Obama and the Horizontal Axis of Faith

Once again the National Prayer Breakfast has taken place, and again the Obama administration has taken a swipe at religious belief.

In line with last year's address, where his speech consisted almost entirely of issues of social justice, President Obama used this year's address to speak of brotherhood and civility. An atheist may object, "Wait, but you don't need to be religious to understand brotherhood and to be civil." He would be correct. Obama's address exhibits a characteristic of the left's view of religion: sacrificing the vertical axis of faith (the praise and rightful worship of God) for an exaggerated emphasis on a vague understanding of the horizontal axis of faith (love of neighbor).

In order to have a coherent religious belief, the two axes must be balanced equally. If not, the result is either an irrelevant set of ideas that don't change anything or, in this case, a doctrine of social justice wrapped up in sentimental spirituality. The president, a man firmly rooted in Rev. Jeremiah Wright's version of the socio-political Liberation Theology, entrenches his address in the horizontal axis, declaring that the all-important civility we seek can be attained only by "stretching out of our dogmas." 

Obama's implication is that dogma is a restriction, a shackle to be broken out of, yet for most religious believers, the opposite is true. For example, Christian dogmas from the belief that Christ is the true God to the inherent dignity of the human person, from the belief in heaven to the Resurrection, are sources of great joy and truth for Christians.

If we replace the word "dogma" with "principle," which is what a dogma is, then we see how bizarre it is that Mr. Obama would call for religious believers to jettison them. Why should President Obama call upon people to drop their beliefs unless he sees them as intrinsically bad and restrictive?  To see dogma in this way is to consequently see religion itself as nothing but a negative force that one must shake off in order freely join Obama in his land of civility. This distrust of dogma and the religions that proclaim them leads to the address of Hillary Clinton.

The Secretary of State starts by recalling her positive experience of religious faith. She talks about the great work of Mother Theresa and speaks happily about her own Methodist background, but she eventually drops into the liberal tactic of throwing organized religion under the bus. Mrs. Clinton first follows in Obama's tradition of emphasizing the horizontal axis of faith at the expense of the vertical, arguing,

But the teachings of every religion call us to care for the poor, tell us to visit the orphans and widows, to be generous and charitable, to alleviate suffering. All religions have their version of the Golden Rule and direct us to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger and visit the prisoner.

This is true, but it is stated at the expense of the vertical axis, therefore turning faith into an irrelevant flourish of sentimentality that one can choose to wrap around social justice or dispose of completely. By bringing religion down to the lowest common denominator, she strikes at the heart of religious diversity. Under the vision of Obama and Clinton, we no longer have different religions or faiths; we now just have "faith" and "religion" as general concepts. This allows the crimes of one religion to be cast onto the shoulders of the many. This is shown when Mrs. Clinton jumps on the bandwagon of contrasting faith with religion, stating that "across the world, we see organized religion standing in the way of faith, perverting love, undermining that message."

Certainly there are some individuals and some religions that will attack people and their rights, but Mrs. Clinton does not say "some religions" or "some people." She says "organized religion." To blame such acts on "organized religion" in general is a grave but unsurprising generalization that the left frequently makes. By using a syncretistic approach and grouping all of the varied religions together into "religion," the left then places them at odds with the vaguer "faith," painting faith as good and religion as violent.

It is in this way that leftists such as Rosie O'Donnell can claim that radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam, as all religion is apparently violent and dangerous. The frequent claim that organized religion is in some way opposed to faith is a dogma that both Obama and Clinton buy into, and one that the left has been perpetuating for years. Perhaps it is about time that they stretched out of it.

It is ironic that Mrs Clinton makes this anti-religious claim in the same speech in which she praises Mother Theresa's fight for adoption services, as it was through the enormous charitable resources set up by the most organized of organized religions -- Roman Catholicism -- that Mother Theresa was able to do her work. Mother Theresa's motivation came from the Catholic dogma that life is sacred and abortion is a tragedy, a dogma she refused to abandon for the sake of "civility." Mother Theresa's faith was guided, nourished, and put into action by the organized religion that she was part of and its dogmas.

The left has always had contempt for "dogma" and "organized religion" and has tried consistently to reduce religious belief to little more than spiritual wrapping for social justice. Leftists consistently attack those who refuse to comply. Nancy Pelosi sought to reinvent the history of the Church's teaching on abortion, Obama adviser Harry Knox recently reaffirmed his statement that the Pope is "hurting people in the name of Jesus," and Martha Coakley implied that Catholics who aren't prepared to drop their principles (or should that be "stretch out of their dogma"?) shouldn't work in emergency rooms.

The Obama and Clinton addresses at the Prayer Breakfast were no different in spirit, and those who believe in their religion and their religious principles should be aware of the division between "good faith" and "bad religion" that this administration is making.

Adam Shaw is a writer specializing in politics and religion from Manchester, England. He can be reached at adamchristophershaw@hotmail.com.