Obama’s Political “Cloud of Unknowing”

Deal W. Hudson
September 8, 2008

Appearing Sunday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Sen. Barack Obama tried to undo the damage done by his Saddleback Church interview with Rick Warren – specifically his comment that the question of when an unborn child receives human rights was “above [his] pay grade.”

“Was that phrase too flip?” Stephanopoulos asked Obama.

“Probably,” Obama said. “Yes. I mean, what I intended to say is that, as a Christian, I have a lot of humility about understanding when does the soul enter into…”

At that moment, Stephanopoulos cut him short, interjecting, “It goes back to Augustine,” as if to remind him of the Pelosi line.

Obama quickly got back on track. “It does, it’s a pretty tough question. And so, all I meant to communicate was that I don’t presume to be able to answer these kinds of theological questions.”

Was Stephanopoulos coaching Obama? If so, it was a similar message to the one that earned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the rebuke of over two dozen bishops in the last two weeks. Catholic bishops don’t like to be lectured on Church doctrine by politicians – or media pundits, for that matter.

Does Obama think Catholic bishops lack humility when they issue statements reminding us that human life should be protected from the moment of conception? He infers that to know that life begins at conception – rather than not to know – is prideful.

One of those bishops who “knows” is Obama’s hometown prelate, Francis Cardinal George of Chicago. On September 2, Cardinal George issued a statement that firmly rejected the notion that Catholic teaching is unclear on abortion:

The Catholic Church, from its first days, condemned the aborting of unborn children as gravely sinful…. This same teaching has been constantly reiterated in every place and time up to Vatican II, which condemned abortion as a “heinous crime.” This is true today and will be so tomorrow. Any other comments by politicians, professors, pundits, or the occasional priest, are erroneous and cannot be proposed in good faith.

On Meet the Press that same day, Sen. Joseph Biden also covered himself in Obama’s “cloud of unknowing.” Biden has already been told by his outgoing ordinary, Bishop Michael Saltarelli of Wilmington, Delaware, that he cannot speak at Catholic schools in the diocese, even if he is elected vice president.

Biden’s latest comments to Tom Brokaw won’t improve things.

He told Brokaw he believes “life begins at the moment of conception” and that “as a Roman Catholic, I’m prepared to accept the teachings of my church.”

However, Biden then proceeded to list the teaching of the Church he is not prepared to accept: In his view, protecting the unborn – as the Church teaches Catholics must do – is “to impose that judgment on everyone else… [and] seems to me inappropriate in a pluralistic society.”

Brokaw asked Biden how he can still support abortion rights and believe life begins at conception. The answer was as confused as you might expect when someone is faced with an obvious self-contradiction:

No… I have voted against curtailing the right – criminalizing abortion. I have voted against telling everyone else in the country that they have to accept my religiously based view that it’s at the moment of conception. [Emphasis added]

Both Obama and Biden are trying to find refuge in the divorce of faith from knowledge, while conveniently ignoring the uncontroversial scientific evidence establishing the fact that life begins at conception.

The Obama campaign began its religious outreach deftly. But in recent months, it has been repeating every mistake made by John Kerry in 2004. That Cardinal George has joined the public debate is the worst possible news for Obama and his Catholic supporters. While he’s been experiencing his own troubles, Cardinal George is nevertheless the president of the USCCB and the most influential U.S. bishop in the Vatican. He is from Obama’s home state and is the successor of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, who might be called the patron saint of “social justice” Catholic activists. Cardinal George has made sure that the Bernardin legacy of the “seamless garment” cannot be misinterpreted to ignore the abortion issue.

By stating emphatically that the abortion issue will not, and should not, disappear from political debate, Cardinal George also takes away the Democrats’ attack line that pro-lifers are being “divisive” and “partisan.” No one would ever accuse Cardinal George of being a Republican, or of being sympathetic to the GOP.

The more Obama and Biden – with the “help” of Pelosi – assert their moral agnosticism, the more the bishops will publicly correct them, thus raising doubts among Catholic voters about the Democratic ticket.

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