Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The Voice of Saruman...

Apologies for what may seem a rather crude, fundamentalist comparison, but watching Obama's much-anticipated speech to the Notre Dame Class of 2009 reminded me of the empty persuasion of Saruman's words in The Lord of the Rings:

Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment. Those who listened unwarily to that voice could seldom report the words that they heard... Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves.

Obama's words were met with great adjulation by the staff, students and parents present at the graduation, and his oration was very gracious and measured, yet it was without any real content, other than that it undermined an objective notion of truth and morality. He reduced people's beliefs (for example, beliefs that embryo stem cell research is wrong) to 'admirable convictions,' which themselves are opposed by convictions equally as admirable. Instead of locating moral debate in a search for what is true, obviously done with charity and respect for the other person, he subtly shifted the arena to 'holding firm to our principles without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions.' He says that in a world of competing claims about what is true and right, we should 'have confidence in the values with which [we've] been raised and educated,' though here he assumes that the value of these values lies not so much in their being true as in them being the ones we have been raised with. He is constantly reducing truth to a subjective realm in which it is merely a dialogue between different opinions, and what we can't know with certainty we make up for by believeing strongly. He says even faith 'necessarily admits doubt,' and so 'it's beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what... [God] asks of us.' The teaching of Vatican II on Revelation in Dei Verbum (which I've got an exam on in two weeks!) says otherwise: Scripture teaches 'firmly, faithfully and without error the truth that God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures.' In the Church, Tradition and the Magisterium guarantee the handing on of this truth. God does not abadon us to our own devices, but makes His saving will knowable for all. This doesn't mean we know God's will fully, but nevertheless we can really know it.

Most ironically, Obama calls for 'sound science and clear ethics' in our hospitals when talking of ways to minimize abortion, and yet this is precisely the crux of the argument against abortion - that it is unscientific and ambiguous in trying to establish its ethical validity. Obama says we should 'appeal wherever we can to universal rather than parochial principles,' but how do we do that if universal principles themselves - about what it is to be human - are labelled parochial and small-minded?

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