25 June 2008

Dobson, part II

Here's the Wallis response to James Dobson's attack of Obama. It's well-written, and I must say it does not qualify as "flying off the handle," as I predicted. I think this paragraph is the pith of it all:

Obama said that religion is and always has been a fundamental and absolutely essential source of morality for the nation, but he also said that "religion has no monopoly on morality," which is a point I often make. The United States is not the Christian theocracy that people like James Dobson seem to think it should be. Political appeals, even if rooted in religious convictions, must be argued on moral grounds rather than as sectarian religious demands -- so that the people (citizens), whether religious or not, may have the capacity to hear and respond. Religious convictions must be translated into moral arguments, which must win the political debate if they are to be implemented. Religious people don't get to win just because they are religious. They, like any other citizens, have to convince their fellow citizens that what they propose is best for the common good -- for all of us, not just for the religious.
If you can't tell from my last post, and the comments that follow, I feel really divided about this thinking. A couple years ago, I (the undergrad Public Policy major) would have made this very same argument. Today, I am still persuaded that speaking in the language of "morality" or the "common good" is the only way to achieve positive outcomes in the public square.

And yet, the question still stands: what happens when our faith requires us to work towards something that is not really best for the common good? For example, the "common good" of the Church is global, while the "common good" of the U.S. government is really limited to citizens or residents of the country. Apart from Christian ethics, how would you ever convince an American that the life of a child in Iran or Zimbabwe is as valuable as the life of a child in Indiana?

In other words, by participating in the moral debates of our pluralistic society (even if we do so by making religious arguments that nevertheless appeal to nonreligious people), do we learn habits that eventualy render us incapable of making distinctly Christian and unpopular arguments when the need arises?

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