jump to navigation

The Obama Code by George Lakoff February 25, 2009

Posted by Daniel Benjamin Smith (dsmith77) in Morality, Politics.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Source: George Lakoff on The Obama Code – FiveThirtyEight.com

The Obama Code

By George Lakoff

Berkeley, CA. February 24, 2009.

As President Obama prepares to address a joint session of Congress, what can we expect to hear?

The pundits will stress the nuts-and-bolts policy issues: the banking system, education, energy, health care. But beyond policy, there will be a vision of America—a moral vision and a view of unity that the pundits often miss.

What they miss is the Obama Code. For the sake of unity, the President tends to express his moral vision indirectly. Like other self-aware and highly articulate speakers, he connects with his audience using what cognitive scientists call the “cognitive unconscious.” Speaking naturally, he lets his deepest ideas simply structure what he is saying. If you follow him, the deep ideas are communicated unconsciously and automatically. The Code is his most effective way to bring the country together around fundamental American values.

For supporters of the President, it is crucial to understand the Code in order to talk overtly about the old values our new president is communicating. It is necessary because tens of millions of Americans—both conservatives and progressives—don’t yet perceive the vital sea change that Obama is bringing about.

The word “code” can refer to a system of either communication or morality. President Obama has integrated the two. The Obama Code is both moral and linguistic at once. The President is using his enormous skills as a communicator to express a moral system. As he has said, budgets are moral documents. His economic program is tied to his moral system and is discussed in the Code, as are just about all of his other policies.

Behind the Obama Code are seven crucial intellectual moves that I believe are historically, practically, and cognitively appropriate, as well as politically astute. They are not all obvious, and jointly they may seem mysterious. That is why it is worth sorting them out one-by-one.

1. Values Over Programs

The first move is to distinguish programs from the value systems they represent. Every policy has a material aspect—the nuts and bolts of how it works— plus a typically implicit cognitive aspect that represents the values and ideas behind the nuts and bolts. The President knows the difference. He understands that those who see themselves as “progressive” or “conservative” all too often define those words in terms of programs rather than values. Even the programs championed by progressives may not fit what the President sees as the fundamental values of the country. He is seeking to align the programs of his administration with those values.

The potential pushback will come not just from conservatives who do not share his values, but just as much from progressives who make the mistake of thinking that programs are values and that progressivism is defined by a list of programs. When some of those programs are cut as economically secondary or as unessential, their defenders will inevitably see this as a conservative move rather than a move within an overall moral vision they share with the President.

This separation between values and programs lies behind the president’s pledge to cut programs that don’t serve those values and support those that do — no matter whether they are proposed by Republicans or Democrats. The President’s idealistic question is, what policies serve what values? — not what political interests?

2. Progressive Values are American Values

President Obama’s second intellectual move concerns what the fundamental American values are. In Moral Politics, I described what I found to be the implicit, often unconscious, value systems behind progressive and conservative thought. Progressive thought rests, first, on the value of empathy —- putting oneself in other people’s shoes, seeing the world through their eyes, and therefore caring about them. The second principle is acting on that care, taking responsibility both for oneself and others, social as well as individual responsibility. The third is acting to make oneself, the country, and the world better—what Obama has called an “ethic of excellence” toward creating “a more perfect union” politically.

Historian Lynn Hunt, in Inventing Human Rights, has shown that those values, beginning with empathy, lie historically behind the human rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Obama, in various interviews and speeches, has provided the logical link. Empathy is not mere sympathy. Putting oneself in the shoes of others brings with it the responsibility to act on that empathy—to be “our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper”—and to act to improve ourselves, our country, and the world.

The logic is simple: Empathy is why we have the values of freedom, fairness, and equality — for everyone, not just for certain individuals. If we put ourselves in the shoes of others, we will want them to be free and treated fairly. Empathy with all leads to equality: no one should be treated worse than anyone else. Empathy leads us to democracy: to avoid being subject indefinitely to the whims of an oppressive and unfair ruler, we need to be able to choose who governs us and we need a government of laws.

Obama has consistently maintained that what I, in my writings, have called “progressive” values are fundamental American values. From his perspective, he is not a progressive; he is just an American. That is a crucial intellectual move.

Those empathy-based moral values are the opposite of the conservative focus on individual responsibility without social responsibility. They make it intolerable to tolerate a president who is The Decider—who gets to decide without caring about or listening to anybody. Empathy-based values are opposed to the pure self-interest of a laissez-faire “free market,” which assumes that greed is good and that seeking self-interest will magically maximize everyone’s interests. They oppose a purely self-interested view of America in foreign policy. Obama’s foreign policy is empathy-based, concerned with people as well as states—with poverty, education, disease, water, the rights of women and children, ethnic cleansing, and so on around the world.

How are such values expressed? Take a look at the inaugural speech. Empathy: “the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job, the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child…” Responsibility to ourselves and others: “We have duties to ourselves, the nation, and the world.” The ethic of excellence: “there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of character, than giving our all to a difficult task.” They define our democracy: “This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed.”

The same values apply to foreign policy: “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and make clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.” And to religion as well: By quoting language like “our brother’s keeper,” he is communicating that mere individual responsibility will not get you into Heaven, that social responsibility and making the world better is required.

3. Biconceptualism and the New Bipartisanship

The third crucial idea behind the Obama Code is biconceptualism, the knowledge that a great many people who identify themselves ideologically as conservatives, or politically as Republicans or Independents, share those fundamental American values — at least on certain issues. Most “conservatives” are not [thorough-going] movement conservatives, but are what I have called “partial progressives” sharing Obama’s American values on many issues. Where such folks agree with him on values, Obama tries, and will continue to try, to work with them on those issues if not others. And, he assumes, correctly believe, that the more they come to think in terms of those American values, the less they will think in terms of opposing conservative values.

Biconceptualism lay behind his invitation to Rick Warren to speak at the inaugural. Warren is a biconceptual, like many younger evangelicals. He shares Obama’s views of the environment, poverty, health, and social responsibility, though he is otherwise a conservative. Biconceptualism is behind his “courting” of Republican members of Congress. The idea is not to accept conservative moral views, but to find those issues where individual Republicans already share what he sees as fundamentally American values. He has “reached across the aisle” to Richard Luger on nuclear proliferation, but not on economics.

Biconceptualism is central to Obama’s attempts to achieve unity —a unity based on his understanding of American values. The current economic failure gives him an opening to speak about the economy in terms of those ideals: caring about all, prosperity for all, responsibility for all by all, and good jobs for all who want to work.

I think Obama is correct about biconceptualism of this sort — at least where the overwhelming proportion of Americans is concerned. When the President spoke at the Lincoln Day dinner recently about sensible Midwestern Republicans, he meant biconceptual Republicans, who are progressive and/or pragmatic on many issues.

But hardcore movement conservatives tend to be more ideological and less biconceptual than their constituents. In the recent stimulus vote, the hardcore movement conservatives kept party discipline (except for three Senate votes) by threatening to run opposition candidates against anyone who broke ranks. They were able to enforce this because the conservative message machine is strong in their districts and there is no nationwide progressive message machine operating in those districts. The effectiveness of the conservative message machine led to Obama making a rare mistake in communication, the mistake of saying out loud in Florida not to think of Rush Limbaugh, thus violating the first rule of framing and giving Rush Limbaugh even greater power.

Biconceptual, partly progressive, Republicans do exist in Congress, and the president is not going to give up on them. But as long as the conservative message machine can activate its values virtually unopposed in conservative districts, movement conservatives can continue to pressure biconceptual Republicans and keep them from voting their conscience on many issues. This is why a nationwide progressive message machine needs to be organized if the president is to achieve unity through biconceptualism.

4. Protection and Empowerment

The fourth idea behind the Obama Code is the President’s understanding of government—“not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” This depends on what “works” means. The word sounds purely pragmatic, but it is moral in operation.

The idea is that government has twin moral missions: protection and empowerment. Protection includes not just military and police protection, but protections for the environment, consumers, workers, pensioners, disaster victims, and investors.

Empowerment is what his stimulus package is about: it includes education and other forms of infrastructure—roads, bridges, communications, energy supply, the banking system and stock market. The moral mission of government is simple: no one can earn a living in America or live an American life without protection and empowerment by the government. The stimulus package is basically an empowerment package. Taxes are what you pay for living in America, rather than in Congo or Bangladesh. And the more money you make from government protection and empowerment, the more you owe in return. Progressive taxation is a matter of moral accounting. Tax cuts for the middle class mean that the middle class hasn’t been getting as much as it has been contributing to the nation’s productivity for many years.

This view of government meshes with our national ideal of equality. There needs to be moral equality: equal protection and equal empowerment. We all deserve health care protection, retirement protection, worker protection, employment protection, protection of our civil liberties, and investment protection. Protection and empowerment. That’s what “works” means—“whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.”

5. Morality and Economics Fit Together

Crises are times of opportunity. Budgets are moral statements. President Obama has put these ideas together. His economic program is a moral program and conversely. Why the quartet of leading economic issues—education, energy, health, banking? Because they are at the heart of government’s moral mission of protection and empowerment, and correspondingly, they are what is needed to act on empathy, social and personal responsibility, and making the future better. The economic crisis is also an opportunity. It requires him to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on the right things to do.

6. Systemic Causation and Systemic Risk

Conservatives tend to think in terms of direct causation. The overwhelming moral value of individual, not social, responsibility requires that causation be local and direct. For each individual to be entirely responsible for the consequences of his or her actions, those actions must be the direct causes of those consequences. If systemic causation is real, then the most fundamental of conservative moral—and economic—values is fallacious.

Global ecology and global economics are prime examples of systemic causation. Global warming is fundamentally a system phenomenon. That is why the very idea threatens conservative thinking. And the global economic collapse is also systemic in nature. That is at the heart of the death of the conservative principle of the laissez-faire free market, where individual short-term self-interest was supposed to be natural, moral, and the best for everybody. The reality of systemic causation has left conservatism without any real ideas to address global warming and the global economic crisis.

With systemic causation goes systemic risk. The old rational actor model taught in economics and political science ignored systemic risk. Risk was seen as local and governed by direct causation, that is, [by] short-term individual decisions. The investment banks acted on their own short-term risk, based on short-term assumptions, for example, that housing prices would continue to rise or that bundles of mortgages once secure for the short term would continue to be “secure” and could be traded as “securities.”

The systemic nature of ecological and economic causation and risk have resulted in the twin disasters of global warming and global economic breakdown. Both must be dealt with on a systematic, global, long-term basis. Regulating risk is global and long-term, and so what are required are world-wide institutions that carry out that regulation in [a] systematic way and that monitor causation and risk systemically, not just locally.

President Obama understands this, though much of the country does not. Part of his challenge will be to formulate policies that carry out these ideas and to communicate these ideas as well as possible to the public.

7. Contested Concepts and Patriotic Language

As President, Barack Obama must speak in patriotic language. But all patriot language in this country is “contested.” Every major patriotic term has a core meaning that we all understand the same way. But that common core meaning is very limited in its application. Most uses of patriotic language are extended from the core on the basis of either conservative or progressive values to produce meanings that are often opposite from each other.

I’ve written a whole book, Whose Freedom?, on the word “freedom” as used by conservatives and progressives. In his second inaugural, George W. Bush used “freedom,” “free,” and “liberty” over and over—first, with its common meaning, then shifting to its conservative meaning: defending “freedom” as including domestic spying, torture and rendition, denial of habeus corpus, invading a country that posed no threat to us, a “free market” based on greed and short-term profits for the wealthy, denying sex education and access to women’s health facilities, denying health care to the poor, and leading to the killing and maiming of innocent civilians in Iraq by the hundreds of thousands, all in the name of “freedom.” It was anything but a progressive’s view of freedom—and anything but the view intended in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.

For forty years, from the late 1960’s through 2008, conservatives managed, through their extensive message machine, to reframe much of our political discourse to fit their worldview. President Obama is reclaiming our patriotic language after decades of conservative dominance, to fit what he has correctly seen as the ideals behind the founding of our country.

“Freedom” will no longer mean what George W. Bush meant by it. Guantanamo will be closed, torture outlawed, the market regulated. Obama’s inaugural address was filled with framings of patriotic concepts to fit those ideals. Not just the concept of freedom, but also equality, prosperity, unity, security, interests, challenges, courage, purpose, loyalty, patriotism, virtue, character, and grace. Look at these words in his inaugural address and you will see how Obama has situated their meaning within his view of fundamental American values: empathy, social and well as personal responsibility, improving yourself and your country. We can expect further reclaiming of patriotic language throughout his administration.

All this is what “change” means. In his policy proposals the President is trying to align his administration’s policies with the fundamental values of the Framers of our Constitution. In seeking “bipartisan” support, he is looking beyond political affiliations to those who share those values on particular issues. In his economic policy, he is realigning our economy with the moral missions of government: protection and empowerment for all.

It’s Us, Not Just Him

The president is the best political communicator of our age. He has the bully pulpit. He gets media attention from the press. His website is running a permanent campaign, Organizing for Obama, run by his campaign manager David Plouffe. It seeks issue-by-issue support from his huge mailing list. There are plenty of progressive blogs. MoveOn.org now has over five million members. And yet that is nowhere near enough.

The conservative message machine is huge and still going. There are dozens of conservative think tanks, many with very large communications budgets. The conservative leadership institutes are continuing to turn out thousands of trained conservative spokespeople every year. The conservative apparatus for language creation is still functioning. Conservative talking points are still going out to their network of spokespeople, who [are] still being booked on tv and radio around the country. About 80% of the talking heads on tv are conservatives. Rush Limbaugh and Fox News are as strong as ever. There are now progressive voices on MSNBC, Comedy Central, and Air America, but they are still overwhelmed by [the] Right’s enormous megaphone. Republicans in Congress can count on overwhelming message support in their home districts and [home] states. That is one reason why they were able to stonewall on the President’s stimulus package. They had no serious media competition at home pounding out the Obama vision day after day.

Such national, day-by-day media competition is necessary. Democrats need to build it. Democratic think tanks are strong on policy and programs, but weak on values and vision. Without the moral arguments based on the Obama values and vision, the policymakers [will] most likely be unable to regularly address both independent voters and the Limbaugh-FoxNews audiences in conservative Republican strongholds.

The president and his administration cannot build such a communication system, nor can the Democrats in Congress. The DNC does not have the resources. It will be up to supporters of the Obama values, not just supporters on the issues, to put such a system in place. Despite all the organizing strength of Obama supporters, no such organizing effort is now going on. If none is put together, the movement conservatives will face few challenges of fundamental values in their home constituencies and will be able to go on stonewalling with impunity. That will make the president’s vision that much harder to carry out.

Summary

The Obama Code is based on seven deep, insightful, and subtle intellectual moves. What President Obama has been attempting in his speeches is a return to the original frames of the Framers, reconstituting what it means to be an American, to be patriotic, to be a citizen and to share in both the sacrifices and the glories of our country. In seeking “bipartisan” support, he is looking beyond political affiliations to those who share those values on particular issues. In his economic plan, he is attempting to realign our economy with the moral missions of government: protection and empowerment for all.

The president hasn’t fooled the radical ideological conservatives in Congress. They know progressive values when they see them — and they see them in their own colleagues and constituents too often for comfort. The radical conservatives are aware that this economic crisis threatens not only their political support, but the very underpinnings of conservative ideology itself. Nonetheless, their brains have not been changed by facts. Movement conservatives are not fading away. They think their conservative values are the real American values. They still have their message machine and they are going to make the most of it. The ratings for Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are rising. Without a countervailing communications system on the Democratic side, they can create a lot of trouble, not just for the president, not just for the nation, but on a global scale, for the environmental and economic future of the world.

George Lakoff is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of The Political Mind and Don’t Think of an Elephant.

[edits] mine

More Than a Theory February 16, 2009

Posted by Daniel Benjamin Smith (dsmith77) in Commentary, Faith, Science.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

Rich Deem over at http://www.godandscience.org/ has posted a Book Review of Hugh Ross’ new book, More Than a Theory: Revealing a Testable Model for Creation athttp://www.godandscience.org/evolution/more_than_a_theory.html. The review is a short read but the following two quotes stood out to me.

“Appendix A provides additional information regarding the Bible as the origin of the scientific method.”

“Instead of resorting to name calling, ridicule, fear, and personal attacks, RTB challenges others to issue predictions from their models to see which models produce the best results in the coming years.”

Now, I haven’t read the book yet, but I plan to. I would also probably recommend it to anyone that’s curious about my worldview.

My Christian Worldview February 16, 2009

Posted by Daniel Benjamin Smith (dsmith77) in Faith, Science.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Over at Rebecca LuElla Miller’s blog, A Christian Worldview of Fiction, I’ve been part of a lively discussion concerning my Christian worldview of science and how that interacts with my faith. The particular post in question is: Is God Cruel, Deceptive, or Incompetent?.

I invite those that wish to know more about my beliefs to read through the comments there, but here are a few quick excerpts:

“I guess what I’m saying is there must be a foundation for the belief. I trust what the bible says too, but I believe God invented the laws of the universe that are studied in science as well. Thus, they are also a trustworthy avenue of inquiry. Only when an interpretation of scripture and empirical evidence from science are found to be in agreement can I be certain that I have found the right explanation. (Otherwise, look to an incorrect interpretation of the scripture or the scientific data.) God inspired both and He can’t contradict Himself. Thus, both will be in agreement when understood properly”

And:

“Now, I don’t want this to turn into a debate about evolution. I completely reject evolution as an explanation for human origins. That said, evolution, when understood properly as merely the scientific principle of change over time, is something I do believe exists. Now, do not confuse the two! Since that last sentence is probably not clear enough, let me be even clearer. Evolution does not explain where humans came from. Only the bible can explain that. Evolution utterly fails to explain how even the simplest creature formed on its own without divine intervention. But as adaptation or ‘change over time’ evolution is a good, usable model for scientific inquiry. This should not be misunderstood as one species converting into another like apes into humans or dogs into cats. That doesn’t work, there is no evidence for it, and I simply don’t believe it happens or ever happened. But creatures do exhibit small changes over time. As climate changes creatures adapt or migrate. This is what evolution means. Separate this from the human origins issue. They really are separate (but obviously related) issues that often stay confused by well-intentioned Christians.”

To clarify:

“’For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:’ – Romans 1:20 (KJV)”

“’For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.’ – Romans 1:20 (NIV)”

“I think this verse clearly states that the natural world (what has been made) is a trustworthy source of truth. If it can convict of sin, then it’s a very powerful witness for God indeed. Thus, we can trust what we find in nature, in science, to tell us the truth about God. If it happens to conflict with scripture, I say look into the interpretation of the thing. Either the interpretation of scripture or the explanation of nature is faulty since both are done by fallible humans. It’s also possible that there isn’t enough information yet. Any of these things will give the appearance of an incompatibility when there really isn’t one.”

Finally:

“Somehow, I just don’t see God changing things and then covering it all up. That comes across as deception to me and that is outside God’s nature. Why is it so difficult to believe that God is so intelligent and so powerful that He got the entire universe right and working perfectly right from the beginning without needing to make any changes or exceptions, ever, along the way? It seems that an appeal to God having to manipulate His creation on occasion lessens His power and majesty. That’s a small God in my opinion. My God has no such shortcomings. But, just because He can doesn’t mean He did or had to.”

Designer Babies February 14, 2009

Posted by Daniel Benjamin Smith (dsmith77) in Science.
Tags: ,
add a comment

Source: SciGuy: The era of designer babies. We’re there?

I think the title says it all. It was only a matter of time probably. Science and technology sure have taken off in only a decade or so to make what used to be science-fiction science-fact.

A Test of Authenticity for Christianity February 10, 2009

Posted by Daniel Benjamin Smith (dsmith77) in Faith.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

How can a person separate the wolves from the sheep in our society? Many profess Christ but not all are genuine in their confession. So how can we tell if a person is authentic or not?

John 13:35 (NIV) states, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The word “Christian” means being christ-like so there we have it. If this comes across as too simple, keep in mind that simple tests are generally better. They can be applied much more easily under many different circumstances than more complicated tests.

I suppose I came up with this test in response to the controversy surrounding President Barack Obama’s faith claims. Some believe him and some do not. I would like to take this post as an opportunity to explore what my readers believe about our new President. So, what have you to say on this subject?

(By the way, I always look to scripture to back up my claims. I have found it to be a necessity if I do not want to be ignorant on a subject or wrong. Plus, all such statments of belief immediately have credence because they are founded on scripture. It is essential to do so.)

A Definition of Religion February 5, 2009

Posted by Daniel Benjamin Smith (dsmith77) in Faith, Science.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
2 comments

Source: Is Christianity Religious?

The above article interests me because it presents different definitions of religion. And the definition of religion is most definitely a squirrelly thing to determine.

So, what’s your definition of religion?

Don’t have one do you? I wasn’t joking when I said it was hard to define if you’ve never tried, but I’ll add one more definition to the list from the post above. Religion as defined by the sum of its parts is an organization and collection of holy texts, founders, priests, observances, and traditions.

Or you could say that religion is simply a set of beliefs about God. I guess that’s two more definitions.

Interestingly, my second definition, if correct, makes even atheism a religion as it’s a belief about God. And doesn’t evolution have holy texts (On the Origin of Species), founders (Darwin himself), and priests (Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, etc.)? One of the ten commandments does say to have no other gods before Jehovah. I wonder if that’s because it’s so easy and common?

How about your thoughts?

(Keep it light-hearted, please. I’m not trying to make any enemies or insult anyone’s beliefs. I am however poking fun at what I see as a glaring hole in the arguments of those that hold anti-faith views. I really do want to explore the definition of religion so let’s have at it! Propose and defend your definitions!)

Barack Obama and Doubt February 5, 2009

Posted by Daniel Benjamin Smith (dsmith77) in Faith.
Tags: , , , ,
comments closed

Source: “This is my hope. This is my prayer.” – The White House Blog.

For all those that questioned the faith of our 44th president read this. This is President Barack Hussein Obama’s speech at the annual National Prayer Breakfast. And it is his testimony.

“Good morning. I want to thank the Co-Chairs of this breakfast, Representatives Heath Shuler and Vernon Ehlers. I’d also like to thank Tony Blair for coming today, as well as our Vice President, Joe Biden, members of my Cabinet, members of Congress, clergy, friends, and dignitaries from across the world.

Michelle and I are honored to join you in prayer this morning. I know this breakfast has a long history in Washington, and faith has always been a guiding force in our family’s life, so we feel very much at home and look forward to keeping this tradition alive during our time here. 

It’s a tradition that I’m told actually began many years ago in the city of Seattle. It was the height of the Great Depression, and most people found themselves out of work. Many fell into poverty. Some lost everything. 

The leaders of the community did all that they could for those who were suffering in their midst. And then they decided to do something more: they prayed. It didn’t matter what party or religious affiliation to which they belonged. They simply gathered one morning as brothers and sisters to share a meal and talk with God. 

These breakfasts soon sprouted up throughout Seattle, and quickly spread to cities and towns across America, eventually making their way to Washington. A short time after President Eisenhower asked a group of Senators if he could join their prayer breakfast, it became a national event. And today, as I see presidents and dignitaries here from every corner of the globe, it strikes me that this is one of the rare occasions that still brings much of the world together in a moment of peace and goodwill.

I raise this history because far too often, we have seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another – as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance. Wars have been waged. Innocents have been slaughtered. For centuries, entire religions have been persecuted, all in the name of perceived righteousness. 

There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some of our beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. We follow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how we came to be here and where we’re going next – and some subscribe to no faith at all. 

But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know. 

We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. Jesus told us to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself.’ The Torah commands, ‘That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.’ In Islam, there is a hadith that reads ‘None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.’ And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule – the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth. 

It is an ancient rule; a simple rule; but also one of the most challenging. For it asks each of us to take some measure of responsibility for the well-being of people we may not know or worship with or agree with on every issue. Sometimes, it asks us to reconcile with bitter enemies or resolve ancient hatreds. And that requires a living, breathing, active faith. It requires us not only to believe, but to do – to give something of ourselves for the benefit of others and the betterment of our world. 

In this way, the particular faith that motivates each of us can promote a greater good for all of us. Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. This is not only our call as people of faith, but our duty as citizens of America, and it will be the purpose of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that I’m announcing later today. 

The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another – or even religious groups over secular groups. It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state. This work is important, because whether it’s a secular group advising families facing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job-training to those who need work, few are closer to what’s happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations. People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them.

We will also reach out to leaders and scholars around the world to foster a more productive and peaceful dialogue on faith. I don’t expect divisions to disappear overnight, nor do I believe that long-held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish. But I do believe that if we can talk to one another openly and honestly, then perhaps old rifts will start to mend and new partnerships will begin to emerge. In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we can begin to crowd out the destructive forces of zealotry and make room for the healing power of understanding. 

This is my hope. This is my prayer. 

I believe this good is possible because my faith teaches me that all is possible, but I also believe because of what I have seen and what I have lived. 

I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I’ve ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done. 

I didn’t become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck – no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God’s spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose – His purpose. 

In different ways and different forms, it is that spirit and sense of purpose that drew friends and neighbors to that first prayer breakfast in Seattle all those years ago, during another trying time for our nation. It is what led friends and neighbors from so many faiths and nations here today. We come to break bread and give thanks and seek guidance, but also to rededicate ourselves to the mission of love and service that lies at the heart of all humanity. As St. Augustine once said, ‘Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.’

So let us pray together on this February morning, but let us also work together in all the days and months ahead. For it is only through common struggle and common effort, as brothers and sisters, that we fulfill our highest purpose as beloved children of God. I ask you to join me in that effort, and I also ask that you pray for me, for my family, and for the continued perfection of our union. Thank you.”

%d bloggers like this: