Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Religion, the Founders, and Obama

As we continue this discussion of Obama's religion, is it worth turning to the founders as a basis for comparison. Most of the best known of the Founding Fathers were more around their churches than in them. The skepticism of Jefferson and Madison is well known. President Washington doesn't seem to have been an orthodox Episcopalian. Even John Adams was a Unitarian, and had rather harsh things to say about Puritan orthodoxy. They all seem to have believed that religion could be a positive good, and that revelation was possible. But they had trouble being certain about any particular revelation, or any particular interpretation of it.

Obama might believe rather more than they. There's nothing wrong with that, but the contrast is interesting. Obama's religion also has rather more of the social gospel than did theirs.

Categories > Presidency

Discussions - 10 Comments

Washington, let us take him as an example. He was a man of rationalism and religion. (The volume by the Novaks establishes the latter very clearly.) Yet his political rationality was of the sort that allowed him, the commander in chief who had been there when the cause almost faltered due to lack of troops, to later look the Quakers in the eye and say, in essence "you have religious freedom, and it is good that our nation grants you this, legally guarantees it for you; but you also have duties to our nation, and to the extent that your religious beliefs cause you to abandon those duties, you may justly question whether they are in fact good beliefs." There is a rationality to politics, that calls for good laws, good political rhetoric, and even good sentimental attachment to a nation and its defense.

So what might we, in Washington's spirit, say to Jeremiah Wright's church? "It is good to worship and preach as you will. So long as you do not violate our laws against inciting violence or revolution, which admittedly are very weak given the clear-and-present-danger test our justices have unjustifiably inserted into our jurisprudence, you are legally guaranteed the freedom to say what you will, and so long as your religious doctrines do not require of you unlawful acts, you are free to worship as you will. But insofar as your preaching harms the unity of our nation, spreads libelous lies against our government agencies, and sows seeds of discord, you will be morally condemned by us, and your parishoners should not expect an easy election to public office. Insofar as your beliefs require such preaching, you should question whether they are in fact good beliefs. Nor should be surprised if your fellow citizens judge you harshly for holding such beliefs."

Washington, you can bet, would never have voted for a Quaker to take public office. Why should any American feel any shame for not voting for Obama on the basis of his longstanding membership in Wright's church?

Washington, you can bet, would never have voted for a Quaker to take public office. Why should any American feel any shame for not voting for Obama on the basis of his longstanding membership in Wright's church?

How about this answer, in keeping with your clever analogy? Obama is not a "Quaker."

No, but maybe, he's a Cone-ian Christian. Hard to say which creed less suited for a presidential candidate, isn't it? I might go for a pacifist commander-in-chief over a only-blacks-can-be-Christians-because-only-they-suffer-like-Christ commander-in-chief. Or for that matter, I might go for a Muslim commander-in-cheif over a Cone-ian Christian one; similarly, if I were forced to choose b/t being governed by the post-haj orthodox Muslim Malcolm X, or the Nation of Islam Malcom X, I'd choose the former. But Wright, if we take his words seriously, was more like the latter than like the former. Cone was to Wright as Elijah Muhammad was to Malcolm X. Of course, it feels funny comparing the truly awesome and terrifying Elijah Muhammad (YOU try founding a new and highly disciplined sect in America) with an obscuro seminarian who got a bunch of theology departments and apparently not a few black congregations to take his high-toned lunacy seriously. Indeed, Cone's "theology" is but a pathetic pedantic echo of the Nation of Islam's mighty roar. But NOW, Cone may attain the dubious Naderite honor of being the man who unmade the would-have-been first black president. Elijah Muhammad's got nothing on that!

Of course, Obama isn't really a Cone-ian Christian, but some kind of professed Christian discipled by a congregation that flirted with the Cone-ian heresies, and more importantly for U.S. voters, that flirted with them precisely because they were tied to a form of political heresy, that is, to an open rejection of any workable American compromise on racial issues, liberal, moderate, or conservative. That congregation wanted the thrill of those heretical edges. Felt that only such a rhetorical stance could capture and do justice to the depth of the pain they felt regarding racial injustices past and present. Some of them will now allow themselves to see the high price such thrills and such stances always exact.

Your analogy is clever not least because it shows just how Obama has been put on the defensive. A candidate never wants to be in the position of having to say what he is NOT. So this is the measure of the political wound.

Why is Richard Adams posting on a forum called No Left Turns? There are plenty of places where people like him can post views such as his. Why here?

Where was the left turn? Did he not make the Founders sound Christian enough? Or did he just make Obama sound too Christian?

In the words of the obscuro alt-folkie Roger Manning, always remember that you've got to keep your left ear open.

For all of us who don't have any idea what Carl Scott is talking about, I found ">">"> this.

Good work Steve...ain't nuthin' too obscure for the internet! Of course, my taking Manning's one line out of its vaguely remembered song context makes it sound far more open-minded than it really is. I seem to also remember there was sniper fire when I heard Roger Manning play!

/my question is not all of the people are happy with obama being elected and the people that voted for obama were excited for the first black person to be president for the united state of America. Not all black people voted for obama from all over the world some black people voted for mccain, and i ask my self and why not for obama. "But then i said."not ever black person would, and ,want or even can , only vote for there own kind !.!

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