Georgetown Covers Up Name of God for Obama Speech: Wise Move

CNS news, a sort of “central nervous system” of persecution-fetishists, has been running a story claiming that the Obama administration had the monogrammed name of Jesus on a pediment covered up when Obama spoke Georgetown’s Gaston Hall.

This, of course, is supposed to be “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” proof Obama hates God, wants to restrict all public mentions of God, yadda yadda yadda.

But honestly, stop and think about the situation for a few seconds. If the school hadn’t covered it up, can you imagine the right-wing snark over the resulting photos of Obama with the Catholic initials for Jesus hovering right over Obama’s head like a label? The tediously predictable sniggering over how Obama thinks he’s the second coming? It’s a classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

Indeed, I can not only imagine this happening, but I’m pretty sure that people like the NRO’s Corner bloggers would be leading the chorus of sniggering just as enthusiastically as they’re now leading the chorus of snarking over covering up the sign. They might even wag a finger at a Jesuit school for implicitly endorsing an abortion rights supporter.

And the reality is that, in this case, Obama’s folks sound like they made the right call. They didn’t affect any changes to the building or its religious iconography. They simply made sure that the President’s direct backdrop didn’t claim any special banner headline giving any perceived special religious endorsement to the words and politics of a secular leader.

The picture from the CNS story also raises my suspicions a little as to whether this is really such a strange occurrence at the school for secular speakers in the first place: the initials are blocked out by a black piece of plywood that very well could be a fairly common feature, put in place any time a speaker isn’t trying to claim Jesus’ mantle. If it comes out that this is a fairly regular occurrence, chalk it up to yet another instance in which CNS has conveniently left pertinent information out of their stories to ratchet up the partisan outrage.


~ by Drew on 2009/04/16.

17 Responses to “Georgetown Covers Up Name of God for Obama Speech: Wise Move”

  1. Obama: There can only be one, ‘One’.

    Some people have argued that Obama does not want to use religion to further a political ideology. However, Obama did evoke the Sermon on the Mount, at this Georgetown appearance, to further his economic agenda. Although Obama failed to mention Jesus Christ by name for the Sermon on the Mount.

    “There is a parable at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that tells a story of two men…‘the rain descended and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house…it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock,’” Obama said.

    “We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand,” he added. “We must build our house upon a rock.”

    The last statement is particularly ironic since building your house upon a ‘ROCK‘ means to build your house with Christ as the foundation. Obama decided to blot out the real foundation from the timeless parable.

    See the hi-res pictures:

  2. Referencing a principle/poeticism from the Bible as an illustrative metaphor and claiming to have your views and politics specially endorsed by God are two very different things.

    I’m not sure in what way you think you’re using the word “ironic” here, either.

  3. Not that Obama hates God, but it sure seems that he doesn’t respect God. Honestly, they should have moved the stage around if they had a problem with a symbol of Jesus. I see your point about some seeing the symbol over his head and claiming conspiracy, but we all know that very few people can do anything in public without half the world thinking it’s wrong. The one thing right in the world today is God. I don’t like that they had the symbol covered.
    What’s ironic about the sand/rock symbolism is that the Dems started eroding the rock when they decided that everyone who wants one should be able to own a home.

  4. Well, he may or may not respect your concept of God, but I don’t agree that this demonstrates as much about his attitude towards God as it does his attitude towards how the office of the President is supposed to compose itself.

    Every President has ideas about how entangled and upfront various aspects of religion should be with the office. And these ideas don’t necessarily track directly with the person’s actual religiosity. Very religious people can believe, as many of the founders did, that religion is too important to let it be sullied by the imposition of or connection to base political motives.

  5. No, no. It’s their logo. It’s a Catholic University. You don’t want to be sectarian only visit neutral sites like government buildings and street corners. Asking Georgetown to cover up jesus’ name is like going to a Buddhist guys house and asking him to drape a cloth over the Buddha head so it doesn’t look like you’re supporting their beliefs. Just plain disrespectful.

  6. See, my point is that the opposite could also been seen as disrespectful: trying to seize the authority of holy places and icons to provide yourself with a backdrop that’s simply not appropriate to your realm of authority.

  7. Nah. Showing up at a school means he’s beholden to them. He’s still campaigning and that’s what that shows. He isn’t and can’t claim he’s got Georgetown in his pocket.

  8. Was symbolism paramount for our president during his campaign? Does symbolism seem to be significant to him in the early months of his presidency? To my eye, symbolism and imaging are highly valued by this president. And it is this that makes the White House’s request to Georgetown officials give me pause.

    This follows the President’s recent statement in Turkey, a moderate Islamic nation, that America is not a Christian nation. True, we are not a theocracy. We are not the Holy Roman Empire of medieval Europe. There is unparalleled religious freedom in our nation. It’s one of the things we are the best at. But if we are going to be honest with history, we will realize the unique and special role that Christianity played in the founding of our nation and the shaping of our laws and culture. History is not a fluid thing that can be massaged and reshaped. I had a professor who enjoyed saying, “Wishing so does not make it so”.

  9. I don’t have any problem with saying we are not a Christian Nation. We are historically a majority white nation too (though not for much longer) but it would be just as wrong to call the U.S. a “White Nation.” Christianity and whiteness are both important parts of American history, playing “unique and special roles,” but again: not in a way that fully characterize or limit or define us. Our special experiment, what made us distinctive since the founding, is one of secular government: we are not of or for only one race, creed, or religion. Heck, even the some of the founders declared that we were not a “Christian Nation” straight out back in the Treaty of Tripoli, and no one had any problem with the idea back then, of thought that it denied Christianity’s place in our history and society. And we were even more majority Christian back then than we are now.

    If anything, I’ve found that it’s advocates of Christian Nation who have misunderstood our history. Our system of government and core principles under which we’re all conglomerated into a nation were not Biblical (in some cases they run fairly contrary to Biblical principles) but distinctively Enlightenment rationalist. The Federalist Papers do not cite religious principle to justify the structure and ideals of the country: they make arguments about pragmatic politics. This was never meant to deny Christianity or its influence: it simply was about remembering that there is a difference between citizens and their own convictions and beliefs, and the mundane political and patriotic structures they operate under, which are made to serve the polity as a whole, not debate or push any particular religious credo. As far as the founders were concerned, that was good for religion, not a slight against it.

    And, ironically, for almost two centuries, the religious right of the country decried our Constitution as Godless and spent their efforts trying to pass an Amendment to fix this perceived problem. Only in the last 50 years or so have they turned around an declared that we’ve always been a Christian Nation after all, which really seems to miss the point.

  10. “Nah. Showing up at a school means he’s beholden to them. He’s still campaigning and that’s what that shows. He isn’t and can’t claim he’s got Georgetown in his pocket.”

    He was beholden to them, as his hosts: his people made a request, and the hosts honored it. They could have denied it. But they seemed to think it was appropriate as well. I still think that the alternative would have come off more arrogant. Even one of the NRO guys said as much: that had he spoken with the name of Jesus hovering over his head, someone would have snarked about Obama being holier than thou. So they avoided that particular silly scene. Seems like a good idea on the whole to me.

  11. I think both sides here are oversimplifying history. America has always been more religious than its European counterparts. The question what the nature of that religiosity was. There was always a back and forth between Deists (the natural religion of the intellect) and Christianity. Christians have viewed Deism as G-dless even though they did recognize some divine being. Christians also regarded Jews as G-dless to put things in perspective. The Constitution was Deist; that’s why Christians viewed it as G-dless. Atheism is a relatively new phenomenon and now when Christians look at the Constitution they can retroactively attribute the religiosity in the document not to Deism but to Christianity.
    However, Christianity has dominated the religious scene in America and to not call it a Christian nation is a deliberate slap in the face to the heartland who didn’t vote for him. It’s also part of a clear trend to making nice to the Muslim world. Ultimately this is what it’s about. He isn’t reaching out to anyone else when he says this. He’s giving $900 million to Hamas, and snubbed India on his last campaign trip around the world.

  12. No, to not call it a Christian Nation is simply a fact about the nature of our government. It does not exist to serve Christianity any more than, as I noted, to serve white people, even though both are in the majority. And I sort of wish the “heartland” would stop going out of its way to try and imagine up slights where there aren’t any.

    I certainly don’t support Hamas, but I don’t really see what’s such a bad idea about reaching out to the Muslim world. What’s the alternative: condemn every last Muslim nation and refuse diplomatic contact with them? And that will help Israel… how, again? Trying to appeal diplomatically to those in that part of the world that might potentially be more interested in economic development and stable states than jihad seems like a pretty good idea.

    But noting that the US is a not a Christian Nation is not some sort of kowtowing to Muslims. It’s an important principle in its own right.

    I wouldn’t say that Constitution is Deist anymore than it is Christian. It wasn’t animated by any one shared theology or even much to do with theology at all: it was, instead, very much all about political principles and trying to find rational and negotiated solutions to earthly problems.

  13. There are many things about this country that are Christian to the exclusion of other religions. It is monogamous; many other societies are polygynous and the Tibetans are even polyandrous. Prohibition was completely Christian. Jews were still allowed to have wine for kiddush under it but banning booze? Completely Calvinist.
    What liberals call the white majority is a misnomer and possibly racist in itself. Jews are 3% of the population and are not white except for affirmative action purposes. Ronald Reagan, Mr. Whitey, was Irish as in no Dogs or Irish allowed. I believe John McCain and half of Boston are also. Many of Long Island’s whites are Italian, another “white” group who experienced prejudice in America. Descendants of slave owners are definitely a minority.
    I really don’t think you understand the Islamic World. Negotiations with the Islamic World, even “moderates” has not helped Israel and there is no reason to think otherwise. Just think about it. No, not all Muslims are suicide bombers. But use the rule of standard deviation even if suicide bombing is two standard deviations away from the norm well let’s see 1.25% of 1.5 Billion that equals 15-20 million suicide bombers. The world has appealed to the Muslim world many times, and look how they’ve used that diplomacy. More than half of the censures from the U.N. are against Israel-most initiated by the Muslim world. Israel is worse than Pol Pot, Pinochet, Khrushev, and Arafat combined? They may not be sending out suicide bombers but they have certainly not been condemning them, at least to the extent where we cannot consider them passive supporters. Our great sage Eliyahu of Vilna said the real nature of even is going with the wind in whatever direction it blows.
    You do not understand classical Islamic philosophy. It is very absolutist without logic. T”hey have no reason to compromise with the West so diplomacy won’t work. I can explain it to you later. The only way to make them back down is if they have something to lose.
    Although it is certainly a rationality heavy do not ignore the Christian and Deist aspects. Creating a “more perfect union” connotes more than just practicality. There is a reason Locke and Hobbes are put in the American History text books before the Revolution. And if you want the Christian part of it listen to Sean Hannity he went on a whole tirade of Christian quotes from the forefathers of this nation.

  14. “There are many things about this country that are Christian to the exclusion of other religions.”

    I don’t really see what that has to do with anything though. There are many things about this country that were whites-only for a long time. Again, that doesn’t make us a “White Nation.”

    Pointing out that whites are and have been a majority is not in the least racist, and your discussion of whether or not Jews or Irish people are white doesn’t even make sense in the context of this discussion. My point is that cultural majorities, and even sometimes the way those majorities try to impose themselves on the law, does not define what the nation and its government are all about and stand for.

    I also have no idea what you mean about not understanding the Muslim world. We’re talking tactics here, and tactically, yes, diplomatic negotiations with Muslim countries HAS achieved all sorts of productive ends: the fact that the history of the region has been filled with betrayals and setbacks and bad faith on the part of many Islamic Nations does not demonstrate that diplomatic negotiations never work, or are a bad idea in general.

    And I’m not even clear what you think the alternative is anyway. You really think that nothing about the conduct or Islamic nations can change or affected by how they are dealt with?

    “And if you want the Christian part of it listen to Sean Hannity he went on a whole tirade of Christian quotes from the forefathers of this nation.”

    A lot of the most popular of which, cited by the Hannity crowd, turn out to be fabrications, by the way. But again, I haven’t said that there isn’t a huge and vocal majority of Christians. I’ve said instead that citing that completely misses the point of what it means to say that we are not a Christian Nation.

  15. I’m saying that there is a very strong Christian foundation to the country and just saying we are not a Christian nation is inaccurate. It’s probably the greatest influence on the codifiers of the Constitution. Therefore, saying that this isn’t a Christian country means there’s a different set of values governing this country’s values. Now who’s are those? I think you can figure out whose values those are, and they are not representative of the majority of Americans.
    What the majority culture is generally does define the culture and I’d like to see an example where this is otherwise. By saying America is a blended culture shows that no one group dominated. Saying whites as a monolith ruled this country is “whitewashing” history in a very dangerous way. You seem to be from the Howard Zinn school of history which is ridiculously distorted. I’m not even sure it qualifies as history. The fact of the matter is the vast majority of the groups that formed the identity of this country were Christian of some type or another. What you are saying that whites ran the country is racism since it groups all white people, and some that aren’t, into one category of an “us and them”. It’s just not true. Not all whites are the same by any stretch and refusing to recognize this is racism.
    I’d really like to see examples where diplomatic outreach to the Muslim world has been really successful, and what you mean by it. The Muslim world as a whole is moving toward the extreme and perceived capitulation is being seen as a victory for Islam. Iran is going full steam ahead with the bomb despite diplomatic solutions. Egypt is still smuggling weapons into Gaza since the Camp David accords. Syria is still whining about the Golan. All Oslo did was to arm the Palestinians and make them more militant. Islamic republics are being voted in all over the place. Hamas got the vast majority of the Palestinian vote. Hizbollah is part of the Lebanese parliament and picking up steam. Please enlighten me how diplomatic relations have achieved productive ends.
    I believe that we can change how they behave. I just think they have to have something to lose by continuing the course they are going and right now especially with the current administration they don’t. I definitely support the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think the most prudent way to start is having real sanctions, removing any countries supporting terrorism from the U.N., and moving the U.S. embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem and supporting Israel to finally annex their land. America also needs a comprehensive energy policy to get off oil quickly and without rhetoric, but in the meantime tap American oil supplies to get over the hump and stop supporting OPEC. That will demonstrate that the goals they seek to achieve are not working and that they better find a new way of doing business.
    If you’re going to accuse someone of manufacturing sources you better have proof. It’s an easy way to dismiss an argument if you just dismiss people’s sources without dealing with substance.
    End of the day-the major intellectual forces that this country were founded on were Christianity and Deism. If we’re not a Christian country now there must be some other ideology driving it to take the place. I’m very curious what the President thinks that is and I’m even more curious to find out if most Americans agree with that choice.

  16. You seem to be confused: I’ve argued that calling the US a White Nation is misguided, not correct: and misguided in exactly the same way that calling it a Christian Nation is. Christian ideas are just as fractured and complex as race, and in the case of the founders there’s little mystery about what sorts of ideas they were debating and where they came from: you can go and look. You won’t find many theological debates or references. What you will find is a lot of references to continental philosophy, legal theory, economic theory, and all sorts of other things which were as much in opposition to Christian social and governmental ideas of the day as they were contextualized by them, but mostly existed outside of any sort of Christian framework, intellectually. And that’s because a lot of what the founders were interested in was plain political rationalism and realism.

    I’m still not clear on what you think the alternatives to diplomatic relations with Islamic World are. The fact that many of these countries break promises and have records and behaviors that are disappointing and dangerous has little to do with whether or not having good diplomatic relations has been a benefit.

  17. Perhaps I am. It seems we are in agreement about the white issue, though coming at it from different viewpoints. The Christian theology issue we definitely argue on. The founders may have come off rational in the Constitution itself, though the Declaration of Independence definitely has more theological implications. Even the idea of a “more perfect union” can by albeit forcefully construed as having religious overtones. I find myself between a rock and a hard place he because I would agree Christian theology doesn’t always fit with rationality, but I feel a need to defend its rationality and yet still show it is the backbone of the founding ideals of this country because of the possible inferences one might make back to religion in general which is much more rational. I know you’d debate that and I’d love to in a separate forum.

    I think I’ve been perfectly clear: marginalize countries that do not actively crack down on Islamic militants and do not denounce them in both English AND their native tongues (Arabic, Farsi, Pashto etc.) because while they will do it in English they won’t do it when they don’t think Westerners will check up on them. Trade embargoes, removal from the United Nations, and military action on any government not only building arsenals themselves but are dumping money into other countries to do their dirty work for them. There was a great thinker I will paraphrase “In America we are good natured and benevolent and we assume the rest of the world is like us. We cannot fathom when this is not the case where reason breaks down and people are bent on wanton destruction. The normal avenues of diplomacy do not work and are perceived as weakness and not good will.” Something to that effect. People who deal in Jihad don’t play nice. If an Islamic country will not join us in the war on terror, we can reasonably assume at least some in the government are pulling for the other team. Repeated dishonesty and breaking promises is exactly a reason not to reward them with compromises and equal play in the global theatre.

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