Political Hay

Religiosity Without Religion

Obama doesn't believe in the separation of faith from winning.

By 6.26.08

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After John Kerry lost in 2004, the Democrats began to re-think their loud secularism. The separation of politically handy religious rhetoric from winning had left them chastened. Suddenly secularist liberals were upbraiding Kerry for bobbling moral and religious issues.

Nancy Pelosi, stricken by the poll data, took a stab at criticizing Kerry along these lines: "Democrats did not connect well enough with the American people. Certainly Democrats are faith-filled. Certainly we love our country, and we're very patriotic, but somehow or other that did not come across when 61% of those who are regular churchgoers voted Republican -- voted for President Bush, and when 22% of Americans gave its highest number to what determined their vote to issues relating to morality, more than the economy, more than terrorism."

Henceforth, the Democrats would maintain the same old secularism, but shoehorn it into religious packaging. Now they have an ideal candidate in Barack Obama. Unlike John Kerry, whose respect for religion extended to calling defrocked Haitian strongman Aristide "Father," Obama has perfected this con job.

It is often on display in his oh-so-thoughtful, post-partisan musings about the "connection between religion and politics." Sort through all the sophistries and quasi-religious uplift, however, and the only connection that emerges is strategic: How can Democrats use the language of religion to win, then solidify the gains of secularism? Religion in public life, under Obama's thinking, exists not to purify the party's extreme secularism but to advance it.

Examining anew the "connection between religion and politics" means adjusting one's PR, not philosophical positions. All it comes down to is: an annoyingly large number of people practice religion in America and therefore the Dems have no choice but to posture accordingly. But the content of religion is certainly not true; there is no need to re-think the party's moral philosophy, though Obama does hope Democrats will talk a little bit more nicely to pro-lifers in the future, which leaves the Doug Kmiecs breathless with gratitude.

Indeed, Obama is very proud of his commitment to "people of faith," who enjoy a slot on his campaign web page in the "people section" two down from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community.

He certainly values their votes, but their faith is pretty tiresome, unless it happens to fortify progressive politics. His supposedly seminal June 2006 speech at the Call to Renewal's Building a Covenant for a New America conference, in which he essentially counsels progressives on the value and efficacy of patting the religious on the head from time to time, is insidious drivel that makes the straightforward secularism of the ACLU look honest and respectable by comparison.

In the speech, Obama affected to explain how Christianity guides his politics. But the influence is all in reverse: his liberal politics determines the content of his Christianity. The latter is negotiable and hazy for him, while the former represents an organizing, not-to-be-doubted-or-changed truth for society. Liberalism is so obviously true in fact that the traditional understanding of Christianity must give way to it, under Obama's reading. That liberalism itself should undergo similar skeptical revision is thus out of the question: the platform of the Democratic Party is inerrant.

There is no real argument in the speech. There are just a few irenic thoughts about religion followed by scattershot assumptions that revolve around secularism's claimed monopoly on reason which render the previous, pro-religious musings meaningless.

Secularism, of course, never has to explain itself or prove its claims, a curiously privileged position for an ideology that rests on skepticism and relativism. Apparently everything is unknowable to secularists except the obvious wisdom of their holding a dominant spot in public debates. How we know with certainty that secularism is synonymous with "reason" and religion synonymous with "mere opinion" is never explained.

Obama, who automatically accepts these premises and feels no need to demonstrate them, encourages the religious to enter public life in a "pluralistic" society provided that they aspire to secularism's high level of rationality: "Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all."

This is very big of him. But somehow Obama, a supporter of partial-birth abortion and other anomalies that would make barbarians blush, is exempt from such expectations: he doesn't have to cite a universal moral principle based upon reason for that "value."

The willfulness he casually assumes in the traditionally religious defines his own stance, as he cobbles together a sham Christianity from scratch that conveniently dovetails with the platform of the Democratic Party, then calls his vote-searching the reconciliation of "religion and politics."

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.