The Pokey Finger of God

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Dobson vs. Obama

June 24th, 2008 · No Comments · christianity, culture, media

A couple of years ago, Barack Obama gave a speech to a group of liberal Christian activists. At some point, he rhetorically asked what kind of Christianity they thought should rule the country, and he named Al Sharpton and Dr. James Dobson as exemplars of two fairly radical, if diametrically opposed, views of the . Well, Dobson just recently found out about this and was apparently so incensed about the attacks on his character that he devoted a whole ten minutes on his radio show eviscerating Barack Obama’s views of religion and . [media links]

There are a number of articles on the web about this incident, most cribbing from this AP article. I felt uneasy commenting on the matter, having not heard either address. The articles I read all made Dobson sound like a raving loon, and I supposed that if I were to listen to the radio show that I would hear some of his more reasoned arguments. The first 15 minutes of the show was a paean to the recently passed NBC news reporter, the last 5 on McCain.

This left ten minutes to play five different excerpts from a two-year-old speech, and to bash Obama relentlessly in between. If at any point Dobson or his guest Tom Minnery had bothered to actually address something Obama had said in these excerpts, I was totally willing to address their points in good faith. Instead, I wrote this.

At every point, Obama sounded like a completely rational person. Even where I don’t agree with him on the abortion issue, he sounded rational, constructive, and progressive. Conversely, Dobson sounded like a  high-school sophomore clown.

The first excerpt was the one which had drawn Dobson’s attention, in which, Obama made some point about “Christianity” and society. Obama hypothetically suggested that even if all non-Christians were somehow removed from the country, that you wouldn’t be able to get all of the different kinds of Christians to agree with giving the reigns of the country to any specific denomination. So as to highlight the obvious distinction, Obama asked: “Whose Christianity do we want running the country? Dr. Dobson’s Christianity or Rev. Al Sharpton’s Christianity?” He continued by comparing Mosaic law to the Sermon on the Mount (which is apparently a common rhetorical device for him) to further illustrate the variations of the faith.

Dobson naturally took this entire speech to be a personal attack upon himself. He took great umbrage at the notion of “Dobson’s Christianity”, declaring that he is not representative of or the authority of any church. He then forcefully emphasized his secular credentials  — as a Doctor of Psychology, and a shoe salesman, and a gondola pilot. He then proceeded to spend the remainder of the time spouting his authoritative interpretation by chapter and verse while judging Obama’s least quote or barest interpretation as unusual or outrageous.

The bit about Leviticus vs Matthew wasn’t lost on Dobson and his minion, Minnery, who first denied that Jewish law had any bearing on “modern Church law”, and then went into obscure detail about the legalisms specifically involved in the Deuteronomy quote, insisting that Obama had somehow interpreted it wrong.

Dobson then vaguely referenced some previous speech made by Obama, who “used the Sermon on the Mount to justify same-sex marriage.” Rather than providing an audio clip of this, or any other reference to the speech, Dobson simply takes it as a given that Obama has said this. Since I could probably make a pretty good argument for same-sex marriage based on the Sermon on the Mount, I don’t expect Barack would have much trouble, either. So I’m willing to give Dr. Jim a pass on this one — let’s take it as a given that Obama has said this and he believes it.

Because they don’t say another thing about it, as part of a continuing pattern of tossing out baseless accusations for shock value. Dobson and Minnery accused Obama of having minority, if not crackpot, opinions about the . They indicated several times that they felt he was not qualified to interpret the Bible. They wailed and gnashed their teeth at the wanton destruction laid bare by Barack’s unauthorized lay-opining. Oh, will the nation ever repair from this grievous wound? Then they changed the subject and repeated the process.

Obama had tossed out a throwaway about how the Department of Defense wouldn’t survive the honest application of the radical message in Sermon on the Mount. Dobson saw this outrage as unpatriotic, of not darn near satanic.  “Does he think that Jesus, Paul, and the New Testament have nothing to say about real good and real evil in the world? And we have to know the difference!” Near as I can figure, Dobson believes that the Dept. of Defense really is God’s arbiter of good and evil in the world.

Again, the Voice of Barack Obama was heard on the Focus on the Family radio show, to state clearly that religion is not a prerequisite for morality. This, of course, will not do. As proof of this indignity, Minnery quoted those famous theologians George Washington and John Adams in a couple of random sentences where “religion” and “morality” occur in close proximity.

We heard Obama’s voice again, now proclaiming that “democracy requires universal values”. They even played the part where Obama explains this, basically saying that one needs to appeal to logic that most everyone could understand, rather than things only appreciated by a portion, no matter how large.

Dobson completely looses his marbles at this point, raving about how Obama is going to restrict Dobson’s ability to politically campaign or support minority issues, and how this is all somehow a mistaken interpretation of the Constitution. He called Obama’s approach “lowest common denominator morality”. All the time, he misses the point that Obama was talking about the most effective way for folks like Dobson to get their ideas across in the existing system. All the great quotes come from this part of the show.

Afterward the two men comment on how both had flushed red during their outbreaks, trying to calm down a little by talking about McCain. If they had bothered to actually listen to anything Obama had said, they might not have found such a reason to get upset.

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