political theology, R. Niebuhr

Saddleback: the Messiah Strikes Back

I wondered if I even should do a post on Saddleback’s presidential interview. I was rather underwhelmed. However, if I were to write a review, it would look an awful lot like the Luther Zephyr’s post on it. He begins his ending with:

In contrast to McCain’s bellicose response – Evil = Al Qaeda, the remedy for which is more war – Senator Obama offers a much more nuanced, a much broader, a much more theologically articulate understanding of evil. Evil exists, according to Obama, overseas and at home, on our streets and in our homes, in unjust wars and even hidden in our own well-intentioned response to injustice.

Ask yourself this question – is evil limited to Al Qaeda? Of course not. Evil is much more expansive than a single terrorist enemy. Obama understands this. McCain does not. Obama knows that are all sinners, that all capable of evil – even we in this country. But for McCain, the world is a bit simpler, a bit more black-and-white – we’re the poor victims of an overseas evil, period.

Obama also appropriately places the task of ridding the world of evil in God’s hands: “We are not going to, as individuals, be able to erase evil from the world. That is God’s task.” (Note: no applause from the Saddleback faithful in response to this theologically correct answer. They cheer on McCain, the would-be macho Messiah, but they simply sit politely and quietly as Obama gives God the glory). McCain offered fighting words, whereas Obama offered words of faith.

His juxtaposition is well done. McCain’s understanding of “the fight between good and evil” and that these wars “are fights against evil” certainly does scare me from a theological point of view. However, as much as McCain is over-the-top, both McCain and Obama call themselves Niebuhrians, and the realist that Niebhur was, installed Christianity into a form of violent pragmatism that served the state, and even arguably replaced the church with the state. Obama, is certainly less simplistic and I think more honest, however, when he says evil is in God’s hands, he means perhaps something different than we assume. Or at least that our involvement with or against evil may still be rather close to what it is now. But, at least he doesn’t have a Messiah complex, seems to identify evil better, and is someone I actually like to engage with. Another Bush in the White House would be a disaster.

Also, I am far too proud of my title for this post. It works on so many levels, and reminds me of this video from Family Guy. Unfortunately, the actual video is taken down for copyright infringement, so someone used a machinima technique to illustrate the visual part:


6 thoughts on “Saddleback: the Messiah Strikes Back

  1. I too was underwhelmed, but in a weird way, was a little refreshed by McCain’s thinly veiled secularism. I am very tired of “evangelical politics” — from the right or the left. I’d take a federalist atheist over a state-church evangelical any day. (Not saying McCain is the former, of course. But I’m happily awaiting the day a presidential candidate can matter-of-factly deny any religious allegiance without injury.)

  2. To say that forum was frustrating to watch is an understatement. John McCain got off with one-liners. For example, on abortion: Obama refused to define the start of life, saying the task was “above his pay grade,” which McCain came out with “life begins at conception.” Of course McCain gets huge cheers, and he gets to make some comments about judge appointments. The upshot is that he gets to say his line, blame the Supreme Court, and sit back. Obama on the other hand actually appears to be striving to reduce the actual occurence of abortion, not just its legality. In other words, he is actually willing to actually do something about it. Pretty sad.

  3. Davin says:

    Obama has done nothing to reduce the amount of abortions. In fact he voted against the infant born alive act which would prevent babies born alive from botched abortions to be killed after being born. He voted against it twice, while most hard line abortion backers voted for it. In fact when it brought up in his state he was the only senator that stood in opposition of it. Obama has only helped to increase the amount of abortions. This one is a no-brainer even for pro-abortion backer, but Obama voted against it because it could be used to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Abortion is one of the biggest evils in this world. Killing unborn innocent children should be something that our country aggressively seeks to get rid of. If a person is convicted of causing the death of a child in utero, he can be convicted of murder. But if a mother does it to her own child it’s for some reason seen a ok by Mr. Obama. I could never in good conscience vote for a man that thinks killing babies is ok.

  4. The born-alive act is predicated on an attempted abortion. That is, it has not reduced abortions at all, just provided protection for infants who were born alive as a result of a failed attempt. It does not address the underlying moral problem at all. Now, I am not going to defend Obama’s voting record on abortion.

    Personally I think the solution to the abortion problem is to attack demand, not supply. It needs to be made irrelevent – no woman should ever even think of it as an option. Here is the implication: John McCain wants to attack the legality of abortion, which does nothing (or perhaps very little) to reduce the actual number of abortions on demand which happen in the US. Given the legal impossibility of banning abortion outright (remember, an overturned Roe v. Wade does not outlaw abortion, only give states the right to outlaw it if they so choose), a proper federal legislative approach would be to fund various programs which help women to decide against abortion. Saying that the buck stops with the Supreme Court (“please elect me and I will appoint the right folks”) is not an acceptable legal solution, IMO.

    Now I would go one step further and say that in the optimal society, abortion could be made irrelevent by communities themselves, and the state would not need to be concerned. This is particularly applicable to the Church, as Hauerwas notes. But if we are going to judge by voting records, I don’t think that one side or the other has a particular moral advantage.

  5. I don’t know for sure, but McCain has thrown around the word federalist. Maybe upon seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade he would then rightly allow the states to decide whatever they want to decide on this issue. But he seems to be one who will only play the federalist card when it’s convenient for him.

    So, in other words, it’s not exactly correct to state that McCain simply wants to “attack the legality of abortion” and leave it at that.

  6. Federalism was killed by Abraham Lincoln. =P As for it becoming states’ prerogative if Roe is overturned, it is not a question of “maybe.” That is what will happen. 8 states currently have laws which will make most abortions illegal in that case. More states (including California and Florida) will keep it legal. The bottom line is that even if Roe v. Wade is overturned (which seems unlikely given that seven of the current court were appointed by pro-life Republicans – and still no change), abortion will probably remain legal in most states, probably representing the vast majority of citizens of the US.

    Now that I am examining McCain’s view more carefully (and not just what he said at Saddleback), I see that he does support other means of legal means of stopping abortion (i.e. promoting adoption and supporting counseling, etc.). So what I said about him only working to overturn Roe was wrong.

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