Obama and Faith


I have worried about Barack Obama's tendency toward liberal Christianism in the past, but, although it isn't to my taste, I don't think, after more research, that it strays too much into the kind of social Gospel of Bush, Dobson or, on the left, Jim Wallis. Obama has too much Niebuhr in him. The Drudge-highlighted phrase "Kingdom on Earth" would worry me more if it hadn't been uttered in a church service and if Obama's record weren't demonstrably subtler than a simple Bush-like transference of abstract religious doctrine onto a complicated, fallen world. I talked to Obama last week about this very matter for a forthcoming essay in the Atlantic. Here's a section of our chat, with respect to the notion of a "kingdom on earth":

AS: This is I think one of the more (to me at least), the most interesting part of your candidacy.  Because we live in a world in which atheism - militant, contemptuous atheism - is on the rise. Religious fundamentalism is clearly the strongest force. Your faith - this thought-through intellectual faith, in many ways, but also a communal faith – is beleaguered, isn’t it?

BO: You know, it doesn't get a lot of play these days. But, you know, reading Niebuhr, or Tillich or folks like thatthose are the people that sustain me. What I believe in is overcoming - but not eliminating - doubt and questioning. I don't believe in an easy path to salvation. For myself or for the world. I think that it’s hard work, being moral. It's hard work being ethical. And I think that it requires a series of judgments and choices that we make every single day. And part of what I want to do as president is open up a conversation in which we are honestly considering our obligations - towards each other. And obligations towards the world.

AS: But you don't think we're ever going to be saved on this earth do you?

BO: No. I think it's a ... we're a constant work in progress. I think God put us here with the intention that we break a sweat trying to be a little better than we were yesterday.

I have a little more Augustine in me, but in the American context, I can live with that.

(Photo: Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty.)