Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The President's Speech at the National Prayer Breakfast-- What Was That All About??

The president’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast had me scratching my head for a whole lot of reasons.  It wasn’t just the initial gushing over the Dalai Lama, that emblem of 70s' hippy fascination with Buddhism.  No, I could excuse that.  After all, many religions were represented at the breakfast and perhaps there was an adult reason the president thought he merited individual recognition.

The president spoke a lot of “the degree to which we’ve seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.”   I’m wondering why the president thought this point was important to make at the Prayer Breakfast.   Seems an odd direction to take.  Charles Krauthammer described the speech as a “combinationof the banal and the repulsive.”
The banal is the adolescent who discovers that well, man is fallen, and many religions have abused their faith and used it as a weapon.  This is what you discover when you’re 12, or 17, and what you discuss in the Columbia dorm room.  He’s now bringing it to the world as a kind of revelation, and he does it two days after the world is still in shock by the video of the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot as a way of saying hey, what about Joan of Arc? I mean this is so distasteful.
Yes, it was distasteful all right, and also rather bizarre.  The point that religion has been used for evil was a major theme of his speech. The president talked of religion being used as a weapon, citing as examples victims in Pakistan, Paris, and the terrorizing of religious minorities like the Yezidis.   Curiously, in the past he has claimed that ISIS is not Islamic.  If it’s not Islamic, are these really examples?

Then there is the oft-mentioned religious minority, the Yezidis.  God bless and protect them.  They have been persecuted for decades.  Tens of thousands have had to flee their homes.  But the Christians in Iraq are a minority too, and hundreds of thousands of them have had to flee.  There were a few decades ago 1.4 million Christians in Iraq.  Now there are 300,000.  There used to be 300 Christian churches in Iraq.  Now there are 52.  Some churches are reported to now serve as dungeons and torture chambers for ISIS.  Others have been completely destroyed, including one in Mosul that was 1800 years old.  Artifacts from these churches are then sold on the black market.  And yet when the president mentions ISIS persecution of minorities he frequently says, “especially the Yezidis.”

The Yezidis are an ancient religion, an offshoot of Zoroastrianism, who believe in one god.  They also honor an angel who defied God and they believe that hell no longer exists.  I know of only one angel who defied God and those who call themselves “spiritual but not religious” these days frequently deny that there could be a place like Hell.  The attention and sympathy given to the Yezidis by this administration coupled with the lack of attention to persecuted Christians certainly raises questions.  I’ll leave it to those knowledgeable about spiritual warfare to draw their own conclusions.

The president says that human atrocities are “so often perpetrated in the name of religion.”  Was he trying to say that the cause of terrorist acts is religion?  Would he blame terrorism on religion at the National Prayer Breakfast?  He goes on to say that “lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”  What??

First of all, as an aside, let’s not forget that the Crusades were wars fought in response to Muslim aggression against Christian territory.  There were atrocities, to be sure, but it was not a case of Christians beating up on innocent Muslims.  As to the Spanish Inquisition, there is no question that it was not a pretty period of Catholic history.   But many of the assumptions about the Inquisition are wildly exaggerated and some are just plain false.  Robert P. Lockwood of Catholic Answers addressed this.
The Spanish Inquisition contains all the elements of a classic Catholic urban legend.  A distorted historical understanding shared by Catholics and non-Catholics alike makes a useful club against any position taken by the Church today in a public arena.  Any Catholic apologist or spokesperson for a Catholic position in contemporary culture knows this.  It is virtually impossible to engage in any discussion without someone raising the Spanish Inquisition to score effective, if irrelevant, debating points.
But let’s grant that the Crusades and the Inquisition were examples of religion being used for evil ends, even if they are also striking examples of ignorant and frequently used anti-Catholic rhetoric.  Why was the president talking about these events of hundreds of years ago at the National Prayer Breakfast?  He goes on to say, “So this is not unique to one group or one religion.  There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency, that can pervert and distort our faith…I believe there are a few principles that can guide us…..And, first, we should start with some basic humility.  I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt—not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.”

At this point, I have to say that the president has revealed his true cards.  His arguments have completed a caricature of the anti-Christian rhetoric of the New Age unbeliever.  When Christians claim that the Church is good, this unbeliever will bring up the Crusades and the Inquisition.  They mock the belief held by Christians, and believers of any other faith as well, that their religion contains the fullness of the truth.  They paint this belief as pride and arrogance.  They then distort the notion of an absolute truth and claim that it means that God does not care about others.  They declare that all religions teach the truth, ignoring the fact that religions contradict each other in their doctrines and that no serious believer in any religion holds this to be true.

This is a childish point of view and might be laughable if it had not been put forth by the President of the United States at the National Prayer Breakfast.  It is even more alarming that it was presented as part of a discussion that included terrorism and the actions of the unbelievably barbaric ISIS.  The president’s words not only had the effect of belittling Christianity.  They also seemed to minimize the threat to the United States and all civilized countries posed by radical Islamism.  Is this really the time to be saying in response to the burning alive of a caged Jordanian pilot that, well, Christians have committed atrocities too.

He went on to make the claim that  “we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom—freedom of religion—the right to practice our faith as we choose….”  This is jaw dropping from a president who has done more to prevent the free exercise of religion than any other president in our history.  But that could be the topic of another entire essay.  The HHS mandate and treatment of military chaplains immediately come to mind.

God bless our president and guide him.  He is a pacifist.  He does not understand that sometimes military might can be used justly to defend the dignity and the lives of persecuted people.  He does not understand faith. He is relying on dated and inaccurate stereotypes.  He just does not know what the leader of the free world ought to do in response to terrorism.  He seems to have his head in the sand, ignoring  the reality of Islamism and clinging to long held prejudices about Christians.  In doing so the president is endangering all Americans and all people of the free world. 

Obama mentions the word humble or humility five times in this speech.  May he himself have the humility to come before God and plead for wisdom and guidance.  He sorely needs it.  We must pray for him as well.

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