind of Democrat-leaning Catholics who vote in primaries. And I’m not confident that the McCain campaign will have the stomach to draw the difference on life issues with sufficient vigor and starkness. The Obamanauts will surely use McCain’s admirably consistent support of the Iraq war to muddy the waters for Catholic voters.

And if the waters aren’t already muddy enough, here’s a story about Obama’s bible-based support for civil unions. Turns out that the Sermon on the Mount "is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans." So the former passage supports treating everyone with equal dignity, which to Obama implies support for civil unions, but Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which contains the most sustained New Testament treatment of the relationship between religion and politics, is "obscure."

There’s lots to say here, some of it well said by people to whom the Baptist Press reporter spoke. But I can’t resist adding my two cents. First, of course Obama makes the typical liberal theological move, finding proof texts that support his preferences while dismissing passages whose import he doesn’t like. This won’t win him friends among those who have a "high" view of Scripture (see, for example, 2 Tim 3:16).

Second, the context of the "obscure" passage from Romans (1:26-32) is telling. Let’s begin with 1:19:

For what can be known about God is plain to [men], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For althought they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator....

Paul’s challenge here is based upon natural theology, and extends to all those who willfully deny the evidence of--dare I say it?--an intelligent design in the world around them. Rather than respond with gratitude to a beneficently designed creation and its Creator, men worship themselves and pursue their own pleasure. You might say that the context of the passage Obama dismisses condemns the all-too-human cleverness that leads him to dismiss it.

Update: More here, including a link to this transcript. Hat tip: The Friar.

Update #2: Ben Boychuk gets a discussion going at RedBlueAmerica, and calls our attention to John Mark Reynolds’s commentary on Obama, of which I’ll quote a snippet:

Paul points there to the existence of a common natural philosophy available to Christians and non-Christians. This allows for a civil society that need not be based on revelation available only to believers.

Obama should return to the passage he has called obscure to learn how to argue a tough case well. All lawyers used to read Romans as a model for persuasive rhetoric, but younger attorneys like Obama have missed out. The argument Obama uses is not persuasive, but Paul’s has persuaded billions over centuries. Perhaps, the argument that sexuality is naturally between a man and a woman is odd to a culture out of touch with the natural world, but it is not hard to recover the intuition that sexually men are designed for women and women for men.

Since it is impossible to think a church going man like Obama is as ignorant of Romans as he sounds, it is more charitable to assume that Obama is simply a conventional theological liberal who reads the Bible the way he reads the Constitution.

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