Lucky for President Obama, a picture is worth a thousand words and the picture of cheering students welcoming him to the University of Notre Dame seemed to dispel the weeks of controversy that accompanied his invitation to receive an honorary degree at Catholicism’s flagship university. Unluckily for Mr. Obama, he delivered more than a thousand words, and they did not help his cause.

Those of us Catholics who have supported President Obama and defended his being awarded this honorary degree were hoping he would hit a home run today at Notre Dame’s Commencement. We hoped the speech would set the stage for a rapprochement with the Catholic hierarchy, if not with Catholic Republicans who have no interest in seeing a good relationship between the President and the leaders of the Catholic Church develop. Instead, the speech handed the President’s opponents plenty of ammunition and showed the extent to which the Obama White House is tone deaf to Catholics and our concerns.

During the campaign, when asked about when human life begins, candidate Obama said the question was "above my pay grade." But, he had no difficulty doing a theological riff on Sunday afternoon as he spoke at some length about the relationship between faith and doubt. "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," the President intoned. "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."

If that was the President’s best impersonation of Augustine, he gets an F. For starters, there is nothing ironic about faith. Secondly, a Catholic university is an odd place to give an essentially Protestant interpretation of what can, and cannot, be "known" by faith. Finally, it is not doubt that invites humility. It is faith itself - faith in a God who has not finished with His creation, faith in a God who counseled us to humility in His scriptures and who gave an example of humility in His own life when He walked the earth - that leads us to humility. And, I would have thought even a rudimentary knowledge of human psychology would suggest that self-righteousness is a temptation as well known to the doubters as to those possessed of true faith.

One wonders why the president’s speechwriters could not find a quote from the Pope appropriate to the occasion. Needless to say, the way to the heart and mind of Pope Benedict is not with a paean to relativism. Yet, the President did precisely that. "The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved." Alas, I am counting the minutes until some smart operative for the GOP makes sure a copy of this passage finds its way to the Vatican.

What disappoints here is that the President was at a university, a place dedicated to the search for truth. He could have moved beyond the debate about "values" that has afflicted our contemporary discourse about the intersection of religion and politics and echoed Pope Benedict’s insistence that faith and reason together seek the truth, a truth that is worthy of the human person.

Instead, President Obama played into the hands of those who reduce religion to ethics, a reduction the Pope has condemned and one which characterizes the politics of the Religious Right. He could have spoken about the relationship of faith and reason and the need to keep them together lest the one turn into fanaticism and the other into a soulless materialism that degrades humankind. He could have delivered a speech that would have caught the Pope’s attention, reinforcing the already apparent desire among many in the Vatican to support his presidency whenever they can. While I am sure the President thought he was doing his best to be respectful and even solicitous of Catholic sensibilities, he failed to find the language and the logic that might have laid the foundation for building a better relationship with the Catholic hierarchy. It was a lost opportunity.

 

Comments

Anonymous | 5/17/2009 - 7:50pm
I think sometimes Catholics forget that there is a huge world out there that is neither Catholic by education or theology, nor even hanging on every nuance of interaction with the Church as the major focus of their attention. Good heavens, if the President, a Protestant, can't make a Protestant statement then who can? Who expected him to speak as a Catholic? I thought he did a decent job. Are you disagreeing that people honestly differ on issues or that we might get further in discussion if the tone were dialed back a bit?
Anonymous | 5/17/2009 - 6:49pm
Michael, I don't find it at all odd that a Protestant gives  "an essentially Protestant interpretation of what can, and cannot, be 'known' by faith" at a Catholic university.  Why would it be otherwise?  I also do not find it "a paean to relativism" to point out that soldiers and lawyers, gay activists and evangelical pastors (not to mention popes and Catholic bishops), and other who find themselves on opposite sides of searing moral issues need to find ways to discuss their differences in respectful and civil tones, rather that hurling epithets and condemnations at one another and refusing to hear why one holds the position one does.  Granted, President Obama, a Protestant did not cite Scripture or Catholic Social Teaching President Jenkins provided the proper text from Gaudium et Spes.  Imagine!  I guess they DO teach Catholic doctrine at the University of Notre Dame after all... I found your analysis of President Obama's speech to be much less that I have come to expect of you on other occasions.  Sometimes "critics" can become too critical, I guess!
Anonymous | 5/17/2009 - 6:45pm
If you think Bush, Cheney, McCain, Pallin could deliver  such well thought out and well presented remarks, I ask where have you been.????I am so glad you have no doubts .however I'm too smart to be jealous..
Anonymous | 5/17/2009 - 6:41pm
Interesting that the author of such an erudite article for a Catholic magazine couldn't remember St Athansius and how he handled a Caesar who wanted to find common ground.  He was eventually vindicated and is a hero of the faith for holding Constantine the Great to a choice between truth and error, not allowing him to muddle it.  That should be the objective of all Christians bring the truth to light, and hold our leaders to His highest, not our least.  There is no point in being disappointed that he didn't successfully muddle things.
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 8:42pm
Why should anyone doubt Obama's faith? President Obama mentioned he came to Jesus due to the influence of Cardinal Bernadine. But he spent two decades attending Rev. Wright's damning sermons.
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 4:35pm
I completely agree with this article. I'm a practicing Roman Catholic who voted neither for Obama or McCain. Obama did nothing to address Catholics in their own terms, and was entrenched in relativist vocabulary which Benedict has clearly renounced. It was amusing and sad how Obama was noticeably self-aware that his attempt to compensate with the fickle bravado/twaddling was awkward & disingenuous. Fr. Jenkins' speech was better- intelligent  & more directly defiant to the USCCB and the 77 bishops who have publicly offered reproof to him.
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 3:35pm
Michael: Good article, thoughtfully written.
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 8:30am
I find it curious that many doubt Obamas faith. He is a very inteligent man and, like very many intelligent persons, I am sure he has no doubt pondered the exsistence of god. There might be a good chance that he is agnostic. But of course he cannot publicly admit it. He needs the votes of the believers.
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 2:47pm
Once again, poster #1 does not apparently have the courage of their convictions and does not reveal their name. How is this possible? For when I attempt to post without a name, the comment is rejected.  Your posting policy states comments must be signed full first and last name.  Expect the comments on this board to become increasingly less rational and civil, for this invariably happens on forums with anonymous posts. Editors? Are you there?
Anonymous | 5/21/2009 - 10:48am
You are correct, it is Phillipians.  I should have checked my own manuscript.  however, when did Chuck Colson become a Catholic theologian?  Also, when did Obama have to understand Catholicism to talk with Catholics about moral issues?  He was giving a graduation speech, not a sermon at the Baccalaureate Mass.
Anonymous | 5/21/2009 - 10:44am
I wish he had provided a better answer, however because he has quite a few supporters who are not pro-choice, he did not want to offend them.  A large, if not the largest, number of people are both pro-life and pro-choice, which means they believe that abortion is taking a life and state restrictions are not the answer.  He dodged it in a way that did not give his supporters any cover in dealing with their clergy - who at best are ill-informed on this issue and at worst using this issue as a part of a mysogynist/social conservative tapestry.  I like to think they are simply badly advised.
Anonymous | 5/20/2009 - 3:05pm
During the campaign, when asked about when human life begins, candidate Obama said the question was "above my pay grade." CORRECTION: Obama wasn't asked "when human life begins" (a biological question), he was asked "at what point does a baby get human rights" (a legal and jurisprudence question). see: [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOTfnz11kBk]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOTfnz11kBk[/url] His answer is all the more troubling given his status, at that time, as a U of C constitutional law professor and senator, and even more troubling now that he is president.  No one was asking him to tell us when human life begins (any biology text book can tell you that it begins at conception), he was being asked a question about the nature of the most basic of legal protections.  His paygrade answer was a canned dodge, and his speech at ND was a lot of smoke but no light. 
Anonymous | 5/20/2009 - 1:14pm
To Michael Bindner and ALL comments readers: You said: "While Jesus was entirely God, he did not claim equality with God." and "I was not denying the divinity of Jesus and was quoting, almost verbatim, Paul's letter to the Thessolonians." You maybe should reference Paul's letter to the Phillippians. How wrong can you be?  Jesus DID claim eqality with God.  The scriptures proclaim that equality with God was NOT something He was predisposed to Cling To.  So, in other words - He had it, but willing laid it aside. Like our President, you seem to be challenged by some very basic Christian teachings. Comment readers...kindly read Chuck Colson's commentary at: http://www.crosswalk.com/news/commentary/11603747/ You all have a good day. Sincerely.
Anonymous | 5/20/2009 - 11:27am
I was not denying the divinity of Jesus and was quoting, almost verbatim, Paul's letter to the Thessolonians.
Anonymous | 5/20/2009 - 11:21am
Thanks for the article. Most of the negative comments which I have read don't get your point. Obama understands very little about the nature of catholicism. This is what is distressing in a man who chose or wanted to go to speak at a catholic university. It's as if catholics are just protestants with rosaries.
Anonymous | 5/19/2009 - 4:48pm
For Michael Bindner - I encourage you to reread the gospel of John and Jesus' incontrovertible claim to be God. The Jews understood his claim, picked up stones to kill him for what they considered blaspheme and even explained why they intended to stone him. John 10: 22-33:  Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, ''How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.'' Jesus answered, ''I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one.'' Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ''I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?'' ''We are not stoning you for any of these,'' replied the Jews, ''but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.''
Anonymous | 5/19/2009 - 2:18pm
Obama was not asked the following: ..."when asked about when human life begins..." Candidate Obama was asked: "At what point does a baby get human rights" There is a world of difference between these two questions.  One is a question of science, the other is a question of law.  I hope that you will consider the difference for future articles.
Anonymous | 5/19/2009 - 1:16pm
Tom, you should know better.  Notre Dame is not part of the diocese, it is operated by an Order.  The authority of your bishop ends at the campus line, at least as far as univeristy affairs are concerned.  The same applies to the collective authority of the USCCB, which is not a governing body, by the way.  The prohibitions of their pastoral letter do not bind universities they do not control.  Only the Order could rescind the honorary degree or the invitation to appear.  The fact that the bishops had a hissy fit over it says more about them than the university or its president. Jeffrey, I stand by me explanation of why darkness and doubt are a gift.  While Jesus was entirely God, he did not claim equality with God.  This is why a Triune God is necessary.  If God were but one person, then the God is dead movement would have been correct in their assessment.  While there is scriptural support for the theory of recompense, it is written for a time when God was thought of as angry.  We know more now, thanks to the Holy Spirit. Margaret, the first poster's name is in the byline.  It is Michael Sean Winters (or did you mean #10?)
Anonymous | 5/19/2009 - 11:33am
In such ''dialogue'' as involves life issues, concepts like relativism and pragmatism are too often employed too facilely. Not every form of metaphysical and moral realism is grounded in foundational epistemologies. There is a critical realism known as fallibilism situated in the postfoundational pragmatism of Charles Sanders Peirce and it rejects both radically deconstructive postmodern relativisms and nihilisms as well as naive realisms, recognizing that humankind's knowledge-advance is inexorable but not quite as sure-footed as many would have us believe. On problematical metaphysical issues, such as pertaining our ultimate concerns, once we have exhausted our best presuppositional, evidential and rational approaches and enjoy at least some modicum of epistemic parity with competing worldviews, only then do we invoke our epistemic rights to existentially adjudicate competing claims with various aesthetic, relational and, yes, pragmatic values. There is all the difference in the world between a pragmatism that affirms both metaphysical and moral realisms and is invoked as an epistemic tie-breaker as a truth-indicative test of truth and the other which we rightly would pejoratively dismiss as a truth-conducive theory of truth. All this aside, Obama's pragmatism seems to be more closely related to the political virtue that Catholics embrace as political realism and not so much to any given epistemological stance, philosophically. One would not expect the dialogue to recognize these nuances, because far too few draw other distinctions such as between one's moral stance versus one's practical approach versus one's political approach. If we fail to draw a distinction between the moral and practical and legal, then we will necessarily and improperly conclude that others necessarly differ with our moral stance when they might merely differ with our jurisprudence. Many get justifiably confused when, for all practical purposes, one metaphysical position leads to the normative conclusion that to save the greatest number of innocent human persons on a sinking ship, the lifeboats should first be loaded with portable refrigerators filled with frozen embryos. When people reasonably disagree with our deontological conclusions, they don't deserve demonization. We should not bracket our metaphysics, our deeply felt moral sensibilities or our religious beliefs in the public square, but we must translate them. Slogans, sound-bytes, name-calling and bumper-stickers translate nothing. I think a sincerely conveyed concern for all matters regarding incipient human life grounded in a deeply felt moral sensibility and articulated in a fallible but still truth-indicative slippery slope argument is more compelling to other people of large intelligence and profound goodwill. We must not be cavalier and cursorily dismissive of other people, for that strikes at the heart of the very dignity we are striving mightily to defend.
Anonymous | 5/19/2009 - 9:23am
I live in Mishawaka, Indiana, right next door to Notre Dame, and am a member of St. Joseph Parish in South Bend, the parish most closely connected with the university. To my mind, this is a very simple issue. An authorative policy, promulgated by the US Catholic bishops, bars Catholic institutions, including universities, from honoring people whose views on certain issues, such as abortion, conflict with Catholic teaching. Notre Dame did an end run around that policy. The university invited President Obama to give the commencement address and offering him an honorary degree-without bothering to inform Bishop D'Arcy. Jenkins and the trustees obviously calculated that once the invitation had been extended and accepted, it would be a done deal. The way they went about it shows me that they knew they were in the wrong. As for Obama's speech, I agree that he deserves nothing better than a gentleman's C. It was the same old rejection of false choices line that he has used in the past to skip over difficult issues.
Anonymous | 5/19/2009 - 1:12am
Enough with using relativism as a facile pejorative whenever someone else doesn't buy into one's naive realism. Quit perpetuating a false dichotomy between a fundamentalistic apodictic certainty grounded in an out-dated and sterile foundationalism and a radically postmodernistic relativism floating in a practical nihilism. There is an epistemic virtue that trumps both of those vices and no too few of us practice it. It is called fallibilism. And when it appeals to aesthetic, pragmatic and relational values to adjudicate competing claims, it is because those values are considered truth-indicative tests of truth and not because anyone is claiming they are otherwise truth-conducive theories of truth.
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 10:54pm
Unfortunately the author of the this article missed the point. Common Ground on reducing abortion is a possibility. Contrary to the presumption of the author to speak for lay catholics, we all do agree that the Bishops speak for us in this matter. Let's get away from this nonsense of what Catholics want. Poll after poll and an election of the current has spoken loud and clear to what Catholics want, and that is more common ground and not less. I watched the President at Notre Dame and was deeply impressed by the Commencement Speak given to the students of Notre Dame by a follower of Jesus Christ. It is time start working together to reduce abortions.
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 10:48pm
There are several aspects to this article I find absurd and/or ironic.  Let me state three: 1.  Why on earth would any Catholic institution look to a protestant politician to provide ''rapprochement'' between Catholics and the Catholic hierarchy? I understand that many of us kid about Obama being the Messiah, but, that's it.  It's a joke.  If you need raprochement, I'm affraid you'll have to look elsewhere and I'm saddened you didn't know that before he spoke.  2. President Obama is a self-described Pragmatist.  In the philosophical sense (and the one he means, I believe), his being a Pragmatist means that for him what works is not only expedient but what is intrisically true.  So when you say that you have grown increasingly uncomfortable with Obama using his faith when it is expedient it makes me want to stand on my chair and yell: ''Of course he does! He's a self-described Pragmatist, not to mention a first rate politician!!!!!''  3. Maybe most important of all: did it ever occur to you before Mr. Obama spoke that a commencement address may not be the proper forum for a discussion about abortion or any other social issue, for that matter? If you and he really want that, organize a round table discussion and broadcast it nationally.  Any venue in which POTUS relies on TOTUS will only accomplish one thing: the President will shine brightly by regurgitating well thought-out, carefully crafted words.  It will never cut to the bone of the issue as in, for example, the case of the Rick Warrent roundtable when Obama slipped up with the spontaneous "above my paygrade" comment. Most of all, a commencement ceremony is to be about the graduates, not a president, his book and his (excellent) sophistry.  I mean really, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT: HOPE AND CHANGE? I fear that your entire article reveals to this reader your deep, deep naivete.
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 2:00pm
Mr. Winters: Thanks to the pastoral work of the bishops and the excellent work of America magazine and other Catholic media, we now have high expectations about the quality of the intellectual debate on the defense of human life. President Obama has impressive oratorical skills, but there are troubling aspects about how he handles ideas.  He doesn’t need to be a Catholic intellectual to understand what moral relativism is, especially a scholarly mind educated at Columbia and Harvard, honed in the classroom at the University of Chicago, and tested in the real world of urban poverty. Unlike you, I don’t believe that citing the Pope would have helped.  At best it would have been a device to gain legitimacy for his beliefs, since we are not sure he agrees with the Pope. The true test of his speech will be his actions. This week he will nominate a Supreme Court candidate. Will he remain so pro-abortion in his choice?  Or will he cast a wider net?
Anonymous | 5/28/2009 - 11:27am
I realize it's pretty late in the game for me to be commenting on Winters' analysis of Obama but up here in the real north country spring keeps us so busy it is difficult to keep up. But to criticize Obama for not starting a dialogue with Republican Bishops is really strange. It is about time for them to start talking with Obama after they worked so hard to defeat him. Cardinal George and friends now find themselves really on the outside looking in. So I wonder why Winters would say this? There are no happy answers to this question
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 3:20pm
To Michael: "One area where doubt is appropriate is in our understanding of the sufferings and death of our Lord - whether God required punishment for our sins or whether God bridged the gap created by sin by experiencing the abandonment of the sinner." I don't think that dichotomy is necessary, although I would not say Jesus "experienced the abandonment of the sinner" (since God being - or mistakenly feeling - abandoned by God seems opposed to the doctrine of the Trinity).  In Christ's acceptance of suffering, he gave suffering a salvific dimension it never had (or rather, revealed that dimension to Israel and the world), showing that there is more to suffering than just a "punishment for our sins."  On the other hand, recompense for sin is made quite clear in Scripture. And:  "True faith does not come from knowledge imparted doctrinally, but in being tested and finding God at the end." I would say it comes from both... how can you "find God" if you don't have knowledge of what or who God is?  But this is going off-topic, so I'm willing to let this go.
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 2:16pm
Steve, embryos aren't destroyed in ESCR.  Blastocysts are not embryos.  Embryos are organisms with a soul guiding their development and energizing their beings.  Blastocysts have no "being" and can be more than one being prior to gastrulation.  The kicker is that if you remove an embryo from the chorion, it will die.  If you remove the chorion from a blastocyst, the cells that would have become human do not die (the research would be kind of useless if they did). The tissues harvested are identical to adult stem cells in form and function. On abortion, the question is not about paying for abortion (that is not legal with federal appropriations - although some state governments do pay for abortions).  The question is whether the abortion ban before Roe was effective (it was not - the penalty was a fine) and what can be done now.  Abortion restrictions which simply create a black market for abortion without reducing their number cannot be considered an improvement, except that they salve the consciences of people who prefer to be right than to do right.  The low hanging fruit is not banning the procedure, but in making sure that families have enough funds to have their children (which would prevent 5 of 6 "non-essential" abortions).
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 2:08pm
Jeffrey, Doubt is often a gift, since it forces us to inquire and to more closely know God.  It is not a gift given to institutions but to individuals (would that the Curia would as a group have doubt about several issues - particularly its own knowledge of embryology (it has come quite far since Gregor Mendel) and the difference between the situation is Mexico, where a law was passed legalizing abortion, and the United States, where the right of states to pass laws was overturned - quite correctly might I add).  Doubt about the divinity of Jesus is not appropriate - although living in today's world requires we face doubts about what we know about the soul.  Neuroscience has disproven the "Ghost in the Machine" hypothesis.  Replacing it takes some thinking.  It should encourage the inquiry rather than burying the question.  One area where doubt is appropriate is in our understanding of the sufferings and death of our Lord - whether God required punishment for our sins or whether God bridged the gap created by sin by experiencing the abandonment of the sinner. True faith does not come from knowledge imparted doctrinally, but in being tested and finding God at the end.  This is why suffering is important to spirituality and why prostitutes, prisoners and alcoholics sometimes have the kingdom of Heaven in a more real way than doctors of theology.
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 12:01pm
I believe the President's speech was thoughtful, on target, very appropriate in tone and content from a leader who is Protestant, and illustrates the reason I voted for him. He is able to diffuse extremes on the left and the right by absorbing much of their harshness and rhetoric. And unlike the previous administration, I believe his administration will put policies in place to reduce the number of actual abortions. I would hope that this is the goal of the so-called "pro-life" movement - it certainly is my goal. There is much work to do, and we need to move one step at a time, changing hearts and minds along the way, which is the real task of anyone who identifies as pro-life. We can choose to enter into a war of words, which seems to be what this writer would like, or  address and solve real issues. This critique is off base, and I wonder about the writer's expectations and agenda. 
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 11:08am
Like the President said, the two sides on this are, at some level, incompatible. So while Catholics give him honors and cascades of praise for his open-mindedness, he uses the force of the state to pay for abortions and embryo destruction. Everyone's happy. Jenkins and Obama get a great photo op, the University increases its prestige, and only a few million unwanted human lives get sunffed out. Isn't dialogue a glorious thing?
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 11:07am
I know this is a discussion of the President's remarks but perhaps a consideration of Father Jenkins' introductory remarks would help those Catholic Christians who disagree with or feel ambivalent about the President, particularly toward the end when he said: ''When we face differences with fellow citizens, we will be tested: do we keep trying, with love and a generous spirit, to appeal to ethical principals that migh be persuasive to others - or do we condemn those who differ with us for not seeing the truth that we see? The first approach can lead to healing, the second to hostility. We know which approach we are called to as disciples of Christ.'' These remarks seemed especially appropriate when we recall the Liturgy of the Word for the 6th Sunday of Easter.
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 10:52am
It may be a lost opportunity, but the opportunity you describe in the last paragraph, he cannot give. The President's life is built on these relativistic values that we should all somehow get along with. He cannot articulate a search for truth grounded in faith and reason because he does not espouse an objective truth. His position on every moral issue that the Church's clear teaching calls evil shows this. THIS, my friend, is the fundamental problem of inviting Obama to speak at Catholic University and awarding him with an honorary degree, as so many Bishops have pointed out. It's too bad you were disappointed. I wasn't. It's too bad your expectations let you down. They didn't let me down. Face reality. 
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 10:49am
Your opinion piece is spot on, and just as troubling as Obama's speech are the efforts of supposed people of faith to defend him.  The reality is that an irreducible struggle is underway.  A kind of agnosticism and consequent relativism has pitted itself against the allegedly "medieval," "arrogant" notion that God has revealed himself and his will for us, so that we may have certitude in crucial matters.  The attempts to construct a kind of "middle ground" between these two poles are either confused or cynical forms of subterfuge posited by those on the relativist side of the equation.  Their arguments cannot bear scrutiny and so they tend to resort to mind-numbing slogans and name-calling. 
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 10:41am
I'm curious about these two comments: "Would that the hierarchy were more open to doubt and less about the upholding of historic doctrine." (Michael Bindner) "Peace brother Michael, understand that without doubt, you cannot cultivate charity, and that with certitude of faith, comes only arrogance." (R. Paul Miller) Mr. Bindner, are you suggesting that we (or the bishops) should replace "historic doctrine" with doubt about it, e.g. "maybe Jesus wasn't God?" or "maybe abortion isn't an 'unspeakable crime'?"  I'm not sure what that gains us or the world.  What doubt should we be open to? And Mr. Miller, how is doubt necessary to charity?  And what exactly do you mean by the "certitude of faith"?  Is it arrogant to believe that the Catholic faith is the true faith, and that what the Church teaches is correct?
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 10:17am
I find it incredibly hard to believe that anyone watching that speech would give it a C-minus.  I agree completely with Patrick Fisher's post.  Obama, and for that matter, Fr. Jenkins, did tremendous jobs.  It is Mr. Winter who doesn't get it.  What is the difference between, as Mr. Winter puts it, speaking ''about the relationship of faith and reason and the need to keep them together lest the one turn into fanaticism and the other into a soulless materialism that degrades humankind,'' and what Obama actually said?  The difference is petty.  Obama said that each side has to be open to the legitimacy of the views of the other side.  He said that when each side focuses on the fanaticism of the other side, it polarizes the two sides to the point where common ground cannot be reached.  Obama could easily have made a speech that didn't address abortion, that didn't address controversial issues.  Instead, both he, and Fr. Jenkins, addressed the issues head-on.
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 3:13am
To fully understand why Michael Winters graded the President Obama’s speech a “C”, one has but to look at his concluding remarks, to wit: “While I am sure the President thought he was doing his best to be respectful and even solicitous of Catholic sensibilities, he failed to find the language and the logic that might have laid the foundation for building a better relationship with the Catholic hierarchy. It was a lost opportunity.” It may come as a shock to you Michael, President Obama, a former law professor, steeped in the Academics at three different Universities (Columbia, Harvard, U. of Chicago Law), knew something you failed to appreciate. His address was the last Academic function for the graduating class, and had to be pitched in such a fashion that it would tie their experience at Notre Dame with the secular world they were ready to enter. The speech did that… In the above context, “building a better relationship with the Catholic hierarchy” had diddly-squat to do with his commencement address. Mr. Obama is President for all the people in the United States. I, and certainly many others, would have taken offense if he has used this speech to cow-tail to the Bishops. Peace brother Michael, understand that without doubt, you cannot cultivate charity, and that with certitude of faith, comes only arrogance.
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 1:05am
Your critique of the President's address was disappointing in that I found you ignored his larger themes in favor of quibbling over less significant details.  I thought the President's speech was courageous and didn't take the easy way out ducking the controversy surrounding the abortion issue.  He addressed it head on.  His assertion that the country will be divided for years on issues like stem cells and abortion was honest, and his call for continuing dialogue seemed genuine.  His exhortation to use civility, courtesy and hospitality in search of common ground on life's challenging moral issues resonated with me and seemed a totally appropriate subject for a university commencement speech that promised to be a controversial and potentially turbulent event. No, his speech writers didn't find a quote by the Pope.  Yes, he gave a fundamentally Protestant interpretation of what can be known by faith because he was an invited Protestant speaker not grounded in Catholic doctrine. No, he didn't use this commencement address to build a better relationship with the Catholic hierarchy. May I remind you that 74 intolerant and inhospitable Catholic Bishops purposefully failed to attend so tell me more about building better relationships. I suggest you re-read the final section of the President's speech where he discussed how Father Ted Hesburgh was able to broker an agreement between differing members of the 1960's Civil Rights Commission.  Father Ted found a simple, very human commonality among the six disparate commissioners - fishing.  Father Ted arranged a twilight fishing trip to Land O'Lakes which helped created a climate for later serious discussion on troubling issues. I would have enjoyed reading about some of your areas of agreement in the President's speech instead of splitting hairs over the President's failed St. Augustine impersonation or his failure to mimic the Pope's insistence that faith and reason together search for the truth. Did you find nothing constituting common ground in the speech?
Anonymous | 5/17/2009 - 11:31pm
I'm puzzled how anyone could have listened to that speech and interpreted it as a "paen to relativism." If anything, it was a somber assessment of the way in which diversity can impede God's work, which is a pretty remarkable way for the nation's first African-American to spend his time on stage. Obama's whole point was that those who  believe that the solution is to iron out diversity of thought are simply unrealistic and, well, wrong. Wishy washy that sentiment is not. If you consider that relativism, what, exactly, was the "principled" speech Obama gave in your imagination? Because that was about as scrupulous a talk as he could have given without pro-actively advocating for his position on abortion. Do you think that approach would have frayed relations with the Catholic hierarchy less? MSW, I read your critique as a defensive one. I think you wanted Obama to make his case in the language and theology of his most conservative Catholic critics. And yet how can one write an aparochial speech with parochial language? Even you fall into this trap when you complain that Obama didn't employ any quotes from the Pope (what, the half dozen cardinals and priests he did quote weren't Catholic enough for you?). And Obama can't convincingly wield the thinking of far-right Catholics because, lest we forget, he is neither. Most Catholics are acutely aware of this. Myself, I saw his extensive appreciation for Catholic institutions and social action as putting his ecumenical intentions into words that most Catholics can relate to.
Anonymous | 5/17/2009 - 11:18pm
What a petty, ugly commentary on a great speech, the key to which is addressing the intended audience, the graduating students, not the grandstanding hierarchical minority and their hydrophobic followers.  And it wasn't the time for papal stroking, or for Obama to pretend he'd morphed into a Catholic, let alone a Catholic theologian.  He met those students at the crossroads Fr. Hesburgh described, from a different road, and he spoke with grace and openness of his perspective.  Mr. Winters is the one who deserves the F.
Anonymous | 5/17/2009 - 11:07pm
I think that the interpretation of his speech not being Catholic enough is exactly what he was saying that we need to be careful of.  The idea that everyone should speak like Catholics because they are around Catholics or imply that unless he talks Catholic (of course I would also think that some Catholics may sound different than others) he is somehow wrong is exactly the danger of religion and of faith without reason.  People who speak of being right and others being wrong because of a church doctrine are also saying that some how they now what god thinks and that is simply not the case.  People put words in God's mouth all the time, and I think that Obama simply sees the flaw in such a stance.  I am sorry that you seemed to miss that.
Anonymous | 5/17/2009 - 11:04pm
President Barack Obama making his critics look petty by addressing the controversy surrounding his commencement address at Notre Dame.
Anonymous | 5/17/2009 - 10:50pm
Check out all of the "mainstream" media headlines: NY Times:  [url=http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/18/us/politics/18obama.html?hp][color=#004276]At Notre Dame, Obama Calls for Dialogue on Abortion[/color][/url] Wash Post: President calls for "open hearts, open minds" during address at Catholic university Chicago Trib: [url=/news/chi-obama-notre-dame,0,7571151.storylink]Obama on abortion furor: Seek 'common ground'[/url] Sounds like the Obama pictures and Obama headlines are going to do great things for decreasing abortions!  He used ND for his political agenda and ND hands him a gift! There is no doubt that president Obama is a skilled politician!  And his skill is NOT good for the pro-life movement!
Anonymous | 5/17/2009 - 10:29pm
I'm not sure I understand completely what the problem is that you have with the President's speech.  It appears you wanted him to discuss more Catholic doctrine as it related to the controversy? The man is President and his is not Catholic.  Although he was speaking at a religious institution, he cannot endorse a religion, nor should he be speaking in detailed religious terms.  I think that would've been very strange, so a broad mention of faith, in my opinion, was fitting and appropriate.
Anonymous | 5/17/2009 - 9:50pm
I thought that the introduction of doubt into a conversation was actually very well done.  Heaven help us from those who are always certain.  Faith is living life on the skinny branches.  Doubt is where God tests us with the dark times and for a deep and abiding faith some type of doubt is necessary.  Would that the hierarchy were more open do doubt and less about the upholding of historic doctrine.  The 22nd Psalm and the abandonment of the Cross are all about finding faith in the midst of doubt.  There is nothing Protestant about that, unless you count Elijah and Jesus as Protestants.
Anonymous | 5/17/2009 - 9:32pm
MWS, for once we whole-heartedly agree. I, a Catholic who voted for Obama, have had a growing sense of unease about our President. He seems to increasingly engage with faith when it suits him most and make the easiest, broad statements. I agree that this could have been a watershed moment. This could have been a wonderful opportunity to engage with religion and great big theological questions. This would have been an opportunity to really put a nail in the coffin of those that suggest being a democrat (much less a liberal) and being Catholic is to be schizophrenic. Instead, we get a sort of milquetoast speech on compromise, not founded in any sort of theology (this would have been a great opportunity to show a well-thought-out theology beyond the sort of vague feel-good community organizer stuff he gets into here) but in a sort of "godish ethics." More to the point, this was just a weak speech. When our President has talked about "burying the hatchet" in the past he has said it something we "must" do. When he has talked about povery he has called it an "evil." Here, when he actually tries to use faith instead of some notion of a moral imperitive, he really fails to deliver with the same force. I don't think that means he lacks faith, but that he simply doesn't have a well developed sense of Christianity. It's sort of how someone who has never spent much time in France will probably not know how to say much in French. I don't doubt he is a man of faith, but it seems to me here that he has really given a lot of ammunition to the people who suggested his faith is skin-deep (and I have trouble here differentiating between this speech Cuomo's 1984 speech).
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 8:38pm
The matter of Obama's "above my pay grade" quote pertained to a question about when human life begins. Obama is masterful in his rhetoric but deceptive by his actions. Obama came across at ND as the voice of moderation and reason. However, since assuming the presidency, Obama has been anything but reasoned. He stated at ND that the lofty objective is to engage one another in open dialogue. But a close inspection of the Obama record dating back to his earliest days in his political life has been to forward policy which promotes the killing of human life even to the extent that a baby should be killed if they live through an abortion. It doesn't get more radical than that. No, friends, this is not about enaging with Obama to find a comfortable middle ground. Does anyone seriously believe that Obama would acquise and become pro-life? Not for a minute. What this and the "making a choice to abort a child rare" gambit is intended to do is a unidirectional attempt to pursaude pliable graduates to adopt his stance on applying the Planned Parenthood agenda.
Anonymous | 5/18/2009 - 4:21pm
I will attempt to answer Jeffrey Pinyan  (2009-05-18 10:41:24.0) question, but he should appreciate they were raised to ponder, not to be definitely answered. In regards to the relationship of doubt to charity, one has to examine charity. Central to charity is empathy, a willingness to understand the totality of the other individual. It is an expression our humanity, and may, or may not involve spirituality, and in many settings include compassion. Charity does not involve only “care” to a dependent person, for it may be offered to the powerful. It goes without saying that charity is independent of religion or faith, and that it must exclude both coercion and custom. Now then, charity performed to assuage the God of your faith, or to gain favor, or for many of the other reasons that come to mind, weakens to gift of our humanity and unencumbered charity. Thus, a bit of doubt about the precepts of your faith may well strengthen the validity of charity… As to certitude of faith leading to arrogance there are so many examples available that it really does not need much exposition. One could examine other faiths and religions, to avoid pointing a finger at oneself. One could go back in history and examine the Spanish Inquisition. One could examine Bishop John D’Arcy’s arrogant claim that Notre Dame is in his Diocese, and thus he has ultimate say as to faith and morals in the teaching at the University. This is not the first time the Bishop D’Arcy and his supporters have tried to impose their interpretation of what should be taught at Notre Dame. My advice is to pray for their success, for great Universities have no interests into being turned into a Madrasa for the Bishops.   http://www.wsbt.com/news/local/15441616.html
Anonymous | 5/17/2009 - 9:09pm
Michael Sean, you've lost your way on this issue. Mike Hovey is on the mark in his appreciation.  I think Obama's citing of Fr. Hesburgh's and Cardinal Bernardin's example was politically and religiously very smart - and  very relevant. I'm curious how you "graded" the many Bush addresses and am glad you've never been my professor. We'd have have pretty different standards about objectivity as well as analysis.