I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dobson sends a "Yo Mama" to Obama

Dobson accuses Obama of 'distorting' Bible:
Conservative is critical of Dem's stance on how the Bible should guide policy

Here is a link to Obama's speech that reportedly caused Dobson's blood pressure to rise:

And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let's read our bibles. Folks haven't been reading their bibles.

Obama then goes on to situate this tension within the abortion debate:

I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what's possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It's the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one's life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing. And if you doubt that, let me give you an example.

We all know the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham is ordered by God to offer up his only son, and without argument, he takes Isaac to the mountaintop, binds him to an altar, and raises his knife, prepared to act as God has commanded.

Of course, in the end God sends down an angel to intercede at the very last minute, and Abraham passes God's test of devotion.

But it's fair to say that if any of us leaving this church saw Abraham on a roof of a building raising his knife, we would, at the very least, call the police and expect the Department of Children and Family Services to take Isaac away from Abraham. We would do so because we do not hear what Abraham hears, do not see what Abraham sees, true as those experiences may be. So the best we can do is act in accordance with those things that we all see, and that we all hear, be it common laws or basic reason. (italics added)

Back to the MSNBC article with Dobson's response: "... He is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter."

Dobson reserved some of his harshest criticism for Obama's argument that the religiously motivated must frame debates over issues like abortion not just in their own religion's terms but in arguments accessible to all people.

He said Obama, who supports abortion rights, is trying to govern by the "lowest common denominator of morality," labeling it "a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution."

I'm not sure what Dobson is referring to here, by talking about a "fruitcake interpretation," but Dobson is clearly upset about Obama's speech. This from The Post

Dobson said he had just recently learned of Obama's speech and that reading it caused his blood pressure to rise.

"Why did this man jump on me? I haven't said anything near that?" said Dobson, whose comments were first reported by the Associated Press today, which received an early copy of Dobson's remarks.

In response to Obama's contention that religious voters had an obligation to "translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values", Dobson asked: "Am I required in a democracy to conform my efforts in the political arena to his bloody notion of what is right with regard to the lives of tiny babies?"

The thing is, I'm not sure why Dobson is so upset. Obama seems to me to be simply making the point that an American leader can't legislate for everyone based on the fact that he hears voices from god (whether in the Bible or in his head, etc.). I don't know that Obama is denying Dobson his right to express his beliefs, just that as a government official, Obama can't say, "You know, God told me to do this." I think that's a fair position.

Also, it seems as though Obama's hermeneutic is a bit more sound that Dobson's. As we have discussed on this blog, the New Testament writers (Paul in particular) do not seem to divide up the Old Testament law into "laws that only applied to the Israelites that do not apply anymore" and "laws that applied to the Israelites and still apply to us today." Instead, the Christian is no longer under law (Galatians 5:18). The new life is one of Spirit living in freedom. To go back and pick and choose some Old Testament laws that sound like they might work good for us Americans in the 21st century might have its place, but it seems a bit arbitrary, and I'm not sure this is such a good idea in our pluralized culture. In other words, I think I agree with Obama more than Dobson on this one.

The interesting political ramifications.....Dobson is considering not voting b/c McCain isn't conservative enough for him. What's McCain supposed to do? He can't publicly reach out to Dobson or he will be labeled as right-wing religious. Obama, on the other hand, can be cool and let it play out. He can reach out to the Dobson's and other evangelicals of the world and express a desire to "work together for the common good." In this way, he can pick up a good deal of votes from disenfranchised evangelicals, or evangelicals who are not content with the state of the Republican party.


hoosier reborn said...

You did a much better job of dealing with this than I did on my blog. I nearly exploded in reading the MSN story and it turned into a rant. Dobson may well help propel Obama to victory if he keeps it up. And based on reading your blog...that would be just fine by you...and I think by me.


chris van allsburg said...

Obama's rhetoric is simply spot-on. Just as he said, in a pluralistic society, we have to do more than throw Bible verses at people. Obama is making a simple yet very fine appeal to the hermeneutical problem we find ourselves with in Scripture. Why Dobson can't see that is beyond me. Oh wait, no, it's not.

Melody said...

Well I’m not a Dobson fan, but I have to give him props for managing, in his aimles flailing, to slip in the bit about the “lowest common denominator” morality. It has nothing to do with anything, but it has to remind conservatives why they’d let fire consume the earth before voting for Obama (health care, education).

Really, honestly, I think all Dobson needed to say is that he was appalled that Obama thinks protecting innocent life is not a value accessable to people of all religions or believe systems.

No need to call Obama a fruit cake. I violently dissagree with Obama on almost every major policy he supports, but that doesn’t make him eccentric or dismissable as the term would imply.

Jason Hesiak said...

lol at "violently disagree" (b/c he doesn't want to "protect innocent life")

Melody said...

Ha,ha - well aside from the fact that I was reffering things outside abortion - I guess I read too many Jane Austin novels..."violently in love" is a common phrase...

Jonathan Erdman said...

So, for the record, Melody....are you violently opposed to Obama? Violently in love with Obama? Or some combination of the two????

Melody said...

Just pointing out that in another era the phrase "violently in love" would not have been ironic nor would the way I've used it. It just means "intense" or "forcefully".

So just to be clear, I am violently/intensely/forcefully/emphatically opposed to Obama's stance on most big issues.

Jason Hesiak said...

so...are you violently in love with Obama or not?

Melody said...


Jason Hesiak said...

oh ok..."melody and obama sittin' in a tree...k-i-...."

daniel said...

Barack Obama did also say in this speech we must read our Bibles. The disagreement between him and James Dobson is complicated by the faulty interpretation of The Apocalypse (Revelations), that has become a sort of conventional wisdom through "Left Behind" and other popular culture. At least that is my own opinion.

I think it was unwise of James Dobson to respond so emotionally. However it was also unwise of Obama to choose abortion as the issue to explain/demonstrate his point.

daniel said...
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daniel said...
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Kevin Winters said...

Just saw this and thought of this post: http://www.hulu.com/watch/24328/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-baracknophobia---james-dobson#x-4,vclip,1


Jonathan Erdman said...

That was good, Kevin. Very interesting that Dobson used Leviticus to support the immorality of homosexuality, but condemns Obama for suggesting that using Leviticus might be legitimate.

Scott Overpeck said...

Yeah it was a childish shouting match from both of them after awhile though. I wrote about it and saw a really neat response from Brian McLaren on it too that I referenced.

ktismatics said...

Erdman, I'm curious about the "this post removed by the author" feature of your blog, which seems to be a common function to Blogger blogs. I don't have this on Wordpress. I presume it means that you, the host of the blog, are the author, and that you have deleted someone else's comment. Can't you do this without calling attention to your act of censorship? And do you have a particular policy for removing comments? I bring this up because I see that a couple of comments on this thread have been "removed by author."

Jonathan Erdman said...

I don't remove comments. That's my policy. Like all good policies, I reserve the right to violate the law, but as of now, I have only deleted spam comments and only when they have become excessive. (Otherwise, I usually find them humorous.)

"Removed by author" means that the person who posted the comment removed their own words. Blogger allows you to go back and delete your comment if you decide you don't like how you sound.

As the author of the blog, I can remove any comment, but I have a freedom of speech thing going on here.

ktismatics said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Erdman said...

There should be a little trash can icon somewhere at the end of your post. At least, that's what shows up when I'm on other Blogger blogs. Clicking the trash can sends the comment to hell, never to be heard from again.

ktismatics said...

It worked!

Jonathan Erdman said...

The deleted comment sure does create a sense of mystery, does it not?

We wonder, "Why did the author delete the comment?" The comment now becomes more important in its absence than perhaps it ever was in its presence. Similarly, people commit suicide b/c their lives often become more interesting because they chose to delete it.

What great things might have been if JFK/MLK, Jr./Bobby/Malcom X had not been gunned down in cold blood? We are left with trace and an absence of the life. Perhaps they would have been far less interesting. But who will ever know? Now they are icons and symbols of freedom and courage.

It's a fascinating discussion, really. The elimination of one's own writing or own's own self creates a space for mystery and intrigue.

Jonathan Erdman said...

This comment has been deleted by the author....because the comment was just too bold and controversial

ktismatics said...

This is EXACTLY what happens when I see the "deleted" message. If I got to read the deleted comment I would probably be disappointed by it. It carries its mysterious allure into whatever forbidden zone it's been exiled to. But I have to KNOW it's been deleted, that something exists or once existed but that I've been prohibited from seeing.

Do the deleted Theos Project comments still exist in your Master version of the blog, so that as Big Other you can look at them whenever you want?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Uh, surprisingly, the answer is "no." I am not the Big Other in that sense......well, wait, though....I have an email record that I could go back to if I really wanted to find an old comment. All posted comments arrive to me via email. But, then again, if you checked the "Email follow-up comments to" box, then you would have a record of the comment, also.

Scott Overpeck said...

"What great things might have been if JFK/MLK, Jr./Bobby/Malcom X had not been gunned down in cold blood? We are left with trace and an absence of the life. Perhaps they would have been far less interesting. But who will ever know? Now they are icons and symbols of freedom and courage."

The oddest part is all of them were very left leaning so to be icons of freedom would seem odd to many less left thinkers. That and assassination is about as close to opposite of being free as one can get in this life.

I do agree that there was much they could have done to tarnish their legacies had their lives continued. Think of River Phoenix and Joaquin Phoenix. Many in my generation come close to worshipping River. Joaquin has done more and is probably a better actor, but who knows. we only have our memories and "the stories that are told the more often told the bigger that they get."