May 17th, 2009

Notre Dame Graduation

Theological Notebook: Articles and Transcript of Obama's Notre Dame Address; A Further Clarification

One of my best friends sent me an email about the Obama speech at Notre Dame, characterizing those cheering for the President – especially in cheering him after the graduation ceremony was disrupted by a Pro-Life protester – as supporting the President's position on abortion. I think that that is far too simple and reductionistic a reading of the incident, and I rejected it. I too might happily cheer as a Domer in that situation, where I – as a Pro-Life Catholic of what I will call unimpeachable orthodoxy (in a bout of Pauline foolishness and boasting) – would reject the weeks of attempts of outsiders to impose a narrative of faithlessness upon my willingness to welcome a leader, a stranger, or even an enemy into our midst and to therefore be guilty of "dining with a sinner."

My faith in the power of the gospel is such that I have no need to usurp God's prerogative for final and complete judgment of another human being, and to therefore help guarantee and confirm the intransigence of someone holding a position contrary to mine or the Church's. Such a position effectively says "no" to God's grace on behalf of someone else, which is not something for which I would want to answer to God, myself. That's not a dodge on my part. That's not me wanting to fit in with the Left culture of the American university. That's not me wanting to keep my thoughts on abortion as the ending of human life to myself. On the contrary, I feel every confidence both in the logic of that position as a far more consistent position on human rights than either the Republican or Democratic parties in America can conjure up. I just believe that, while it is my position and my duty to speak logic to my culture regarding the things of God – that is to say, to be a theologian of the Roman Catholic Church – it is not in my power to convince anyone of this crazy story (no matter that I think that the 20th century put the bulk of all the evidence in my favour). I can leave the power of convincing to God. I can think that I've figured out the truth about this question without thinking that I possess all truth. And so I can open my door to anyone, hear them out, and treat them as worthy human beings, created in the image of God. (And even argue with them, should the occasion be appropriate and should they be capable of honest argument.)

That's where I think that the sincere protestors, standing up for human rights in an authentic way, were nevertheless being short-sighted, or Christian in only a raw, beginner's way (where they weren't merely been played as part of partisan politics, which has also been a big factor here). For those at Notre Dame who welcomed the President, he had to answer to what he certainly recognized to be their Pro-Life differences from him on abortion, as the full transcript of his talk reveals. Those who would have eliminated his visit altogether would have therefore excused him from even considering his position or that of the Pro-Life community he was addressing. As I said above, they would have guaranteed and confirmed that position, forcing him into that stance. I see very little advantage in that, or for any possibility of grace or new perspectives. It is, however, a stand that can result in a satisfying amount of self-congratulation for having ably reaffirmed one's own position, to the cheers of the rest of the members of the choir. And what good is that? Even the Republicans and the Democrats can do that.

Obama calls for understanding in Notre Dame speech
Obama Receives Honorary Degree at Notre Dame, as Protests Build
Obama Confronts Abortion Debate, Urges Notre Dame Grads to Seek Common Ground
Transcript of Obama's Notre Dame Address

Collapse )