Editorial by John-Henry Westen

May 20, 2009 ( – President Barack Obama’s speech at Notre Dame Sunday held out as a central thesis a false theology of faith; a false theology contradicted by the Bible, by ancient Christian writers and by the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

A central point in the President’s speech was “faith” and its supposed inherent “doubt.”  Obama told the students: “Remember, too, that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It’s the belief in things not seen.  It’s beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us … And this doubt should not push away our faith.  But it should humble us.  It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much self-righteousness.  It should compel us to remain open and curious and eager to continue the spiritual and moral debate.”

The Christian vision of faith, however, excludes doubt about the articles of the faith and does not admit it as Obama suggests that it “necessarily” does.

The Bible, in the book of Hebrews, defines faith as “the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence (or certainty) of things that appear not.”  (Hebrews 11:1)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes specifically: “Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. To be sure, revealed truths can seem obscure to human reason and experience, but the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives.”

My name sake, John Henry Newman wrote on the subject. While admitting intellectual difficulties with articles of the Christian Creed, he never doubted the doctrines attached to them.  He said famously: “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.”

In the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote on the subject, distinguishing between understanding, faith and opinion.  He pointed out that opinion lacks certitude, but both understanding and faith have it.  Understanding relies on reason, faith on authority. “A faith that lacks certainty is not really faith but rather opinion,” he wrote.  (De Considertione, Bernard of Clairvaux as quoted in The Assurance of Things Hoped For: A Theology of Christian Faith by Avery Dulles)

Christians need never doubt the evil of abortion, or the immorality of sexual relations between two persons of the same sex.  These are absolute and unchangeable truths taught by faith but also knowable by human reason – and therefore doubly certain.

Obama continued with his theme of doubt saying: “this doubt should remind us even as we cling to our faith to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works and charity and kindness and service that moves hearts and minds.”

The President then delivered his answer to the puzzle of living in the world of diverse faiths. “For if there is one law that we can be most certain of, it is the law that binds people of all faiths and no faith together,” he said.  “It’s no coincidence that it exists in Christianity and Judaism; in Islam and Hinduism; in Buddhism and humanism.  It is, of course, the Golden Rule – the call to treat one another as we wish to be treated.  The call to love.  The call to serve.  To do what we can to make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share the same brief moment on this Earth.”

Interestingly, all committed Christians can agree on this point, but the result will not be what Mr. Obama is intending.  Speaking as someone who was once on the proverbial ‘other side,’ who was living a lifestyle contrary to the Gospel, who was anti-life, I know that the most charitable loving thing Christians can do for those on the ‘other side’ is to love them enough to let them know that their behavior is harmful to themselves, and especially to their eternal salvation.

It is love to have the courage to tell the active homosexual that his behavior is harmful for him physically, emotionally and spiritually. It is kindness to tell the abortionist that God loves him and will forgive him if he’d only repent and stop the killing.  It is an act of charity for the bishop to tell the errant pro-abortion Catholic politician that he may not receive Holy Communion until he repents of his support for abortion. The Golden Rule does not – as Obama hinted that it does – simply mean that we ought to suspend our faculties of judgment and accept error (a truly fatal error in the case of support for abortion) against our better judgment.

In this day and age it is the easy road to allow our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters in Christian parlance, to do as they please in these areas.  It is tough to stand up to societal pressures and muster the nerve to speak out in love against that which leads to perdition.  But, if we truly love our brothers and sisters, if we care about them as a father does for his child, then we must love them enough to let them know the truth even if it hurts.


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