Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Barack Obama’s faith-erased initiative

I read Julie’s post after reading and writing about Barack Obama’s speech on his own version of the faith-based initiative.

He doesn’t say much that he hasn’t at least hinted at before, nor much of anything that would jar the ears of the most hardened secularist Democrat. "Faith-based"--I’d say, faith-erased--groups are welcome partners with government as long as they’re virtually indistinguishable from the bureaucrats they’re assisting.

If you care about this issue--a particular hobby-horse of mine--there’s more background here, here, and here.

Discussions - 2 Comments

I would say that it is impossible to make the faith based groups indistinguishable from the bureaucrats. The bureaucrats do it for pay or duty and the faith based groups do it out of love or duty(and sometimes money). I suppose that by offering them money one is substituting out a motivation, but I am not sure if one will substitute out the love or the duty. If Obama had his way the charities would probably be manned by letter of the law folks, but Obama I think is quite aware that such legalism/duty is not itself a primary motivation. I mean to say that Obama the constitutional lawyer sat listening to the Reverend Wright. He has to therefore promise a certain faith-erasedness, even as he knows that such a feat is impossible on the level of motivation. If the Reverend Wright is anything he is simply subjectivity railling at the way of the world. Screaming that in his immagination white slave holders raped his ancestors and thus the colour of his skin. Worked up to a frenzy with the deep bass of Come down Moses, moved to bring social justice to the world by a drive more powerfull than can be legally structured or delimited. Nevertheless Obama it seems to me as a lawyer is promising to transcend old divisions, but he isn't doing so on the level many people would think. Because in terms of what he says about the founders and in terms of what he says about the actual forces that determine history, he knows that "subjectivity" is not completly understood by "authority". The virtue of empathy that he values is meant to mediate between subjectivity and authority. And Obama in his relations with Marxists must have picked up at least on this critical part of the Phenomenology of Spirit. He is simply a brilliant politician because he navigates the necessary fault line that exists between critical consciousness and way of the world, or subjectivity and authority in all its "manifold" fashions.

And this is revealed at least in part by what he is frustrated by. Certainly the notion that he favors faith-erased groups would irritate him, because in choosing his church he allowed great latitude for subjectivity. Nevertheless in the greater scheme of things Obama knows that one side of the divide between subjectivity and law, must always give way but never completly.

Obama knows that there is always a perilous tension between subjectivity/critical consciousness and authority/way of the world, because one side stipulates authority, morality and mission, but the individualistic side always stipulates motivation and attachment. Obama hopes to erase religion not by eradicating the subjectivity of it (which is impossible) but by stipulating authority, and Obama also knows that this is no different of a metaphysical problem than what exists as a barrier to say Catholicism which requires a faith that is not itself critical consciousness/subjectivity.

In other words in going back to your opening paragraph concerning what will convince people: "Such claims might well persuade those who haven’t, don’t, and won’t pay close attention to policy and politics." Obama knows that no matter how deeply one pays attention, one has to pay attention to something specific, in paying attention to something specific one ignores the details that aren't specific to ones map. Obama in declaring that map, necessarily also stipulates the relevant details, but this is not seperated itself from the fight between "subjectivity/critical consciousness" vs. "way of the world/authority/law". In other words for Obama the objections raised against him are not really optional, and he knows the philosphical and practical grounds for why "libertarianism/subjectivity/individualism" fails.

Obama is in part convinced that he can transcend the narrow partisan divides because he thinks that philosophically speaking they all boil down to subjectivity vs. authority.

Obama is very ripe for attack on the flip floping between liberty and authority, but to do so is to fall into a baited trap that he is very well suited to take on, because for him on some level subjectivity/liberty must invariably always take on the way of the world. In other words Obama can appeal to young folks and then turn around and give the young folks who are sick of being told to grow up, a way of telling the older folks to grow up.

You want rule of law? You got it.

Thanks Joe K. for "faith-erased" phrase.

I'm surprised no major headline writer could see this angle as the lead. My headline would be "Obama Calls for Secularized, Expanded Faith-Based Office."

The proposed non-sectarian element (as much as "non-discrimination") is key for direct federal funding for congregation-based programs to gain broader acceptability from Church-State skeptics, though some will never be pleased.

The Bush Office was severely limited by these controversies. As far as I can tell, the Office was left to coordinate and promote federal grant-making (non-sectarian though not "non-discrimination") to congregations that were not traditionally prone to seek such funds (i.e. urban Black churches).

The Obama proposal can use the now-dug channel of White House coordination to offer greater sources of funding. With his background in Alinsky-style organizing, one can see more positions like the Obama took out of Harvard Law School. On one level this is smart management of the byzantine system of federal community-based social service grants: executive coordinated federalism. Perhaps Obama would maintain indirect sources of sectarian social services known as charitable choice -- annual personal deductions for contributions to such programs.

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