Monday, July 14, 2008

"Tastless and Offensive"?

That's what the Obama Campaign thinks of this New Yorker cover; but the magazine claims it is satirizing right-wing scare tactics. What do you think?

Friday, July 11, 2008

My Faith and Politics

Obama has been useful recently for inspiring a lot of conversation. Landon, a good friend of my mine, recently sent me the following letter:

I rather liked this article:
feel like Obama's argument is one that you would give: that in a pluralistic
society, even if a strongly held belief is motivated by matters of faith, it
should be argued for in the public realm by means of arguments that can be made
on common ground. Having spent a lot of time arguing with Dobson's followers
(Dobson's Focus on the Family is based in Colorado Springs), I know first hand
that they are not willing to engage debate at that level; they will cite the
bible as their only point of argument and consider the matter to be settled,
regardless of the faith or lack thereof of the person with whom they are
debating. I think that a lot of my frustration and resentment of religion and
religious people would be absent if I had grown up around people who were
willing to engage with me on common ground, rather than around people who think
that if you don't treat their interpretation of the bible as absolute truth then
you are going to hell.
My response:

Thanks for the article--I appreciate your articulation of why you found Dobson's followers so frustrating; I think it is sentiment many of us share. I do indeed feel that if you are going to argue convictions based on faith in the public realm, you should do so in terms that can be made on common ground. However, my own understanding of my faith and its implications as shaped by a Lutheran understanding of Christ makes this a more complex issue. Before I talk about my faith in the public sphere, let me first explain a few things about my faith:

1) I believe that humans can only love if they have first been loved.

2) I believe that having been loved, humans will respond with love.

3) I believe that God loves all people unconditionally as was revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and that God's love is present and active in the world today through the power of the Holy Spirit.

4) I believe that humanity is subject to the brokenness of sin, which is the heart curved in upon itself. Because of this sinfulness humans try to place limits and conditions on love. This occurs notably in the Bible, a series of documents which both I and my denomination feel are divinely inspired but which are written by culturally-conditioned humans who are subject to sin and hence twist to their own images and purposes the Gospel of God's unconditional love.

5) Having experienced God's love, I desire to go forth and love others as God as loved me (doing so with the knowledge that I am, and will be as long as I live, subject to sin and never perfect in my love; yet God loves me anyway and gives me strength to keep trying).

6) In political terms, what this means is I try to foster a society which will encourage people to love as much as possible. The question then becomes how does a society do this.

7) While I feel the Bible (and other non-Christian religious documents) present useful insights, because of 4) I am wary of taking Biblical suggestions for our context whole-cloth.

8) This leaves me pretty much in the same place as a lot of secular humanists. I must rely on psychology, economics, sociology, and history to try to figure out what policy decision would really have the desired effect. In this sense, my beliefs motivated by matters of faith can and should be argued for in the public realm by means of
arguments that can be made on common ground.

9) However, there may be people who do not feel that the goal of society should be to foster love (I pray that this is not the case,but it may be). I am not sure there is any rational way to convince someone through argument of this one of my beliefs. In these situations, I can only love those who disagree with me and hope my trust in 2) is well founded.

10) I know for a fact that there are many people who disagree with 1)and 2) for theological, philosophical, and "common sense" reasons.These people believe that fear and punishment can be effective (and sometimes even necessary) means to produce love. Once again, I do not believe that I can convince someone of 1) and 2) (or 3), for that matter) through argument. Instead, all I can do is love those who disagree with me and trust in my faith.

11) Alternatively, I feel it is often useful to argue for a policy based on reasons that may not actually be common ground because you do not share them but your opponent does.

12) In conclusion, yes, I do agree that if you are going to argue convictions based on faith in the public realm, you should do so in terms that can be made on common ground. Furthermore, I do feel it is important that people of faith bring their convictions to bear on the political process. However, personally, I think people are only willing to listen and engage with open minds with those who disagree with them when they have first been loved as individuals within a community--but then, that's why I'm in ministry, not politics. ;)