Barack Obama talks a lot about faith. Curious as to how his spiritual inspirations might concretely affect his politics, I went to his website and clicked on “faith.” I found the usual boilerplate about “the global battle against AIDS” and a call — now familiar to connoisseurs of the Obama style — for “deeper, more substantive discussion.” I also found an exhortation to “religious people” to translate their “concerns” into “universal values.”
Few values can be more universal than that of human freedom. Few have historically been as intertwined with religious sensibility. Yet Obama, the candidate of faith, has done little to oppose modern liberalism’s embrace of a secularizing agenda that has weakened the power of religion to promote the “universal value” of freedom at home and around the world.
The free institutions we enjoy in the West today are in part a by-product of the traditions of Judaism and Christianity, which insist on the innate dignity of each and every human life. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him,” says the Book of Genesis. Even the weakest among us, Christ taught in the Beatitudes, has value in the eyes of God.
Hundreds of years passed before the West translated this belief into political institutions that recognize that all human beings are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.
It took a while, but it happened. The question today is whether these institutions can flourish in the face of rapid secularization.
A Judeo-Christian cultural heritage is not, to be sure, a sufficient condition for free institutions: witness Russia. Nor is it a necessary condition: witness India and Japan. Yet the idea that animates those institutions is intimately related to the spiritual culture of the West.
Take a look at Freedom House’s 2008 map of the world, and it’s clear that free institutions are strongest in Europe, in what was once the seat of Christendom, and in places colonized by European nations — the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, India, and South Africa. Perhaps free institutions will one day prosper throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. At present they do not.
“If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God),” T. S. Eliot said, “you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.” Eliot’s warning has not been taken seriously by liberals, among them Obama himself, who in five areas of current controversy sides with the secularists: