Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Obama's Christian Realism (2)

For months, the Obama presidency has been unfolding in a way that has disappointed both those who would be predictably disappointed and those whose hopes have been dashed...or at least tempered. David Brooks has chimed in on Obama's perception of international affairs in a column that is characteristically concise and precise. More to the point: as I argued in a 2008 article in the Toronto Star, Obama's worldview is decisively Christian, though not in ways that some Christians will be all that comfortable, both from the left and right.

Whether Obama is informed by the Augustinian sense of existential tension (between the folly and necessity of waging war for example) remains to be seen, although I think that there is something there in Obama that testifies to his reliance on Augustinian thinking - via Niebuhr probably.

What I do know is that there are plenty of reasons for both those on the left and right to resist an Augustinian turn in political theory and practice. The right will resist the contemplative thread in one like Obama, who tends to remark on his own country's temptation to embrace (imperialist forms of) evil. Obama is not alone in that regard, but that is a convenient example, since he is the current target of right wing venom. But the left also feels compelled to resist an Augustinian turn in politics, because that would be an implicit theological and moral turn. Not only that, it would be a theological turn that actually takes seriously the fact of evil, instead of using it merely as a rhetorical prop (in other words, actually believing words such as those used by Bush Jr. in his axis of evil speech etc., even though resisting the association of particular regimes with evil per se - unlike Bush Jr. who saw evil as manifest in that axis of N. Korea, Saddam's Iraq and Iran).


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