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Faith and Perspective: Thoughts on Obama’s Easter Prayer Breakfast

2011 April 29
by Brian Fabry Dorsam

“This magnificent grace, this expansive grace, this ‘Amazing Grace,’ calls me to reflect,” remarked the President during the White House’s Easter Prayer Breakfast last week. This presidential meditation occurs annually around this time and seems to be innocuous only to that extent. Obama shies not away from the word “we” when describing the effects of the resurrection:

We all live in the hustle and bustle of our work . . . But then comes Holy Week. The triumph of Palm Sunday. The humility of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. His slow march up that hill, and the pain and the scorn and the shame of the cross. And we’re reminded that in that moment, he took on the sins of the world—past, present and future—and he extended to us that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through his death and resurrection.

(One might well ask who this “we” is meant to include, but then, it isn’t so unclear). Now, this kind of rhetoric is certainly not surprising. Those of us who are aware that this country elected a Christian president must expect this kind of talk during Holy Week. However, that we can anticipate this superstitious nonsense does not mean we should be any less distressed by it.

When the President held an Iftar last year to celebrate Ramadan, the tone of his speech was quite different. When the President used “we” in that speech, it was only to delineate American citizens from those “we” are fighting against. It should surprise no one that September 11th, an event, we must recall, that happened nine years prior, was the focus of the monologue. He certainly spoke nothing of “god’s children” then.

I cannot derive comfort from the knowledge that our president is a Christian. With cataclysmic violence making daily headlines, it consoles me not to know that, if it comes to it, the leader of the free world harbors the belief that the end of humanity will bring about rapture and eternal paradise. It is likewise discouraging that the President takes as a model of humility a figure who demands unconditional servitude and worship on threat of infinite, unimaginable torture.

The President began last week’s speech with a rather frightening assertion:

As busy as we are, as many tasks as pile up, during this season, we are reminded that there is something about the resurrection . . . of Our Savior Jesus Christ that puts everything else in perspective.

What a wretched thing to say. The Middle East is in chaos; the death toll in Libya alone has reached nearly 30,000; horrific storms have devastated America’s south; the effects of last year’s massive oil leak are still tormenting the Gulf Coast; and the budget debate threatens to withhold funding from many of this country’s most vital organizations while major American corporations legally sidestep taxation—but the plagiarized legends of an old Iron Age tribe put all of this in perspective? Such a belief is insulting, wicked, and dangerous.

I assume that when the President speaks I am meant to take him at his word. If not, he should stop muttering such insolent, ridiculous drivel. Let us cease electing presidents who would put faith before policy in this way. It should not be unclear to the President of the United States that his is the most important job on earth. Perhaps the President meant to say that, upon reflection, the catastrophic troubles that plague our injured planet seem rightly vast compared to the mythic sufferings of one immortal tyrant, but I expect that is not the case.

7 Responses
  1. Colin permalink
    April 30, 2011

    Not all Christians believe those two things you mentioned in the 4th paragraph. I’m guessing most don’t.

    • Brian Fabry Dorsam permalink
      May 2, 2011

      Colin,

      I certainly hope you’re right.

      The extent to which they don’t believe those things, however, is at least partly the extent to which they are not Christian, as their holy book ascribes a lot of weight to both the return of Christ and to his moral character. It is quite fine if they reject these things – I think we’re all the better for it – but when someone professes to be a Christian I must assume they believe what they read. It is their burden to clarify their points of divergence.

  2. Colin permalink
    May 2, 2011

    The extent to which they are not fundamentalist Christian, sure.

    There are enough Christians that do not take every word of the bible to be literal truth – especially the old testament – that I’d argue it is our burden to ask before assuming, rather than their burden to make a list of everything they believe.

    • Brian Fabry Dorsam permalink
      May 3, 2011

      Your point is rightly made and well understood. I’ll say briefly that the Christian’s list of beliefs seems perfectly well outlined in the New Testament and, for myself, I’d rather not suffer the tedium of speculating on which points each individual diverges. I don’t think this could justly be expected of me or anyone, as the case can easily be made that there are as many individual religions as there are individual believers. Fundamentalism is hardly a requisite for belief in the promises of heaven and the humility of Jesus, which each leave the Old Testament well alone. Returning to the President, it was certainly he who mentioned humility (as is cited above), and though he has never (to my knowledge) directly addressed the details of Revelations, I would love to hear him renounce them.

  3. Colin permalink
    May 3, 2011

    I wasn’t discussing heaven or a humble Jesus; I was disputing mass rapture on an end of days (maybe I read too far into your words on that one… if so, I apologize) and “a figure who demands unconditional servitude and worship on threat of infinite, unimaginable torture.”

    The Bible is fraught with contradictions. So, while it may be fair to say a Christian probably holds a belief that virtually all Christians do – such as a dude named Jesus having preached of love and one God – I think it’s unfair to say a Christian probably believes something that requires cognitive dissonance to maintain.

    In the case of a God or Jesus saying that everyone is going to burn in hell eternally if they do not offer unconditional servitude & worship to the Christian God, there are many cases where this conflicts with other passages of forgiveness and whatnot. Eg: Dalai Lama.

    I’m guessing Obama, if he believes in hell, does not believe the current Dalai Lama is going there when he dies.

  4. tony permalink
    May 4, 2011

    Your ignorance, Brian, of Old and New Testament meaning, especially as it relates to Christianity, is profound; the same would be true for Colin. Typical of such rants, you attempt to interpret biblical meaning as a secularist. For instance (and I’ll make this short as I doubt my contention with your piece will make much sense to you), to state that the President’s mentioning of the Resurrection making “sense” of life diminishes his or anyone else’s concern for the troubles in our world demonstrates a total, if not an intentional, lack of insight. As no one lives forever in mortality, and as life beyond the mortal experience is deeply woven into the fabric of the New Testament, his statement reflects the hope that Christians have of spiritually outliving the traumas of this life. How ignorant of you to think that being religious somehow suggests a disinterest in human affairs. Be reminded of all the Christian organizations (as opposed to ALL the atheist ones!) who work around the world administering relief, goods, time, and money to the less fortunate.

    Considering Christ a “mythic tyrannt” is your choice, but it more pointedly reflects your ignorance and prejudice. It must be difficult to live with such a superior moral position borne of humanist values. Of “faith and perspective,” you have neither.

    • Brian Fabry Dorsam permalink
      May 4, 2011

      Tony,

      Thanks for writing – this should be fun.

      You’re right about my lack of faith. Let’s see about perspective, however:

      Of course, it is precisely my familiarity with religion that led me to secularism, as is predominantly the case. Surely our mutual interpretations thereof conflict, but this is not because as an atheist I am consequently devoid of perspective. The perspective does not come from the atheism, the atheism comes from the perspective. Indeed, if it were the other way around, the word ‘a-theism’ would need not exist.

      Let’s not begin tallying good and wicked actions done by believers and non-believers, as this kind of scorekeeping is tiresome and unrewarding. Before you suggest such a competition in the future (to someone else, I hope), I suggest you revisit your history books, as you’ll no doubt have a great deal of explaining to do.

      Considering Christ a mythic tyrant certainly reflects a bias, but then that is precisely what this (opinion) piece aims to reflect. Whether or not it reflects ignorance is, naturally, up for debate. Here, if you like, are a few reasons for my wording:

      ‘Mythic’: Jesus’ status as an actual, historical person is hardly beyond consideration, though, I admit, it is of little concern to me. Either way, as egregiously contradictory gospel accounts do little to clarify, the details of his life are almost certainly fantastical. Of course, this is a point on which Christians and I tend to disagree.

      ‘Tyrant’: He is, by his own accounts, an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-seeing manipulator of the universe who condemns unbelievers to eternal torture of his own design, which is why I feel the word ‘tyrant’ is a bit of an understatement in his case. Many people find him quite agreeable, it is true, but his method of rule is distasteful to me, personally.

      I hope you’re right that President Obama does not let his faith diminish his interest in human affairs. In fact, I think that you are. This is precisely why I think he should stop saying that the legend of Jesus’ resurrection puts our country’s political affairs (the ‘hustle and bustle of [his] work’, if you will) in perspective. It is pandering at best and dangerous at worst. Mind you, he did not say that the resurrection makes ‘sense’ of life. This would be a very different claim indeed.

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