Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A vague belief in something that works

Barack Obama's comments in San Francisco have thus far been analyzed primarily for their anticipated political effect in the upcoming primaries. Albert Mohler is more concerned about another question:
....Sen. Obama has given us a near-perfect expression of a functional view of religious belief. In other words, Sen. Obama said that "religion" is a coping mechanism for hard times — lumping religion with other issues his audience members were presumably to find strange and alien.

A functional view of belief assumes or "brackets" the question of whether the beliefs are true. One who holds to a purely functionalist view of religious conviction is not concerned with the truthfulness of these beliefs, but only with the effects the beliefs have on the believer, both privately and in social contexts.

No one but God knows Sen. Obama's heart, but we are left with his words. In this case, the words are very similar to what is so often heard from political figures. When speaking of their own faith they often speak of how it functions. Sen. Clinton spoke this way at the "Compassion Forum" at Messiah College on Sunday night, but we must note that Republicans often speak the same way — valuing "faith" as if faith has no object.

A functional view of belief appears when people speak of their beliefs or the beliefs of others in merely pragmatic form. It can be a way of avoiding the particularities of belief - speaking only of how their belief system functions in their lives. This function can be in terms of a coping mechanism, hope, comfort, moral guidance, or any number of effects. [....]

...functional views of religious belief are found among both conservatives and liberals. In one famous example, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, conveyed a functional view of religious belief in an almost quintessential expression. Speaking on Flag Day in 1954, President Eisenhower said: "Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith — and I don't care what it is."

As presidential historian William Lee Miller once noted, Eisenhower was a "fervent believer in a very vague religion." [more]
The Real Issue with Sen. Obama's Comments

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