Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Obama's Faith

The following excerpts are from Cathleen Falsani’s 2004 interview with Barack Obama who was then running for a state senate seat in Illinois. It can be found in its fullness on the beliefnet website.

After discussing the influences that he has been around (eastern, Muslim, Judaism) Mr. Obama discussed his own faith,
“So, I'm rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people. That there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and there's an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived.”

While working with churches on community issues in Chicago, he discussed his movement from an intellectual approach to Christianity to a more “spiritual” faith:
“And the power of that culture to give people strength in very difficult circumstances, and the power of that church to give people courage against great odds. And it moved me deeply. So that, one of the churches I met, or one of the churches that I became involved in was Trinity United Church of Christ. And the pastor there, Jeremiah Wright, became a good friend. So I joined that church and committed myself to Christ in that church.”

He was asked if he responded to an altar call, he affirmed that he did. He was asked if he became born again:
Yeah, although I don't, I retain from my childhood and my experiences growing up a suspicion of dogma. And I'm not somebody who is always comfortable with language that implies I've got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others. I'm a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at its best comes with a big dose of doubt. I'm suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding…there's an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty.

He responsed to the question, who is Jesus:
“Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he's also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher. And he's also a wonderful teacher. I think it's important for all of us, of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in history.”

His response to whether he had a “personal” relationship or connection to Jesus:
“Yeah. Yes. I think some of the things I talked about earlier are addressed through, are channeled through my Christian faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Obama discusses his reticence about the Christian call to evangelize:
This is something that I'm sure I'd have serious debates with my fellow Christians about. I think that the difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and prostelytize. There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they're going to hell.

When the interview tried to confirm that he does not believe in a “hell” for those who do not believe in Christ, he replied,
“I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world 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.”

When asked if he believes in an afterlife (heaven), he replies,
“What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don't presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing.”

He defined sin as being out of alignment with his values. When asked what happens when one has sin in one’s life,
“I think it's the same thing as the question about heaven. In the same way that if I'm true to myself and my faith that that is its own reward, when I'm not true to it, it's its own punishment.”


Jason said...

Interesting stuff. More than anything else, it intrigues me to read more of those interviews to see the full body of what he had to say.

It sounds to me like he has a measure of Christianity, just like many other Americans. I'm certainly not one to determine whether or not he's born again, but it's very convenient (and common) to align myself with the biblical values I like (such as free salvation in Christ) but to be a little more skeptical about things I'm not comfortable with, even if the Bible addresses them specifically.

In short, many people don't want to have a controversial faith. But Christianity has been controversial since its inception, and obviously its Founder was executed for it. I imagine many of us question whether one can have a non-controversial faith and still have a valid, eternity-saving one.

billy v said...

Great response. I agree, I may not politically expedient to embrace true orthodox Christianity. But, I don't think his reactions are too different from the poll results we see from other "believers".

The MAN Fan Club said...

Seem very generic as not to offend anyone with his responses. Very diplomatic in his approach.