Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama at Notre Dame

Dear readers - if, like me, you did not see President Obama's graduation speech at Notre Dame University yesterday, watch it now. I'll be surprised if it doesn't bring tears to at least some eyes. I'm still a bit teary. (See here for the text of his speech and a video.)

Obama spoke at length about the virulent way the abortion controversy has played out in the U.S. He acknowledged that ultimately the "pro life" and "pro choice" perspectives are irreconcilable. But with his remarkable rhetorical force he conveyed a small "c" catholic perspective of acceptance among those who hold different faiths, including no faith, which he referred to as "humanism."

For me, the most moving moment occurred when a heckler began to shout. The student audience drowned him out by chanting "yes we can," and gave the President a standing ovation.

Every religion, including "humanism," includes a hate-laden minority, eager to demonize, and sometimes to kill, those who don't share their convictions. Here's what the president had to say about that stance:
But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

This doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open, and curious, and eager to continue the moral and spiritual debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works, charity, kindness, and service that moves hearts and minds.

For if there is one law that we can be most certain of, it is the law that binds people of all faiths and no faith together. It is no coincidence that it exists in Christianity and Judaism; in Islam and Hinduism; in Buddhism and humanism. It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to treat one another as we wish to be treated. The call to love. To serve. To do what we can to make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share the same brief moment on this Earth.
The key thing here isn't the words, which are familiar, though eloquent. It's the fact that the President was speaking at one of the world's leading leading Catholic institutions. This kind of leadership won't persuade convinced haters, but it can and will make a difference in our public attitudes over time.

(Ten days ago I wrote a post about the working group on abortion the White House has convened. You may want to look at it as well.)

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