From David Gibson's piece on Politics Daily. As usual, provocative.
What's with Barack Obama and religion?
Saint Paul famously said he would be "all things to all men" (and women, when he was in equal rights mode) for the sake of his beliefs. That was no mean feat given that the missionary apostle was a strictly observant Jew who came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and spent the rest of his days preaching to the pagans of the Roman Empire, which recognized him as a citizen. These days it seems that Barack Obama is channeling Paul.
In the past month, the president absorbed sharp blows from Catholicism's right wing and delivered a commencement counterpunch at Notre Dame that wowed theologians and pew-sitters alike. On Thursday in Cairo, Obama gave a highly anticipated speech to the Muslim world that won over more than a few skeptics. A day after that speech, he became the first U.S. president to visit the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp in Germany. In his speech at Cairo University, Obama's citations ranged from the Talmud to the Koran (he also delivered Islamic greetings in Arabic), while the Sermon on the Mount has become a touchstone of his policy addresses. Indeed, Obama consistently speaks with a religious breadth and a theological conviction and complexity that are rare in a president -- even one like George W. Bush, who wore his faith on his sleeve but couldn't cite a favorite philosopher other than Christ, "because he changed my heart." Obama speaks fluently about his own faith as well, but can easily cite a favorite theologian like Reinhold Niebuhr, a mainline Protestant. Niebuhr's wide-ranging writings on Christian realism find a strong echo in Obama's view of humility as a religious vocation, and in Obama's recognition of original sin (at Notre Dame, specifically) as part of the human condition. Even ordained preachers don't touch that one any more. Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court tapped a deep vein of social justice progressivism that runs through Latino Catholic culture, but his little-noticed nomination a few days later of Catholic (and Cuban-born) theologian Miguel Diaz to be his ambassador to the Vatican drew on that tradition more explicitly and broadly. Diaz is a father of four who describes himself as "pro-life," and yet his writings engage controversial beliefs associated with liberation theology. Obama has been channeling Catholic thought so consistently that the eminent Jesuit church historian John O'Malley last week saw in Obama, rather than any bishop, "the most effective spokesperson" for the reforming spirit of the Second Vatican Council.
So what's going on here? Good question. Find out here.
James Martin, SJ