Monday, September 1, 2008

Can Democrats Get Votes From the Faithful

The obvious answer to the heaqdline is, of course, yes. After all, I am an active member of a church, worship there weekly, and I am an enthusiastic Obama/Biden supporter. The real question is whether Obama/Biden can win the votes of socially conservative religious voters (both Catholics and Evangelicals). The New Yorker has a very interesting analysis:

The most effective Democratic religious outreach has been performed by the Democrat to whom it comes most naturally, Obama. Almost as soon as he joined the Senate, Obama became a prized booking on the speech circuit, where he proved to be fluent in what Jesse Jackson once called “faith talk.” Obama spoke forthrightly about his Christian beliefs and about his conversion experience (“Kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side in Chicago, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me”), in a way that was hardly customary for Democratic politicians. In casting Republicans as the dangerous God Party, Democrats had turned themselves into the Secular Party so resolutely as to seem almost hostile to religious faith—a perilous position in a country where ninety-two per cent of the population believe in God, more than two-thirds believe in the presence of angels and demons, and nearly a quarter have said that the attacks of September 11, 2001, are prophesied in the Bible.

Obama addressed this problem in a remarkable speech on June 28, 2006, at a gathering of the Christian-left group Call to Renewal, in Washington, in which he offered a frank critique of liberal queasiness regarding faith. “There are some liberals,” Obama said, “who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word ‘Christian’ describes one’s political opponents, not people of faith.”

Echoing the themes of Deal Hudson’s 1998 Catholic-voter report, Obama said, “The single biggest gap in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called red states and those who reside in blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don’t.” He told secularists that they “are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square,” and suggested that “a sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state.”

He went on, “Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation—context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase ‘under God.’ I didn’t. Having voluntary student prayer groups use school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats.”



The entire article is well worth a read--and it concludes that the juty is still out on whether Obama can indeed win these voters.

14 comments:

The Exterminator said...

Hi, Chuck:
I'm going to bring an atheist perspective here for you, just to give you and your readers something to think about.

While the Democrats' embrace of "faith talk" may pick up a few marginal evangelicals, it has alienated not a few freethinkers, skeptics, doubters, and others who believe that religion has no place in American politics. (See the last clause of Article VI in the Constitution, the First Amendment, Jefferson's "(Virginia) Act for Establishing Religious Freedom" and Madison's "Memorial and Remonstrance," for some good examples of the Founders' views.)

With Sarah Palin out there to revitalize the "social conservatives" and pull many of them back from their reluctant acceptance of Obama, I think the Democratic Party's constant god-pushing may turn out to lose them quite a few votes in the next election.

We'll see. But I, myself, am probably not going to vote for Obama because, to my ears, the continual references to god (read: "the Christian version of god") don't sound all that different from the Republicans'. And although the religious hammering of both parties is, so far, relatively benign, it sets up a perfect Taliban situation for the future. I would rather sacrifice one Democratic victory than help to set up a situation where a "religious strategy" becomes part of our nation's dialogue.

I think a candidate should be free to worship -- or not worship -- as he or she sees fit. Privately. And, even though I'm an atheist, I would defend and champion the right to do so. But I think when a candidate's religious beliefs are injected into the public arena, that sets a dangerous precedent. The Founding Fathers were against theocracies of all kinds, even those that might be viewed by the majority as "benevolent."

Chuck Blanchard said...

Exterminator:

What I find interesting about Obama is that he is comfortable talking about faith, while at the same time understanding the dangers of sectarianism. Before writing off Obama as a danger to atheists, look at this speech, given in a church to a religious audience:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXcvbnzNIjg

The Exterminator said...

Chuck:

I've seen that clip, and I'd like to think that it represents what Obama stands for. However, the constant thrum of "God bless ..." at the Democratic convention and all the talk about "faith" was pretty scary to me. Now, obviously, the Republicans are much more tied into Christianity than Democrats are. However, I don't see why it's necessary for any candidate to address religion at all. From my point of view, the persistent banging of the religious drum creates an atmosphere that will be conducive to theocratic control -- perhaps not in the next administration, but certainly in the not too distant future.

Why not nip it in the bud by saying: "In America, a person's religious beliefs are not a requirement for office; they're totally immaterial to his or her qualifications. I'm not going to address questions about my faith, just as I don't think it's necessary for me to be praising my favorite song, or the cereal I like best for breakfast. In fact, it's unconstitutional for me to put forward my religious views as a qualification for office."

That's what he should have said. Instead, he circulated thousands -- maybe millions -- of fliers touting himself as a "committed Christian." I know you understand how and why that's disgusting not only to an atheist, but to any non-Christian. Instead of refusing to take part in faith-based forums (primarily Christian-oriented), Obama did take part, both during the primary season and, recently, at Saddleback Church. I know you understand how and why that's disgusting not only to an atheist, but to any non-Christian. Instead of saying, as he might have, that Americans are free to practice whatever faith they choose, but not free to impose their faith on others, Obama talks about expanding faith-based initiatives, for which atheists, freethinkers, skeptics, and doubters will have to pay.

So, unfortunately, he's running as a Christian-Democrat in William Jennings Bryan style, despite what he happened to say in one speech.

I look forward to hearing him speak on the complete separation of church & state, as the founders envisioned.

Gary said...

the exterminator,

You can relax. Obama's Christianity isn't real, though he might think it is. His real beliefs are much closer to yours than you think.

The Exterminator said...

Gary:
I don't know if your comment is intended to insult Obama, or me, or even Chuck.

I do know that it's stupid, though.

gary said...

the exterminator,

Why is my comment stupid?

The Exterminator said...

Gary:
Your comment is stupid because unless you're a mind reader, you can have no way of determining Obama's real beliefs.

Also, you didn't define what "real" Christianity is, as opposed to "fake" Christianity. Since you're not the Grand High Pooh-Bah of Deciding What Christianity Is, it's stupid for you to make that kind of distinction.

Christianity is exactly what its name implies: a belief in the divinity of a character known as Jesus. All the rest is icing. Christians throughout history have fought and killed one another over that icing. So not only is your comment stupid, it's purposely inflammatory to other Christians -- which I'm not, but Chuck is -- and, as such, about as anti-Christian as a comment can be. So for an anti-Christian like you to claim to know what true Christianity is: That's really stupid.

Gary said...

exterminated,

For a non-Christian like yourself, to even attempt to define what Christianity is, or who is a Christian, is the height of arrogance and demonstrates your own foolishness. You have such an inflated opinion of yourself that you think you have the knowledge and the right to comment on things you know nothing about. Drop dead.

The Exterminator said...

Gary said:
Drop dead.

And by that small sentence, I see that you've proven yourself as a "true" Christian. The "false" Christians I know -- people like Chuck and hundreds of others -- seem to be laboring under the illusion that their religion is, at least partially, one of love and tolerance. So thanks for clearing that up for all of us, both atheists and "false" Christians alike. Now I know that "true" Christians are small-minded, hate-filled bullies like you are.

So perhaps you can tell me how I can distinguish you "true" Christians from the Taliban? Is it because they say "Drop dead" in Arabic and you say it in good ol' biblical English?

Gary said...

exterminated,

If I told you, you would not understand. But, I'm sure that won't stop you from telling yourself how learned you are.

davohynds said...

Gary:
Well, as a Christian, I'd be interested in hearing why Obama's faith isn't the real Christianity.

Gary said...

davohynds,

Obama believes in a "social gospel" type of religion, which places the emphasis on this life and all but ignores eternity. This is the reverse of the real Gospel, which places much more emphasis on eternity and avoiding damnation than it does what happens in this world.

Obama has stated that he does not believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to God for everyone, which directly contradicts what the Bible says.

Obama openly and proudly supports killing innocent children and promoting homosexuality which both violate Scripture.

Is that enough evidence?

Chris said...

Gary,

I'm intrigued. You say that the real Gospel places more emphasis on eternity than it does on this world. Yet it seems to me that one of the characteristic things about Jesus' teachings are the frequent references to the kingdom of heaven being near.

First in creating us as embodied, temporally-bound beings, and second by the incarnation, God shows us that this finite world matters. Eternity matters too, of course, but tending to eternity necessarily involves tending to the here and now. Indeed, our Lord told us so (see Matt 25:31-46, for instance). The gospel can't be divided into the parts that talk about this life and the parts that talk about the next, because this life and the next are intimately related. Your faith, which assures you of the next life, manifests itself in this life through good works. Conversely, your decisions on how to handle what is given to you in this life play a role in determining what you will be given in the next life. There is no sense in which the social aspect of the gospel can be divorced from the eternal salvation aspect, and the social gospel is not the reverse of the 'real' gospel; rather, they work together to tell us God's plan for His kingdom, which is both now and not yet.

Such is what I think. Tell me more about what you think - what is the relationship between the way our world is now and the way things will be for eternity? Where do we disagree, and why? I look forward to continuing this discussion, that we may both be led closer to the living truth.

davohynds said...

Gary:

"This is the reverse of the real Gospel." I think that this was the point that Exterminator (in his ever sarcastic, condescending way) was trying to make.

Please understand that I'm not discrediting your view of the gospel. I'm just curious as to the authority with which you claim to possess the "real" gospel.

As for what Chris said, I'd have to say I generally agree. The gospel necessitates a social manifestation of itself when pursued with sincerity.

You raise the point that Obama promotes killing of innocent children. I won't argue with that, and his stance is troubling to me. However, I think it is important to recognize that we are all children of God, even our Iraqi and Afghan brothers. So, to support their continued killing would also support the murder of precious children of God.