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Fri Jan 18, 2013, 12:25 PM

The Message of Obama's Inaugural Bibles

An op-ed in the WSJ by Stephen Prothero


Theodore Roosevelt had a Bible-free inauguration in 1901, but from George Washington forward other American presidents have sworn their oaths of office with one hand in the air and the other on the Christian Scriptures. At Monday's inauguration, President Barack Obama will employ two Bibles: the Bible Abraham Lincoln used in 1861 at his first inaugural ceremony and a "traveling Bible" used by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

(snip)

In Newtown, Conn., shortly after the Dec. 14 mass shooting there, the president quoted from the Bible but failed to find any easy answers there. Instead he asked questions: "Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose?" He then spoke, as Lincoln did a century and a half earlier, about groping through the darkness, "often unable to discern God's heavenly plans." This aspect of Mr. Obama's character infuriates many and annoys others. Why can't he just speak the truth without equivocation, like President Ronald Reagan or President George W. Bush?

(snip)

Religious practitioners world-wide can be divided into those who are certain and those who are not. For some, God is "the Answer" and when he enters into your life he takes away sins and doubts alike. For others, encountering the Almighty provokes more questions than it answers. Evangelicalism, the second great theological impulse in U.S. history, was (and is) about certainty, including the assurance that Jesus has saved you from sin. Puritanism, our first great theological impulse, was shot through with uncertainty, not least the uncertainty about whether God had assigned you to heaven or hell.

Lincoln and King were in my view products of Puritanism more than evangelicalism. For each, God was a mystery. But this mysterious God had entered into a covenant with us, so it was up to us to uphold our end of the bargain. In so doing, our goal was never to make heaven on earth but to strive toward a less imperfect union and a more beloved community.

(snip)

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324235104578243740146205394.html

(If you cannot open the link, copy and paste the title onto google)


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Reply The Message of Obama's Inaugural Bibles (Original post)
question everything Jan 2013 OP
Fortinbras Armstrong Jan 2013 #1
Leontius Jan 2013 #2
Fortinbras Armstrong Jan 2013 #3

Response to question everything (Original post)

Fri Jan 18, 2013, 12:52 PM

1. Calling the theological tradition that doesn't proclaim it has all the answers "puritanism" is wrong

It is, for example, solidly planted in the Catholic tradition. The assumption that one is saved is called the Sin of Presumption, and is discussed by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica, II-II, q 21 (see especially the second article, "Is presumption a sin?". See also Francisco Suárez's On Hope for an interesting discussion.

Indeed, many of the Protestant Puritans were actually what Prothero would term "evangelicals", since Protestant Puritans were an offshoot of the Calvinists.

But it is an interesting article, and I hope that it truly describes Obama's theological attitude, basically because it is one that I find sympathetic.

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Response to Fortinbras Armstrong (Reply #1)

Fri Jan 18, 2013, 03:40 PM

2. You may find this interesting the term "Protestant" was coined by the Catholic Church

as way of mocking and deriding Luther's followers who called themselves the "Evangelical Church". Funny how words take on new meanings over time.

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Response to Leontius (Reply #2)

Sat Jan 19, 2013, 10:15 AM

3. Oh, yes, I was well aware of the original meaning of "Protestant"

The term "big bang" in cosmology was invented by Fred Hoyle to ridicule the theory, and he was annoyed that his opponents took up term.

Similarly, the word "tory" originally meant "thief" -- something eagerly siezed on by opponents of Margaret Thatcher.

There are many examples of this.

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