October 17, 2015

Obama has a long conversation with the novelist Marilynne Robinson, who's got a new book, a set of essays, on topics like fear and politics.

Obama — who professes familiarity with and love for Robinson's novels — calls attention to the essay "Fear," which, as he puts it, looks "through the prism of Christianity and sort of the Protestant traditions that helped shape us." Basically, he's interviewing her. I can't think of a time when I've read a dialogue with a President where the President is the interviewer:
The President: Tell me a little bit about how your interest in Christianity converges with your concerns about democracy.

Robinson: Well, I believe that people are images of God. There’s no alternative that is theologically respectable to treating people in terms of that understanding. What can I say? It seems to me as if democracy is the logical, the inevitable consequence of this kind of religious humanism at its highest level. And it [applies] to everyone. It’s the human image. It’s not any loyalty or tradition or anything else; it’s being human that enlists the respect, the love of God being implied in it.

The President: But you’ve struggled with the fact that here in the United States, sometimes Christian interpretation seems to posit an “us versus them,” and those are sometimes the loudest voices. But sometimes I think you also get frustrated with kind of the wishy-washy, more liberal versions where anything goes.... How do you reconcile the idea of faith being really important to you and you caring a lot about taking faith seriously with the fact that, at least in our democracy and our civic discourse, it seems as if folks who take religion the most seriously sometimes are also those who are suspicious of those not like them?

Robinson: Well, I don’t know how seriously they do take their Christianity, because if you take something seriously, you’re ready to encounter difficulty, run the risk, whatever. I mean, when people are turning in on themselves—and God knows, arming themselves and so on—against the imagined other, they’re not taking their Christianity seriously. I don’t know—I mean, this has happened over and over again in the history of Christianity, there’s no question about that, or other religions, as we know. But Christianity is profoundly counterintuitive—“Love thy neighbor as thyself”—which I think properly understood means your neighbor is as worthy of love as you are, not that you’re actually going to be capable of this sort of superhuman feat. But you’re supposed to run against the grain. It’s supposed to be difficult. It’s supposed to be a challenge....him—that he was old, that he had a young son, and so on—they create the narrative.
From the essay "Fear":
Is Barack Obama a Christian? He adopted Christianity as an adult, true, having been unaffiliated with institutional religion until then, but the whole history of the Spanish Inquisition proves how hard some people find it to trust a convert. There was a time when we Calvinists felt the force of the terror and antagonism that can be raised against those who are not Christian in a sense other people are willing to accept. This doleful trait is being played upon in our current politics....

When Christians abandon Christian standards of behavior in the defense of Christianity, when Americans abandon American standards of conduct in the name of America, they inflict harm that would not be in the power of any enemy. As Christians they risk the kind of harm to themselves to which the Bible applies adjectives like “everlasting.”...

36 comments:

traditionalguy said...

Using the word Christian over and over mixed into a soup of meaningless blarney is the intentional spewing of confusion to further removing boundaries and thus justify lawlessness.
Obama likes this blarney because lawlessness is Obama's #1 goal in life.

Private property and individual rights are creatures of a law keeping government. Obama despises such defense and wants Christians to turn themselves in to be killed. No more clinging to guns and religion for them.

Michael K said...

I quit reading the NY Review years ago after laughing at the personal ads for women looking for dates that said "No Republicans !"

Scott said...

What deeply profound thoughts emanate from our President. How lucky we are that he lives in this era, and that we live with him. It gives me chills.

SJ said...

It is interesting that Obama interviewed the author.

However, I also feel that the "Christian" can be applied to places it doesn't belong.

Does it mean a person who lambastes opposing voters because they "cling to guns and religion"? That was Obama, during the campaign.

Does it mean a person who is unable to state that a particular minister occasionally goes on hateful tirades towards his own nation?
That was Obama, who seemed unable to say that Jeremiah Wright was blinded by his own hatred.

Lonetown said...

"Who's go a new book" ????

JackOfVA said...

Did Obama use a teleprompter?

policraticus said...

arming themselves and so on—against the imagined other, they’re not taking their Christianity seriously...

"Imagined." I wonder what the Christians of the Levant would say about that. Not much, probably. Too busy running for their lives.

Nichevo said...

Is he a better interviewer than his interviewers?

Humperdink said...

In today's hip culture, being a Christian is anyone to the right of Satan. Forget the basis for the term CHRISTian.

dustbunny said...

"Well,I believe that people are images of God. There's no alternative that is theologically respectable to treating people in terms of that understanding." I read this interview a few days ago and had a hard time getting past this opening statement by Robinson. It seems that she is saying nothing at all as her belief is wrapped up in her understanding or interpretation and that there is no alternative as her understanding is so rigid, that it can not be seen in another light. Or something. It is circular logic. Also she is a Calvinist. How did she become so beloved by the left? It is impossible, for me to see Obama as anything close to a Calvinist, but I am interested that he wants to be seen as one, or is so interested in the philosophy of a intellectually complex form of Christianity, a religion often dismissed by the left as simple and dishonest. Also what is she saying about "images"? That an image is sacred? She is obviously no iconoclast, which would put her at odds with his previous mentor.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

Actually, she is preaching hellfire and brimstone, just with a candy coating.

Conform to my version of Christianity or Gods gonna cast you into the lake of fire is a valid alternative phrasing of what she is saying about "abandoning Christian behavior" and "everlasting."

Ron Winkleheimer said...

As a Calvinist, does she believe their are no Catholics in heaven? Does she believe she is one of the elect? How does she know? Since Calvinists believe in predestination, how can an individual's behavior effect their salvation?

William said...

I'm not familiar with her works, but I get the feeling that her definition of Christianity is amorphous enough to support gay marriage, tolerate abortion, and condemn foreign wars. The revealed truth of Christ is most properly seen in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party......A few kind words for the Spanish Inquisition: over several centuries it claimed less than five thousand victims. Compare that body count to that of the Jacobins and the Bolshies in their pursuit of ideological purity. She says that people distrust converts. Well, the man who ran the Inquisition, Torquemada, was himself a converso. Converts distrust converts. The Dominican order was in charge of the Inquisition. The same Christian zeal that led them to torture conversos and Moriscos also led them to protect the Indians in the New World. I don't know how to quantify this, but net net the Dominicans may have positive balance on the oppression/saved fom oppression ledger.

Scott said...

Do Calvinists play Calvinball?

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

When Obama moved back to Chicago to begin his community organizing career, he learned from other black rabble rousers in the community, that he needed to be affiliated with a Church in order to have credibility. He did that. Then he sat in Jeremiah Wright's church for the next 20 years, when he went at all. That's the extent of Obama's Christianity.

Otto said...

Read the essay. Ugh- rife with phony strawmen, Christian bashing and Amerikanism. This highly "intelligent" woman, just ask her, ought to do a better job of proof reading her essay- check her capitalization.
Nothing here but two teenagers who are full of themselves talking nonsense.
BTW if she is a Calvinist then i was a better defensive lineman than Bob Lilly.

mccullough said...

Wishy-washy is a good description of liberals

BDNYC said...

She wrote admiringly about Barack Obama in her essay? Well of course he's read it and loved it.

Anglelyne said...

The whole exchange is one big unintentional meta-joke about "the imagined other".

wildswan said...

"The revealed truth of Christ is most properly seen in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party"

That's exactly what is really going on here.

If you were a good Christian you'd support socialism / liberalism / Democratic party, blah, blah, ... This has been going on for years. It never means that you as a socialist, a liberal or a Democrat would challenge socialists, liberals or Democrats on whether the policies you and they support were actually working. Have Democrats in charge of big cities (like Detroit) really helped improve life there? How is Obamacare really working? Why are there fewer people working now than in 2007 and why is this considered economic success? Why are the blacks poorer now than when Obama came to power if the economy is successful? Why are men deprived of their constitutional rights on college campuses? It's time for the left to ask itself some real questions.

Gahrie said...

What can I say? It seems to me as if democracy is the logical, the inevitable consequence of this kind of religious humanism at its highest level.

What type of drivel is this? First of all, humanism is an explicit rejection of religion!

Gahrie said...

But you’ve struggled with the fact that here in the United States, sometimes Christian interpretation seems to posit an “us versus them,”

Yes....Christians versus non-Christians. Those going to Heaven versus those going to Hell. It is kind of the whole point of Christianity and every other religion in existence.

I mean, when people are turning in on themselves—and God knows, arming themselves and so on—against the imagined other, they’re not taking their Christianity seriously

How about when they are arming themselves against the unimagined other down the street who has a habit of violent crime?

There was a time when we Calvinists

I don't think she understands what Calvinism is. Your actions on Earth are meaningless. God had already decided if you were saved and going to Heaven even before you were born. If you were saved nothing you could do could change that. If you weren't nothing could change that either.

M Jordan said...

Christianity is not, at its essence, an ideology. It is not something you can mentally assent to. You don't become a Christian by claiming you are one.

What it is is a new creation, a new realm, a new kingdom. You enter this realm by being born into it, not by joining it. And the way you're born into it is by believing that Jesus Christ is God. When Jesus explained all this to Nicodemus ("You must be born again!") he then referred to Moses's strange act of mounting a dead serpent on a pole for his snake-bitten fellow Jews could be saved from the poison of the serpents around them. He then applied this to himself, a kind of serpent who would be raised on the cross, a kind of pole, for the snake-bitten world to look upon. This serpentizing of himself is the most mysterious aspect of the gospel, one which Paul said was Christ coming in the likeness of the sinful flesh. This likeness has troubled the world ever since, from the Gnostics to today's Muslems.

Obama says he' believes in Christ as the Son of God. I'll take him at his word. But it wasn't an organization that he joined; it was a rebirth.

MayBee said...

That is a lot of blah-blah-blah.

Derek Kite said...

This obscure tribe that is so obscure and unknown. I just don't understand how anyone could think differently than I.

Bill said...

I'm glad I learned her political views after I read her "Gilead" trilogy, which is magnificent.

Roger Sweeny said...

It is impossible, for me to see Obama as anything close to a Calvinist, but I am interested that he wants to be seen as one, or is so interested in the philosophy of a intellectually complex form of Christianity, a religion often dismissed by the left as simple and dishonest.

I once read 400 pages of John Locke saying that all you needed to be a Christian was to agree that Jesus is the Messiah. (This was largely in response to Robert Filmer's Patriarcha.) It was actually quite an exhilarating 400 pages.

Bill R said...

Obama: "it seems as if folks who take religion the most seriously sometimes are also those who are suspicious of those not like them?"

Obama: "And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them."

Well at least he's consistent.

Of course, Obama has never had a conversation with a Christian or anyone else who told him "Golly Mr. President, I sure feel antipathy to anyone who is not just like me." He's just parroting the idiotic prejudices of his class.

jr565 said...

THis is gobbledy gook and pablum:
"The President: Tell me a little bit about how your interest in Christianity converges with your concerns about democracy.

Robinson: Well, I believe that people are images of God. There’s no alternative that is theologically respectable to treating people in terms of that understanding. What can I say? It seems to me as if democracy is the logical, the inevitable consequence of this kind of religious humanism at its highest level. And it [applies] to everyone. It’s the human image. It’s not any loyalty or tradition or anything else; it’s being human that enlists the respect, the love of God being implied in it."
So, in other words, people are people? Lets establish right of the bat that all people are in fact people. If that's as far as you want to go, then everything is permissable. A guy who kills a child is still a person. a guy who beats a fag to death is still a person. A guy who fucks a horse is still a person. Hitler was a person. Who isn't a person? At what point does she judge BEHAVIOR? Is the person engaged in the behavior suddenly not a human?

The President: But you’ve struggled with the fact that here in the United States, sometimes Christian interpretation seems to posit an “us versus them,” and those are sometimes the loudest voices.

Robinson: Well, I don’t know how seriously they do take their Christianity, because if you take something seriously, you’re ready to encounter difficulty, run the risk, whatever.

So, how is she not guilty of an us versus them attitude towards those other christians? Who she says are not taking their christianity seriously because they don't interpret it the same way as she does. KIND OF JUDGEMENTAL!

Yes, you are supposed to love thy neighbor. Your neighbor is not supposed to be engagd in sinful activity. Jesus said "let he who is without sin cast the first stone. But then he said to the harlot "NOW GO AND SIN NO MORE". Why would he tell her to stop sinning? Because she was engaged in sinful behavior, which he was, in fact judging. He didnt feel she should be stoned for it. Christians "love the sinner, but hate the sin". Implicit in that is that the person can be saved, but is still in fact sinning.
This lady suggests that the mere fact that you are a human being means we can't judge your behavior (unless she is referring to other christians who are judgemental pricks who get christianity wrong). I'll make note of that next time I see a gay guy get gay bashed and lying dead on the street. People are people!

n.n said...

Obama is a pro-choice doctrinaire, and the current leader of the State-established pro-choice cult, which is incompatible with Christian religious/moral philosophy.

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm glad I learned her political views after I read her "Gilead" trilogy, which is magnificent."

As a rule, just ignore the politics of artists. Unless the politics is part of the art, it's really a distraction.

YoungHegelian said...

There was a time when we Calvinists....
I mean, when people are turning in on themselves—and God knows, arming themselves and so on—against the imagined other, they’re not taking their Christianity seriously.

If a person can be seen as an agent of God's love, God's charity, etc, why can't a person be an agent of God's Justice? You would think someone who calls herself a Calvinist, of all things, would understand that. Her ancestors certainly did.

It amazes me how modern Christian theology now seems to lack the idea of Jesus Christ as the Lord...who will come to judge the quick & the dead. The then-common idea of Christ as Judge helps explain the attraction of Marian theology for the Church. Mary was "sola amica mea" (my only friend), because Christ, on the last day would come as judge, but she would be, until the very end, your intercessor.

Sadly we're all watered down Pelagians now.

walter said...

"I believe that people are images of God."
Yet born into sin and this temporary, failed, broken world...but by design.
Neat.

But think O is gearing up to replace the other O as talk show host?
I wonder what he will call his network..certainly not Own. He's not into that at all.

Fernandinande said...

From the essay "Fear":

Evidence in support of the "Many-Words" theory.

Emilie said...

What a wonderful conversation - looking forward to the second part. I was struck by a few things:

1. Robinson's description of a type of parenting that seems to have gone out of fashion:

You know what, they were the adults and we were the kids, you know what I mean? Sort of like two species. But if they noticed we were doing something—drawing or painting or whatever we were doing—then they would get us what we needed to do that, and silently go on with it. One of the things that I think is very liberating is that if I had lived any honest life, my parents would have been equally happy. I was under no pressure.

2. The president's praise for, and personal relationship with, small-town Midwestern values:

It’s interesting, because we’re talking in Iowa; people always, I think, were surprised about me connecting with folks in small-town Iowa. And the reason I did was, first of all, I had the benefit that at the time nobody expected me to win. . . . But I’d go into these towns and everybody felt really familiar to me, because they reminded me of my grandparents and my mom and that attitude that you talk about.

3. The president's sensitivity to the interracial marriage plot line in Gilead.

4. The emphasis of both on the fact that demonizing the other - seeing those with whom you disagree as evil, stupid villains, which whom there is no possibility of dialogue - is harming democracy, and is endemic in the culture.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Let me be clear, some would say Obama is MegaSatan on steriods in a rage, and to those who sympathize with that point of view I would say if you aren't happy with the regular Satan, you can still keep your Satan under my plan if you ever want that option to be a choice you have at your disposal, and I will save you $2500 from the rich doctors performing surgery when a pill would do, and the insurance companies inhumane withholding of certain prodecures (and fundamental common decency) and medications for their own profit will fall along with the ocean levels, period.

Spreading wealth around is, of course, much more moral and honorable than creating said wealth on the blood and lives of the poor, employed lumpenprole who just don't know any better than to work for another making someone else fat and rich.