I love oranges. They are pretty. They taste good. And they are even good for you. Since my hometown is Lakeland, Florida (World Citrus Capital), I also have an appreciation for the economic impact of oranges. Oranges create jobs.
But when about the composition of an orange, the specific nutritional elements contained within, or the best irrigation and environment in which oranges grow and thrive, I would plead ignorance. Even though I have walked and worked often in orange groves, even though my home was surrounded by citrus, in fact, my knowledge of oranges is superficial and merely observational.
So, too, is Obama's knowledge of faith.
For two weeks, I have been struggling to process President Obama's Cairo speech to the Muslim world. That speech reflects Obama's insipid comprehension of faith, a vapidness that is now becoming a part of so many of his speeches on matters of morals and ethics..
Were I to make grand pronouncements on oranges, anyone who knows anything about citrus would soon find me out to be a poser. Likewise, Obama's continuing pronouncements on matters of faith are reflecting poorly on his actual knowledge of it. Moreover, he is revealing the shallowness of his own personal faith, and his own lack of real formation or development. Instead of a robust, fully formed faith, what Obama is revealing is a warmed-over mush of sentimentality and nice feelings. As if all religion could be reduced merely to one or two rules (e.g., Be kind to one another). While we can afford for millions of humans to walk around with that misconception, it is not acceptable for the President of the United States to be making grand pronouncements and policy decisions about faith when he has no understanding of the issue. My ignorance of oranges is embarrassing; Obama's ignorance of faith is dangerous.
Three cases in point. And in all three I will give the prescription for Mr. Obama's spiritual and intellectual development in order to grow in faith rather than mire in mush.
Case 1: Islam and Religious History
In the Cairo speech to Muslims, President Obama says that he has encountered Muslims on three continents. I have encountered oranges on four. Does that give me any real knowledge of oranges? Not really. Again, I merely like them. I KNOW nothing substantive about them.
Obama demonstrates a rather superficial, if not simplistic, understanding of Islam and history. For example, he says, “I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam...that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment.” Offering meaningful support (beyond his questionable declaration that Islam gave us pens) is required for such a bold statement. Obama either is woefully educated or he is intentionally deceptive. The claim that Islam carried the light of learning through so many centuries is merely wrong.
Worse, however, is Obama's declaration that, “...throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality. ...Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition.”
Is he serious? Can he cite any real example besides this to support Islam's alleged “proud tradition of tolerance?” Any other solid examples in 13 centuries of Islamic history? More importantly, does Obama even know how Islam found its way into Andalusia and Cordoba in the first place? Through violent conquest from the east. Not through peaceful conversion. It arrived, as it always does, through the very imperialism with which Obama seeks to paint the west but fails to recognize in Islam itself.
PRESCRIPTION: For starters, he should begin with an excellent book to READ history rather than merely absorb what the politically correct, Harvard culture wants him to believe. A thorough history of imperialism and Islam's bloody role in that would be a good place to begin. Islamic Imperialism, by Efraim Karsh, and published by the Yale Press, will work nicely.
For example: The birth of Islam...was inextricably linked with the creation of a world empire and its universalism was inherently imperialist. It did not distinguish between temporal and religious powers, which were combined in the person of Mohammed, who derived his authority directly from Allah, and acted at one and the same time as head of state and head of [religion]. This allowed the prophet to cloak his political ambitions with a religoius aura and to channel Islam's energies into... aggressive and [violent expansion]...
Case 2: Life.
President Obama's shortcomings in arriving at any kind of decision that supports life are well-known and well-chronicled. I will merely remind you of his famous quote when pushed into a corner. “Look, I got two daughters — 9 years old and 6 years old,” he said. “I am going to teach them first about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.” And therein lies a key revelation into the malformation of his faith.
Obama's view of life and its dignity can be summarized as: Babies, children, and human lives are meaningless unless we choose to give them meaning. Children may be a blessing, or they may be a punishment. They have no inherent value in and of themselves. The unborn are subordinate to the needs and desires of the already born. As a result, unborn human life is disposable. It is not a natural outflowing of love; life is not a gift from God but rather a gift chosen by doctors or mothers; and humans are not really created in the image of God. I.e., humans are nice, but they are not all that.
PRESCRIPTION: Obama would do well to read Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II. An intelligent, well-reasoned explanation of the most elementary and incontrovertible moral truths and the most fundamental values or goods, of which human life plays a crucial role. One book should do just the trick for the President to take pause about where his position stands in the vast tradition of Christian thought on human life and its dignity. Only in the last forty years of history have any Christian theologians (and a tiny fraction of them at that) taken an anti-life position as radical as the President's. Mr. Obama would do well to understand his own faith before speaking from it.
Case 3: Science and Faith
In his speech on stem cell research, President Obama revealed again his inability to integrate science and faith. He did the same thing in his inaugural address, wheh he all but declared science as absolutely and inherently good with his words, “We will restore science to its rightful place...” As if somehow science had been dethroned or delegitimized, or as if science and faith are incompatible.
The esteemed Fr. Richard John Neuhaus wrote, "It simply is not true that modern science built itself in opposition to religion...Are there doctrines of Catholicism - authoritative, binding teachings - which are logically in conflict with well-established scientific facts and theories? I do not know of any..."
Obama wants science to lead us. And moral reflection and evaluation then to follow. That is akin to playing a game of poker and making up the rules as you go. How does one know when the line has been crossed if that line is not evaluated and drawn, or at least sketched, before the game begins?
He claims to believe that science and faith are not inconsistent, but then goes on to say in defense of embryonic stem cell research, “As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research – and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.” Agreed. The question is how and with what limits?
President Obama's priorities come later in the speech. “We will support [stem cell research] only when it is both scientifically worthy and responsibly conducted. We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse.”
In other words, I am turning scientists loose today to pursue important research. It is important to do that research responsibly. So, while they are conducting the research, we will develop guidelines to prevent abuse. Two questions: 1) Why would you start research that is morally suspect before you have developed the moral guidelines for it? The sequence is illogical. 2) On what basis will those guidelines be set? Obama acts as if some government bureaucrat or task force will merely draft guidelines for morality with little difficulty. When the government does it, will the the truth drop down from the sky?
PRESCRIPTION: A little fiction to lighten the President's reading load as he grows in moral formation. How about Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, a spellbinding fictional thriller with many historical inaccuracies? Brown does a nice job of incorporating the old science vs. faith debate into a page-turning novel. A good statement for Obama to chew on for a moment: “Science shatters God's world into smaller and smaller pieces in quest of meaning... and all it finds is more questions.”
Does Obama really suggest that a government commission to draft moral rules of engagement for scientific research is the solution? As if all we have needed all along is an enlightened government task force to define life and its meaning for us?
So, in addition to Dan Brown , I recommend that the President read the recent writings of Dinesh D'Souza on faith, science, and Western civilization. Those will provide him the basic foundation he sorely lacks at present.
After the President reads these prescriptive works, his faith will begin to take form in his intellect. And, while I will still know nothing about oranges, our President will have some basis for the grand pronouncements he is making involving life, faith, and geo-politics. A basis that just may make the difference between life and death.