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Obama at Notre Dame, a comment

March 30, 2009

Kenneth L. Woodward, a Notre Dame grad, has an opinion piece in the Washington Post supporting that university’s decision to invite President Obama to speak at their upcoming commencement. The controversy surrounding the pro-choice, pro-stem cell research President speaking at the nation’s premier Catholic university was outlined here.

Woodward supports the visit, despite the strong negative reaction coming from the more conservative quarters of the Church

No question, Notre Dame will pay a price for doing what a Catholic university can and should do. The Internet is smoking with protests from conservative Catholic bloggers and pro-life Web sites. One of them claims to have collected 206,000 signatures opposing the president’s appearance. These pressure groups are aghast that “Our Lady’s University” would welcome so resolute an opponent of the church’s position on abortion. Some alumni, especially Republicans, are threatening to withhold contributions and bequests. The Vatican is receiving e-mail demanding disciplinary action.

There is often a balance to be struck between principle and pragmatism. The Notre Dame community, and the larger Catholic church, may be struggling with finding that balance now. But, as I suggested earlier, the inconsistent application of church teaching in political matters, as when Notre Dame invited George W. Bush to speak in 2001 despite his history of pro-death penalty activities, undermines the credibility of the protesters against Obama. And, maybe more to the point, such inconsistency highlights the complex and sometimes troubling consequences that arise when religion and politics meet.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sam permalink
    March 30, 2009 12:46 pm

    of course, religion and politics meet in ways that are far more subtle, and not as immediately obvious, than they are in these instances of public, religion-politics meshing. subtle or not, their intertwining is both historically and spatially situated. in other words, in some societies and times the links between religion and politics are more blatant than in others, and have differing consequences. your observation about “when religion and politics meet” is astute, but i wonder whether the observation is one best understood from a contemporary, Western viewpoint.

    i think another question is how and when is religion (and ideology) used to garner and sustain political power? (i realize this is far afield from the specific comment about the catholic church, but it raises these other issues)

  2. March 30, 2009 5:50 pm

    Your question, “how and when is religion (and ideology) used to garner and sustain political power?” may just be the foundational question of western culture and politics over the last two thousand years. Hard to tackle all in one short comment.

    To address the concept of “spatially situated” intertwining of politics and religion, then, I think the United States has always had a unique religious character. We are overwhelmingly religious with respect to other first world, industrialized, market-driven nations, but also tolerant of social and sexual mores that are at complete odds with our religious traditions. It’s no surprise, then, that our political leaders, who must walk a line between the pious and the profane, find themselves in a bit of religious controversy from time to time.

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