Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A new twist on the “Is Obama a Christian?” debate"

"A new twist on the “Is Obama a Christian?” debate"

By Tom Heneghan (Reuters, November 19, 2008)

Washington, USA - The “Is Obama a Christian?” discussion is starting up again, this time not by people who suspect he’s a Muslim but those who think he’s a phony follower of Jesus Christ. The occasion for this is the posting on Beliefnet of an interview he gave to the Chicago Sun Times in 2004, while he was still an Illinois state senator. Conservative Christians have taken his religious views as proof he’s not a real Christian, but there’s support from a more liberal corner for his views.

That there is disagreement isn’t really a surprise. Theologians have been debating who is a Christian almost since the dawn of the faith and still dispute where the dividing lines lie. What is more interesting is that critics are picking apart his views — or purported views — on theological issues that have no obvious importance for his job as president.

Bloggers Joe Carter and Rod Dreher read in Obama’s interview a denial of the Nicene Creed since he called Jesus “a bridge between God and man” rather than clearly saying he is the Son of God (hat tip to Steve Waldman). “Unless Obama was being incredibly and uncharacteristically inarticulate, this is heterodox. You cannot be a Christian in any meaningful sense and deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. You just can’t,” Dreher writes. Has Obama denied the divinity of Jesus Christ here? That’s not clear here. Another point that Carter notes is that he doesn’t believe that people who have not embraced Jesus as their personal saviour will automatically go to hell. “I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That’s just not part of my religious makeup,” he said.

Elsewhere on its site, Beliefnet quotes a prominent Catholic theologian saying the same thing: “…Everything we believe about God, and everything we know about man, prevents us from accepting that beyond the limits of the Church there is no more salvation … We are no longer ready and able to think that our neighbor, who is a decent and respectable man and in many ways better than we are, should be eternally damned simply because he is not a Catholic. We are no longer ready, no longer willing, to think that eternal corruption should be inflicted on people in Asia, in Africa, or wherever it may be, merely on account of their not having “Catholic” marked in their passport.” This came from none other than a certain Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI. The quote is from 1964, from the young Ratzinger, and is not what he would say today. But even he said it back then and many theologians would agree with Obama’s view today.

As Waldman points out, it’s a view that George Bush would also agree with. And apparently with him many Christians as well:“millions and millions of people call themselves Christian, worship at Christian churches and believe that acceptance of Christ is not required for entry into heaven. In a recent Pew poll, 70% said ‘many religions can lead to eternal life.’ 66% of Protestants and 79% of Catholics said they agreed with that idea.”

Over at the Episcopal Café blog The Lead, blogger JB Chilton reprints reprints Obama’s answer about his suspicion of dogma and cautious turn towards faith and says: “Sounds like a good Episcopalian. The Episcopal Church welcomes you.”


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