Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Don't Give Touchdown Jesus The Finger

Hey, Catholics...what's wrong with you, anyway?

Some Catholics have whipped themselves into a frenzy over an invitation that was extended to President Barack Obama to give this little thing called a commencement address. Said Catholics are outraged (is there any group that's not outraged these days?) over Obama's position on abortion and stem cell research, among other things.

When I first read of this kerfuffle, the first thing that popped into my head was my own college experience and some of the mandatory courses and activities that I endured to meet the university's goal of broadening my horizon and exposing me to both critical thinking and opposing viewpoints, in the hopes that I would become a well-rounded, thoughtful, contributing member of society.

It wasn't enough for me to exit academia with essentially the same viewpoints as I held when I entered. I was challenged to debate all sides of an issue, even positions to which I was opposed, in order to better understand the myriad aspects of reasoning and provide substantive justification for my beliefs.

Throughout the campaign and into his presidency, Barack Obama has been a consistent proponent of this sort of thoughtful inclusion, welcoming (requiring?) opposing views and data points in pursuit of his ultimate goal, the best possible solution to a problem. Much has been written about how refreshing this approach seems after eight years of "you're either with us or against us" demagoguery.

So why is a major university inviting Obama to speak to graduating seniors? Perhaps because he espouses the virtues that I described previously. I doubt that university president Friar John Jenkins is trying to pressure his students to convert their religious views to match the political views of President Obama, and if that can be accomplished via a single commencement speech, perhaps the university should revisit more than just this invitation.

Rather, Jenkins is likely executing his solemn obligation to ensure that those who pass through Notre Dame are exposed to many different opinions and approaches, and are solidly capable of formulating deep thoughts and closely held convictions rather than relying on dogma as they are launched into the world.

Why are Catholics fearful of what Obama represents? What do they think is going to happen?

I was comforted to read the following quote from Jenkins that was part of his response to his critics:

"The invitation of President Obama to be our Commencement speaker should in no way be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of life, such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research," Jenkins said.

These "crucial differences" in positions on the protection of life are not being ignored in extending the invitation to the president, Jenkins said, but rather can be used as a catalyst for dialogue.

"We are not ignoring the critical issue of the protection of life. On the contrary, we invited him because we care so much about those issues, and we hope . . . for this to be the basis of an engagement with him," Jenkins said.

"You cannot change the world if you shun the people you want to persuade, and if you cannot persuade them . . . show respect for them and listen to them," he said.

Thank you, Friar Jenkins. It's nice to know that you have chosen inclusion instead of division, and that you are leading by example. Certain Catholics would do well to heed your lesson.

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