Barack, St. Paul and Vatican II

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

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9 years 7 months ago
"...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.'..Would Paul cite a philosopher, ...or Jesus, by the way?" No doubt, Paul would agree with President Bush and cite Jesus, a.k.a., The Truth, because although he had to be "knocked off his horse" in order to see The Light, Jesus transformed Paul as well. P.S., Jesus is my favorite philosopher as well because not only does He speak the Truth, He is The Truth.
9 years 7 months ago
"Would Obama be able to cite Niebuhr if the name were not in the teleprompter? " I suspect that there is a much better chance that Obama already knew about Niebuhr and some of his writings than any of the prior presidents since JFK. In their dislike of anything and everything about Obama, way too many people foreget that he is intelligent and well-educated.  He also takes his religious beliefs seriously, which is more than one can say about too many US politicians of any stripe.
9 years 7 months ago
''Would Paul cite a philosopher, ...or Jesus, by the way.'' In the Epistle to Titus (1:12), the author states that ''the Cretans are great liars, as one of their own has said.''  This is a reference to Epimenides, who was most certainly a philosopher. I leave it to the learned commentors here to debate the authorship of Titus.
9 years 7 months ago
This is over the top; putting Obama on a pedestal will only disappoint people when he inevitably compromises these ideals by doing his day job as president and politician.  Be happy that we have a smart, capable leader when we need him, and support those among people of faith who could provide the same smart, courageous leadership there.
9 years 7 months ago
Would Obama be able to cite Niebuhr if the name were not in the teleprompter?  As to the Cairo speech he said Islam was a religion which stressed tolerance.  I guess there is no such thing as persecution of Christians and Jews in Muslim nations.  Must just be a bad dream. 
9 years 7 months ago
Comparing any politician, whether George W. Bush or Barack Obama, to St. Paul is ridiculous.
9 years 7 months ago
"...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." Ahem, President Bush didn't cite a philosopher, not "couldn't". After all, he is a Yale graduate.  Yale is full of philosophy. Would Paul cite a philosopher, ...or Jesus, by the way. Also, by the way, Paul was knocked off his horse. He didn't "Channel".
9 years 7 months ago
Obama like all of the rest of us is a work in progress and no one but God is aware of the finished product. From all appearances, with the snide references to teleprompters and 'bad' Muslims aside, Obama is an extraordinary ordinary person. He is an intellectual to be certain but he lives at ground level with everyday people. And he relates to and with them. It is obvious that he has a love for people regardless of their professional or social standing. Although the economy takes first place in the minds of most Americans and Obama has his work cut out trying to clean up a mess, he strikes me as a peacemaker first and peacemakers are blessed. One senses a personal desire to reconcile differences and get people to reach out across their differences to other people. That's a healer as well. For those of us who continue to work for the right to life for all of God's people including the unborn, there is the hope that the open mind of Obama will translate to a open heart and that he will be receptive to the quiet and gentle proddings of God to move away from his pro-choice stance to a position of pro-life. Meanwhile, he will please those who support him, confound those who oppose him, and continue on his own learning path which by the grace of God will lead him to a new awareness of why God gave him the splendid opportunity to lead this country.
9 years 7 months ago
Is not President Obama doing exactly what we all are supposed to do? trying his best to immitate Christ and the saints? It should be no surprise that he is doing it in the footsteps of Reinhold Niebuhr, since both are from the same Protestant tradition and denomination (United Church of Christ). I hope people give serious thought to your statement ''Obama ... rather than any bishop, [has been] the most effective spokesperson for the reforming spirit of the [color=#000000]Second Vatican Council.'' [/color]


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