Obama: "The Second Catholic President?"

Look. I understand the need to sell magazines or get hits on the blog. Sometimes you've got to be edgy. You want to get noticed. But there's a difference between pushing the envelope and just plain old crying for attention.

Commonweal's David Gibson has crossed that line.

Today, Gibson wrote a piece called...wait...are you ready for it... "Barack Obama: The Second Catholic president?"

Now, mind you Gibson puts the question mark in there so you can't say he said it. But his question mark leads one to believe it's an open question.

He writes approving but adds as a comment:
I think a stronger argument for Obama’s “Catholic sensibility” (and I wasn’t setting that out too literally, more the way Bill Clinton was the first African-American president) is his communitarian worldview, combined with a stress on personal responsibility. Interesting, as far as it goes.
Personal responsibility from the man who said this?:

Is that the kind of personal responsibility Gibson meant?

Mostly what Gibson did was quote a piece at a site called "The Immanent Frame." Now, mind you, Gibson doesn't come out and say the original author is absolutely right. He just passes it on uncritically but places it in a favorable light.

This isn't Catholic commentary. It's a cry for help. David Gibson wants to be noticed. So CMR asks you to go please notice David Gibson before he writes again.

Gibson writes that Obama deployed "a narrative style that both fits with, and gives lived experience, to the theological argument that universal moral principles are a society’s foundation and anchor.”

Yeah, like that universal moral principle of "Thou Shall Not Kill."
At the Immanent Frame, the sociologist of religion Michelle Dillon (author of a very good book, Catholic Identity: Balancing Reason, Faith and Power) sees a “Catholic sensibility” in Obama’s commencement address at Notre Dame:

“I am not thinking of Obama’s references to the “imperfections of man” and to “original sin,” or to the invocation of “God’s creation”–though these religious references are important. More striking was how Obama, a non-Catholic, showed his ability to think and to talk like a Catholic. He empathically did this by vividly using in his address very particular experiences as grounds legitimating the validity of universal claims. During his speech, Obama exemplified the translation that necessarily occurs in everyday lived experience between universal principles of morality and the particularistic ways in which those principles get worked out on the ground by (imperfect) human beings. This he accomplished not by abstract talk about lofty principles but by the stories he told…”

Those stories would be the references to Father Hesburgh and Cardinal Bernardin. As intriguing as anything was Dillon’s, outro, in which she says that “Obama has put religion back in civil religion, and has achieved this not by simply invoking religious words in public setting (”God bless America”), but by deploying a narrative style that both fits with, and gives lived experience, to the theological argument that universal moral principles are a society’s foundation and anchor.”
Now I could write a few more things in response but Thomas Farr and Rick Garnett responded at the original site.

Farr wrote:
It is, I think, disingenuous (and a sign of moral confusion) to argue that the President “showed his ability to think and to talk like a Catholic” by employing “particular experiences as grounds legitimating the validity of universal claims.” The universal claim most on display at Notre Dame was the Catholic Church’s teaching that all human beings are equal under the law, that protecting human rights for the least powerful is a requirement of both faith and reason, and that it is wrong, always and everywhere, to take innocent human life. There is no “particular experience” that can alter this teaching, which is, for Catholics, not optional. They can disagree over how to alleviate poverty and whether, or how, to prosecute a war. But not this. At Notre Dame Obama thought like Obama, not like a Catholic.

Garnett wrote:
With respect to the President’s invocation of Cardinal Bernadin, it strikes me as important to remember that, for the latter, the “consistent ethic” idea was never intended to minimize the importance of the abortion question or to excuse opposition to legal protections for unborn children. He said, for example, in 1988, “I don’t see how you can subscribe to the consistent ethic and then vote for someone who feels that abortion is a ‘basic right’ of the individual.” And, in the same interview, he noted that “some people on the left, if I may use that label, have used the consistent ethic to give the impression that the abortion issue is not all that important anymore, that you should be against abortion in a general way but that there are more important issues, so don’t hold anybody’s feet to the fire just on abortion. That’s a misuse of the consistent ethic, and I deplore it.”

The “consistent ethic” is a call to do *better* than contemporary politicians tend to do; it is not an excuse for doing worse than they should.
HT The Other McCain.


  1. Looks like we have to add another member to the "Mainlining O'Kool Aid Club".

    I would also argue that we have not yet had a Catholic president.

  2. "More striking was how Obama, a non-Catholic, showed his ability to think and to talk like a Catholic."

    Hmmmph...a heterdox Catholic...distinction should have been clearly defined.

  3. Obama's worldview is the antithesis of Catholicism.

    But even if you set aside his stance on the critical life issues (and he's on the wrong side of all of them)...I'm continually amazed by how many seemingly intelligent people are sucked in by Obama's smooth demeanor and platitudes. Seriously, the guy is an utter lightweight whose words bear little relation to his actions and policies.

    It's kind of pathetic.

  4. I'd say Obama is as Catholic as any Kennedy who has held office...

    God Bless,

  5. Hey, any chance you guys could re-start the Spanish Inquisition? I'm a Protestant, so I don't exactly have a dog in this fight, but the thoughts of John Kerry, Ted Kennedy and some of those other guys in the hands of a latter-day Torquemada . . . well, that's just the kind of mean-spirited thought you might expect from a right-winger, I suppose.

  6. Y'know, this brings my mind back to good old Mr. Chesterton:

    It is customary to complain of the bustle and strenuousness of our epoch. But in truth the chief mark of our epoch is a profound laziness and fatigue; and the fact is that the real laziness is the cause of the apparent bustle. Take one quite external case; the streets are noisy with taxicabs and motor-cars; but this is not due to human activity but to human repose. There would be less bustle if there were more activity, if people were simply walking about. Our world would be more silent if it were more strenuous. And this which is true of the apparent physical bustle is true also of the apparent bustle of the intellect. Most of the machinery of modern language is labour-saving machinery; and it saves mental labour very much more than it ought. Scientific phrases are used like scientific wheels and piston-rods to make swifter and smoother yet the path of the comfortable. Long words go rattling by us like long railway trains. We know they are carrying thousands who are too tired or too indolent to walk and think for themselves. It is a good exercise to try for once in a way to express any opinion one holds in words of one syllable. If you say "The social utility of the indeterminate sentence is recognised by all criminologists as a part of our sociological evolution towards a more humane and scientific view of punishment," you can go on talking like that for hours with hardly a movement of the grey matter inside your skull. But if you begin "I wish Jones to go to gaol and Brown to say when Jones shall come out," you will discover, with a thrill of horror, that you are obliged to think. The long words are not the hard words, it is the short words that are hard. There is much more metaphysical subtlety in the word "damn" than in the word "degeneration."


Post a Comment