Bellah on Barack

The eminent sociologist Robert Bellah, the lead author of the landmark book Habits of the Heart, has a fascinating essay on Barack Obama the website The Immanent Frame.  And these reflections on the president-elect and the "common good," a popular phrase in Catholic social teaching.  H/t to Tom Reese, SJ.

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An excerpt:

"If you look at Obama’s specific policy concerns you will find the common good at the core of almost all of them.  Universal health care is an obvious example.  And why, except for our culture of radical individualism, don’t we already have it as every advanced society in the world has it?  Because in normal times common good arguments do not carry the day in America.  Obama’s jobs program, his environmental program, his foreign policy concerns are all examples of making the common good the focus of politics.  What all this leads to in my opinion is that Obama is not concerned with center-left or center-right but with making America into a country with a concern for all its citizens and not just the privileged few, a country like other advanced countries and less like a third world country.

There is another element in Obama’s thinking that needs comment:  his concern for America and its historical promise.  It has been hard for his opponents to call Obama unpatriotic when he speaks so glowingly of our nation and its heritage.  It is the eloquence with which he did that in his keynote address in 2004 that first told me that a remarkable new presence had arrived on the American scene.  But what Obama has stressed is the promise of America, one that is still unfulfilled.  It is our task as he has so often said to help create a more perfect union because this one is so imperfect.  Obama has rejected the idea that supporting the Iraq War is a measure of patriotism.  He has said, in effect, that the true patriot will oppose such a war."

Whether or not you agree with him, Bellah is a true public intellectual, and one who has never shied away from reflecting on the complicated topic of the place of religion in American culture.  Be sure to read the rest of his reflection.

James Martin, SJ

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