Thursday, May 3, 2012

Barack Obama: Sin 2.0

   Earlier this week in his Best of the Web Today column at WSJ.com, James Taranto wrote about a 2004 interview of then-Senate candidate Barack Obama by Chicago Sun Times religion reporter/columnist Cathleen Falsani.  The full transcript of the interview was published in 2008 by BeliefNet.com.  A reader had brought the interview to Taranto's attention, and one part in particular caught his eye:
Falsani: Do you believe in sin?
Obama: Yes.
Falsani: What is sin?
Obama: Being out of alignment with my values. 
This is a tad ambiguous. Is Obama declaring himself the ultimate moral arbiter, so that you are a sinner if you are out of alignment with his values?
That would be an uncharitable construction. It seems more likely that he is declaring himself his own moral arbiter, so that he is a sinner if he is out of alignment with his own values. To our mind it is not a recognizably Christian conception of sin.
    Taranto is indisputably correct as far as he goes.   An agnostic himself, Taranto's interest is, I gather, more intellectual than doctrinal.  But as a Christian for many years, I’ve had many opportunities to hear people explain their Christian beliefs, some with more success than others.  Especially without time to prepare, many who call themselves Christian struggle to articulate clear definitions of sin, the gospel, and other Biblical concepts.  However, Barack Obama’s answer of “Being out of alignment with my values” to the question “what is sin?” is particularly disturbing because it is actually the antithesis of a Biblical view of sin.
    Romans 3:23, a verse most children hear early in their Sunday School days, says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Sin is “being out of alignment” with God's values, not ours.  The president’s definition is more reminiscent of Polonius in Shakespeare's Hamlet telling Laertes, “To thine own self be true.”  Indeed, in the very next portion of the interview, Obama uses quite similar language.
Falsani: What happens if you have sin in your life?
Obama: I think it’s the same thing as the question about heaven. In the same way that if I’m true to myself and my faith that that is its own reward, when I’m not true to it, it’s its own punishment.

Being true to oneself is not necessarily bad advice (at least if one is a generally good person), but it’s no more found in the Bible than “God helps those who help themselves,” and it certainly misses the mark when trying to nail down “sin.”  Without a true understanding of sin, there is little hope of recognizing the need for a Savior.  As Paul put it later in his letter to Titus (3:5), "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy [God] saved us."  Our hope is in God being true to Himself, not us to ourselves.  "Let God be true though every one were a liar," says Romans 3:5.  That is a much more secure foundation that heaven is our reward than anything we could ever do on our own.

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