Barack Obama: Prophet of our civil religion

Obama Votive.jpgAnd he’s channeling Abraham Lincoln. At least that’s my angle, in a piece at PoliticsDaily titled, “The Gospel According to Barack.”

Secularists worry that Obama has imbibed Bush’s faith-based Kool-Aid, conservatives rail that he’s (again) exalting himself as a false messiah, while religionists wonder if Obama is trying to pull a fast one by pretending to beliefs that he really doesn’t share.


A more tenable reading, however, is that Obama is trying to recover the lost gospel of America’s civil religion — the doctrines of tolerance and of personal responsibility for the common good, of shared truths and national ideals always imperfectly realized but always worth pursuing. This vision was outlined in the “social contract” that Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposed in the 18th century and was broadened and re-defined for the American context four decades ago by Robert Bellah.

I also marshal some actual smart people to my thesis:


Obama’s gospel is also a coherent evocation of the ideas of another hero, Abraham Lincoln, who the Harvard theologian Ronald F. Thiemann calls “our greatest public theologian.” (See in particular the Second Inaugural Address.) Like Lincoln, Obama can alternate between the rhetoric of an Old Testament prophet and the idealism of the New Testament evangelists to “establish the articles of a purely civil faith, not exactly as dogmas of religion but as sentiments of social commitment,” as Rousseau put it. “Unlike many presidents who have used theological language for rhetorical flourish or to curry favor with religious supporters, Lincoln used theology to shape his political sentiments into powerful analytical and persuasive arguments,” Thiemann writes.

And Obama aspires to a similar goal…

Read on


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