Friday, August 8, 2008

Book Review: The Audacity of Hope

For the first time, a non-white person has a reasonable chance of becoming the next President of the United States of America. At long last, one of the major political parties in this country has nominated an African-American. Praise God!

Tonight before a capacity crowd at Invesco Field in nearby Denver, Senator Barack Obama will be giving his presidential nomination acceptance speech during the Democratic National Convention.

This morning, I'm sitting at my favorite coffee shop in deep blue Boulder, sipping my favorite blend of green tea, listening to great music from Indelible Grace, enjoying the view of the Flatirons, and reflecting on what's going on in our country.

Why read Obama's book? Because I don't want to be an uninformed voter. I want to be able to answer questions that people in my life (especially my kids) are asking me about the upcoming presidential election. If I'm going to vote for someone (or against someone), I had better be able to give reasons why when asked. So here goes...

What I Like About Barack Obama and The Audacity of Hope:

1) Barack Obama publicly professes faith in Jesus Christ. In the recent Saddleback Civil Forum, he said clearly that he personally believes that Jesus died for his sins.

2) Barack Obama displays a strong commitment to his wife and children. Like me, he has a bright and beautiful wife and two very cute and precocious girls. Any man who can live with three women has earned my respect.

3) Obama is a very good writer! There's no "strategery" in his communication. I find this very refreshing in a presidential candidate. In an age when TV presence is the dominant success factor, it's good to have a man skilled in the literary arts vying for public office. Here is a prime example from the end of his first chapter on Republicans and Democrats:

“We paint our faces red or blue and cheer our side and boo their side, and if it takes a late hit or cheap shot to beat the other team, so be it, for winning is all that matters.

But I don’t think so. They are out there, I think to myself, those ordinary citizens who have grown up in the midst of all the political and cultural battles, but who have found a way - in their own lives, at least - to make peace with their neighbors and themselves.

I imagine the white Southerner who growing up heard his dad talk about niggers this and niggers that but who has struck up a friendship with the black guys at the office and is trying to teach his own son different, who thinks discrimination is wrong but doesn’t see why the son of a black doctor should get admitted into law school ahead of his own son. Or the former Black Panther who decided to go into real estate, bought a few buildings in the neighborhood, and is just as tired of the drug dealers in front of those buildings as he is of the bankers who won’t give him a loan to expand his business. There’s the middle-aged feminist who still mourns her abortion, and the Christian woman who paid for her teenager’s abortion, and the millions of waitresses and temp secretaries and nurse’s assistants and Wal-Mart associates who hold their breath every single month in the hope that they’ll have enough money to support the children that they did bring into the world.

I imagine they are waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism, to distinguish between what can and cannot be compromised, to admit the possibility that the other side might sometimes have a point. They don’t always understand the arguments between right and left, conservative and liberal, but they recognize the difference between dogma and common sense, responsibility and irresponsibility, between those things that last and those that are fleeting. They are out there, waiting for the Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them.”

This is great writing. And in both his writing and his speaking, Obama often uses a climactic grand style like this to drive home his points with tremendous emotional force.

4) He chose a great title for his book. That title phrase - The Audacity of Hope - is taken from the words of Obama’s own pastor, of all people! Perhaps now more than at any other time in American history, the role of our pastors is often marginalized. That Obama has written publicly with respect for his pastor is a good thing in and of itself (regardless of what you may think about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright).

And that phrase - the audacity of hope - is a great phrase. To Obama, it represents “the best of the American spirit...having the audacity to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary that we could restore a sense of community to a nation torn by conflict; the gall to believe that despite personal setbacks, the loss of a job or an illness in the family or a childhood mired in poverty, we had some control - and therefore responsibility - over our own fate. It was that audacity, I thought, that joined us as one people. It was that pervasive spirit of hope that tied my own family’s story to the larger American story, and my own story to those of the voters I sought to represent.”

In such a cynical age, who doesn’t need a greater vision of hope? Who doesn’t want to restore “a sense of community to a nation torn by conflict”? Who doesn’t want to see “a pervasive spirit of hope” join Americans together “as one people”?

5) Obama is right to try to build bridges between people in our divided country. “Spend time actually talking to Americans, and you discover that most evangelicals are more tolerant than the media would have us believe, most secularists more spiritual.” (p.51)

6) Barack Obama has a proven commitment of working to better the lives of the less fortunate. His work as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago is to be admired. His concern for their educational, economic and other needs (including health insurance) is good and right. Obama's attempts to expand the moral issues that evangelicals are concerned about is also good and right. We should be talking about and working for social justice issues as well as life issues and marriage issues. The narrowness of the American Evangelical's political perspective is a big problem which leads to far too much inaction here at home and internationally.

7) Barack Obama wants to end the war in Iraq. Whether or not you think that his proposals to end the Iraq War are responsible, doing one's utmost to end war is good and right. And the fact is that he was one of the few in our congress who spoke against entering the Iraq War, keenly and staunchly questioning the wisdom of invading Iraq based on the evidence that we had at the time. As it turns out, the evidence for Saddam Hussein's Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction was not there as our President George W. Bush and his administration had assured us. Those who believe in just war theory (as I do) must admit that the absence of this evidence seriously calls into question whether the Iraq War is a just war after all. What a mess we have gotten ourselves into. Such is real life our fallen world. As the two ways to live outline says, humankind has failed to rule ourselves or society or the world as God would have us rule the world under His just and good authority.

What I Don't Like About Barack Obama and The Audacity of Hope:

1) Obama does not appear to have a personally held conviction about the inspiration and authority of the Bible. This has led to an apparent stunting of his spiritual growth and his abandoning of a Christian worldview in so many critical moral decisions that he has been making during his relatively short political career. At the end of his chapter on faith in the Audacity of Hope, Obama expressess much more doubt than he does faith on the most important question his daughter will ever ask him (and the most important question that he will ever ask of himself): "What happens after we die?" Furthermore, his dismissive interpretation of the clear message of Romans chapter 1 in The Audacity of Hope shows that Barack Obama thinks his reasoning capacities are a greater authority than the Bible. And apparently the Bible has had no effect on his moral reasoning about abortion, as reflected in his answer to this question in the Saddleback Civil Forum: "At what point does a child get human rights?" Hesitating and avoiding the question by saying that the answer is "above his pay grade" is an unacceptable from any Christian who wants to lead this country through our current political divisions that are rooted the abortion issue. It is clear where Obama will lead on the abortion issue and that is not headed toward the vision of hope and unity that he speaks so well about.

2) Obama thinks too highly of the ideals of the period of history known as "the enlightenment". In his chapter on values, rather than a clear acknowledgment of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in any area of life, Obama again overemphasizes our capacities to do right. Without any acknowledgment of the realities of the fall of mankind into sin, Obama has based too much of his hope upon our individual freedom, self-reliance, self-improvement, and faith in free will. There is no such thing as free will. Sure, we do what we want to do. But what we want to do is sin. Until God gives us new hearts, our wills remain enslaved to sin (doing wrong to others and ourselves). When God causes a person to be born again, he sets their will free at last to obey His law and live a holy life by the power of the Holy Spirit. These are basic concepts of the Christian worldview and life that I hear no hint of in Obama's speaking and writing.

3) Obama considers the U.S. Constitution to be a “living document” which must be “read in the context of an ever-changing world.” Obama says it is “unrealistic to believe that a judge, two hundred years later, can somehow discern the original intent of the Founders or ratifiers.” The democracy outlined in the United States Constitution is not so much “a house to be built” as it is “a conversation to be had”, and “what the framework of our constitution can do is organize the way by which we argue about our future.”

“The founders may have trusted in God, but true to the Enlightenment spirit, they also trusted in the minds and senses that God had given them.”

“I am robbed even of the certainty of uncertainty -- for sometimes absolute truths may well be absolute.”

These ideas turn politics into a nothing more than an exercise of power without any solid moral foundation.

4) Obama's hope has blinded him to the effects of the fall and embrace economic policies that assume that government is able to make decisions that work.

“Like Bob Rubin, I am optimistic about the long-term prospects for the U.S. economy and the ability of U.S. workers to compete in a free trade environment - but only if we distribute the costs and benefits of globalization more fairly across the population.”

Who is “we”?

“I simply believe that those of us who have benefited most from this new economy can best afford to shoulder the obligation of ensuring every American child has a chance for the same success.” Agreed, but that doesn't answer my question.

5) Obama is courting evangelical voters and wants them to exchange the issues of life and marriage for issues of social justice. I'm more than willing to have the range of issues that evangelicals are concerned about expand to include education, health care, affirmative action, economic opportunity and ending war. But asking us to forget about the critical ethical issues of life and marriage that we face in our culture is asking too much. It's asking for the impossible for anyone who truly believes in the authority and inspiration of the Bible.

Concluding Assessment of Barack Obama and The Audacity of Hope:

Barack Obama is a great man. Any man who can obtain a presidential nomination is a great man. The first black man to accept his party's presidential nomination is a very great man. He appears to be a Christian (albeit significantly spiritually immature) who loves his wife and kids. I admire him. But in good conscience, I cannot vote for him. How about you?

Obama, Barack, The Audacity of Hope, Crown Publishing/Three Rivers Press, New York, 2006, $14.95

1 comment:

hockeyboy5 said...

Thanks for an insightful review, Scott. I'm troubled by Obama's unwillingness to accept the claim of Jesus to be THE way. I'm not sure you can be a true Christian while rejecting Christ's own assertion of exclusivity. Isn't that calling Jesus a liar or lunatic? It's certainly not naming Him as Lord.

My other big concern is Obama's refusal to oppose late term abortions. Despite ex-QB Heath Shuler and a few others, the Democrats are still the party of abortion. Pastor Susan Thistlewaite was well-received at the first interfaith caucus here in Denver when she said she was in favor of abortion if the mom felt unable to provide adequate education. And that was to a group that would theoretically be the most pro-life of the convention!

As for the war, it would be a horrible shame to waste the sacrifice of so many by leaving Iraq prematurely after so much has been accomplished, especially since Petraeus took over. Let's not forget that Saddam wanted us to think he had WMD, and Democrats like Clinton called for a response. See The Long War Journal for reports the mainstream media tends to miss.