Friday, August 22, 2008

Obama on Faith

When I wrote my review of Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope, I hadn't yet gotten to the chapter on faith. Well, now I have read it, and I'm not particularly impressed.

Obama apparently grew up in a secular household, but converted to Christianity in his mid-20s. His reasons for adopting Christianity are patently utilitarian. He talks about the effectiveness of black churches in organizing blacks, improving neighborhoods, effecting social change, and instilling morals in the community. He talks about how his mother died after a long fight with cancer and how he saw fear in her eyes, and wished that she had religion to comfort her. And he talks about when his own young daughter asked him about death for the first time, and he told her something like "You don't have to worry about that for a long time." This skirted the question, but he says in his book that he hopes that his mother has gone to a better place where she can be with people she can talk to and love for all eternity.


Okay. But your desire to believe something that makes you happy certainly doesn't make it true. Obama also talks about how religious people shouldn't leave reason at the door, but as far as I can tell, he doesn't give a single justification for his beliefs based on reason.

I've talked here many times about the fallacy of utilitarianism. You could believe all sorts of things that are false that could make you happier and more productive. In the end what matters is your values. If you really do value truth more than happiness, then you'd never accept a pleasant fantasy over cold, hard reality. But if you value happiness more than truth, you'd certainly be willing to buy whatever someone's selling as long as it made you that much happier.

Obama at least speaks inclusively about non-believers, and he talks about the dangers of using the state to inflict religious beliefs on others. This is better than most candidates, I suppose, but I just wish he would apply the same level of scrutiny to what he says he believes about religion that he does to Republican policies.

6 comments:

Laurie said...

And he talks about when his own young daughter asked him about death for the first time, and he told her something like "You don't have to worry about that for a long time."

This kind of response really aggravates me. Can he guarantee this to her? I don't think so. At any time some tragedy may occur that would make her perceive him as a liar.
If he really does choose to shield her from the truth about death, that makes him come across as not only cowardly, but also as a naive, overly-protective parent. Like those parents who complained to Lakeside Mall when the mall put up a FEMA Christmas Village, because the parents didn't want their children exposed to the "horrible truths of Hurricane Katrina." Sooner or later every child has to learn that life is filled with difficulties, and by brushing aside a child's desire to know the truth, a parent is denying his child the right to grow up and develop a way of dealing with such things.

mark said...

Where did you get that picture!

Laurie said...

Well, maybe I shouldn't say "a way of dealing with such things," but instead that children at least need to be aware of these types of situations so that they can develop a way of coming to terms with the idea that they will have to face difficulties at some point in their lives.

Philip said...

and by brushing aside a child's desire to know the truth, a parent is denying his child the right to grow up and develop a way of dealing with such things.

I agree. As I grow older, I find I have less and less patience with those who rely on ignorance for their well-being.

Kenny Wyland said...

Depending on the age of the child, I think it's ok to postpone a discussion of death. There are some things that children can't know because once they know them, they are no longer children.

He didn't lie to her, he told her he'd explain it later.

Derek James said...

Mark...I Google Image searched for "obama religion", and voila!