Religion in Politics, the Unmentionable Divide

It is a thundering irony that Barack Obama should be mistaken for a Muslim on one hand and criticized because of his Christian beliefs on the other.

The thought came to me this morning as I read a column by New York Times writer David Brooks, who was scoffing at Obama’s message of hope and change.

Brooks is a lifelong “conservative,” and that may be one reason for his opposition to everything Obama stands for. But I suspect there is another reason: Brooks, a Canadian-born American, grew up Jewish. And, that might have a lot to do with his view of the world.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with growing up Jewish. But there are basic differences in philosophy between the Judaic faith and the Christian faith, differences that the so-called Evangelicals often seem to miss. For example, the concept of justice (an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth) is Judaic. The concept of mercy (forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us) is Christian.

That’s a yawning chasm to cross in politics. But surely, the concept of hope is one that the Children of Israel must have embraced as they toiled in bondage to the Egyptians and later wandered in the wilderness. Surely, it was hope that kept them going. And it was faith that parted the Red Sea, sustained Noah as he built his ark, and brought the walls of Jericho tumbling down.

When Obama promises to strive for a world in which “every child everywhere is taught to build and not to destroy,” he is giving voice to a Christian precept. I can understand why Brooks might not share that objective. The Jewish tradition is far more militaristic; the ancient Israelites were given to much smiting of hip and thigh.

But when Brooks sneers at Obama for suggesting that the walls separating human beings from each other could be breached by hope and faith, he is ignoring the Judaic lesson of Jericho.