Obama on Religion and Politics (II)

Barack Obama on Religion and Politics (ii) Abraham and Isaac


“Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. Moreover, politics involves compromise, the art of the possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It insists on the impossible.” (…) “To base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.”


“The story of Abraham and Isaac offers a simple but powerful example. According to the Bible, Abraham is ordered by God to offer up his “only son, Isaac, whom you love”, as a burnt offering. Without argument, Abraham takes Isaac to the mountaintop, binds him to an altar, and raises his knife, prepared to act as God has commanded.


Of course, we know the happy ending – God sends down an angel to intercede at the very last minute. Abraham has passed God’s test of devotion. He becomes a model of fidelity to God, and his great faith is rewarded through future generations. And yet it is fair to say that if any of us saw a twenty-first-century Abraham raising the knife on the roof of his apartment building, we would call the police; we would wrestle him down; even if we saw him lower the knife at the last minute, we would expect the Department of Children and Family Services to take Isaac away and charge Abraham with child abuse. We would do so because God doesn’t reveal himself or His Angels to all of us in a single moment. 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 are possible for all of us to know, understanding that a part of what we know to be true – as individuals or communities of faith – will be true for us alone.


Finally, any reconciliation between faith and democratic pluralism requires some sense of proportion. This is not entirely foreign to religious doctrine; even those who claim the Bible’s inerrancy make distinctions between Scriptural edicts, based on a sense that some passages – The Ten Commandments, say, or a belief in Christ’s divinity – are central to Christian faith, while others are more culturally specific and may be modified to accommodate modern life. The American people intuitively understand this, which is why the majority of Catholic practice birth control and some of those opposed to gay marriage nevertheless are opposed to a constitutional amendment banning it. Religious leadership need not accept such wisdom in counseling their flocks, but they should recognize this wisdom in their politics. “


‘The audacity of Hope”, p. 220-221.


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  • Tyler Merbler 6y

  • Charity Fordham 6y

    Ooh dear. Looks like someone's got it in for Australia. It's quite a tense, brutal image with thst knife there even though the bright colours of the globe are very appealing.
  • Kathleen Tyler Conklin 6y

    Excellent! Very creative interpretation.

    Seen in
  • Been Buddy Longway 6y

    Tyler, thank you; I thought I had to make an appealing image to go with this interesting text.
    Miss Charity: thank you so much; I agree about the contrast of the sweet globe and the knife, the serious face of Jesus!
    ktylerconk: thanks, you have excellent work too.
  • Soul of a Woman 6y

    Yes! You have been busy in thoughts and creativity again! That is GOOD, and I do love this composition. Well done my friend!
  • Been Buddy Longway 6y

    Thanks Brigitte
  • Gabriela Anaya Valdepeña 6y

    Clearly Obama understands the importance of separation of church and state, something the idiot theocrat Bush could never grasp. But we still have many citizens in this country, who believe religious codes should supersede our Constitutional values. They cannot think through to what that would actually mean if put in practice, how it would pose a threat to the individual freedoms of all citizens.

    To comment on the story of Abraham and Isaac: Historically, this was a metaphorical tale to mark the end of human sacrifice. It is not to be taken literally, for in doing so we disparage the sacred bond between parent and child, and paint God as a cruel, petty, insecure practical joker. To teach this as a factual tale to children is to foster a crushing mistrust between the child and his parent. For if the child, after hearing this story in Sunday school, returns to his god-fearing mother and asks, "Would you obey God, no matter what he asked of you?" only to hear her say yes, then what conclusions do you think that child might draw?
  • Been Buddy Longway 6y

    Gabriela A. Valdepenja: thank you very much for your comment; each of your recent reactions to the paragraphs of "the audacity of Hope" has been an asset to the debate, a fine contribution to my stream and to Flickr. God bless you and your critical intelligence.
  • Been Buddy Longway 6y

    Moreover; I presume that like in all good stories, the one about the sacrifice of Isaac contains several layers.
    I myself see in it the evocation of the strange, weird, very sweet "mechanism" that when we stretch ourselves to do the good thing, as we perceive it in our utmost honesty, than there seems to come a divine hand to reach out to us, to help us not go astray (the good God has sent a ram in the corner of the eye of the father A. just in the right moment).

    I have been the beneficiary of this divine providential help and inspiration on many occasions.

    Strife, too much ambition, egotism, greed... are paths that are certain to avoid the "twilight zones " where the good Christian God dwells...
  • Gabriela Anaya Valdepeña 6y

    Actually, I credit disbelief in a god for my critical intelligence, though certainly you are free to attribute it to your imaginary friend, if it makes you happy.
  • saqlain92110 6y

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