What hope is there for democracy?

After reading James Dobson’s comments on a speech Barak Obama gave back in 2006, I read Scot McKight’s blog post addressing a few of the ways in which Dobson distorted what Obama actually said.

I hope you can listen to Dobson’s talk; listen to how he represents what Obama was saying. Listen carefully. Judge for yourself…

Here’s my take: Dobson and his companion commentator routinely distorted what Obama was saying by rephrasing and capturing what he said in their own context and for their own agendas. For instance, Obama hypothesized (Dobson didn’t get this) what would happen if we moved all nonChristians out of our society. Even then, he was suggesting, we’d have diversity. Then, Obama asked, if we lived out the Bible which parts would we choose? Would it be Leviticus or Deuteronomy — and he brings up shell fish and stoning one’s son — or would it be the Sermon on the Mount, which Obama stated would be difficult for the Defense Dept to apply. Dobson and his guest got into how the OT laws aren’t for today.

What they miss here is that Obama is talking about how to live in a pluralistic society…

My big point is that Dobson is doing Christians, evangelical Christians, and the country a disservice in misrepresenting the intent of Obama’s comments.

Look, this is not about my defense of Obama for President; I still don’t know who I will vote for. This is about public civility and discourse, and we’ll never get anywhere if we don’t represent the other person accurately.

While reading Scot’s comments, I thought again of David Dark’s book, The Gospel According to America: A Meditation on a God-blessed, Christ-haunted Idea. The further I get into David’s book, the more I think it is essential reading in an election year. In the opening pages, David writes, “If we lose the ability to disagree without vilification, to refrain from slandering each other like poorly raised children, what hope is there for discussing real problems and real solutions intelligibly? What hope is there for democracy?”

And a couple pages later, there’s this.

In view of the reigning, obsessive haste to characterize a position as biased or agenda driven, I want to state at the outset that this work simply aspires to be a prayerful meditation upon odd times. In my conversations, I strive to keep people from too quickly jumping to a “So what you’re really saying is…” and myself from an angry “What I really meant was….” What seems to be required is an armistice in which we agree to refrain from assuming we know what’s been said before we’ve had time to listen to or think about it. A conversation void of willful misconstruals is indeed a rare thing, but it might also be a way of witnessing to the coming kingdom. We get to have different thought habits and communication skills from that which is modeled for us on the news networks of our entertainment conglomerates, and we get to be more interested in loving well than in putting someone in their place (whatever that might mean) or making sure everyone knows (through joke, bumper sticker, or mass e-mail) where we stand.
Authentic witness, confession, and testimony might not be easily transmitted through the medium of television or easily discerned amid the slogans and mantras that characterize too much of our public discourse, but we have to try for it anyway as we attempt to make sense of our worlds. Careful thinking and listening might threaten entertainment networks that advertise themselves as news outlets while dreaming up new methods of branding our anger to better sell themselves to a fractured populace, but such care is essential for the general welfare of our American culture.

4 thoughts on “What hope is there for democracy?”

  1. Well, I ordered that book, because it sounds good from that excerpt. But I’m going to need an extra push to read it because I had to read that excerpt twice!

  2. You got it after reading it twice? Congrats, you’re doing good. Most of the book is like this, so it is not an easy read, but I’m finding more thoughts from the book going through my head throughout the week than anything else I’ve read recently.

  3. It’s not completely clear to me there is much hope for democracy in an increasingly pluralistic culture.

    Contrary to what McKnight and perhaps Dark seem to think, the polarization we’re experiencing in this country might not be from a failure to listen to and understand one another. More likely, it comes from understanding one another very clearly as we take irreconcilable stands on issues.

    Obama thinks legal abortion is a good. I think it’s an evil. No amount of listening or “dialog” will repair what is a fundamental, unbridgeable difference between us. When societies become so diverse there can be no agreement on fundamental issues (including, btw, whether the issue of whether democratic government is legitimate) then democratic government cannot long function.

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