Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Separation of Church and State, Sort Of

Barack Obama is promising Americans another faith-based presidency but asking us to trust him not to pervert it, as George W. Bush did, "to promote partisan interests."

That may take a leap of faith on the part of those drawn to Obama's new politics as an antidote to eight years of seeing Bush-Rove, to use a JFK era phrase, "pour God over everything like ketchup."

In his speech yesterday, Obama was tightrope-walking between his understanding of church-state separation, "as someone who used to teach constitutional law," and the yearnings of those "bitter" Americans who "cling to religion" as a result of their frustrations.

Declaring that "the challenges we face today--from saving our planet to ending poverty--are simply too big for government to solve alone," Obama on-the-other-handed, "I’m not saying that faith-based groups are an alternative to government or secular nonprofits. And I’m not saying that they’re somehow better at lifting people up.

"What I’m saying is that we all have to work together-- Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim, believer and non-believer alike--to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Now, I know there are some who bristle at the notion that faith has a place in the public square. But the fact is, leaders in both parties have recognized the value of a partnership between the White House and faith-based groups."

Obama has understandably been working hard to reassure the gullible that he is not a threat to mainstream American ideals, and only the most rabid of his admirers would take issue with his doing that. But zealotry is something else.

"I came to see my faith," he said yesterday, "as being both a personal commitment to Christ and a commitment to my community, that while I could sit in church and pray all I want, I wouldn’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I went out and did the Lord’s work."

As a reflection of his character, that's good to know but, for those who see separation of church and state as a bedrock American principle, it has haunting echoes of George W. Bush.

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