Michele Dillon is Professor of Sociology at New Hampshire University. Writing in The Immanent Frame, a blog of the Social Science Research Council, Dillon detects President Obama’s “Catholic sensibility” in his Notre Dame speech:
Thus at Notre Dame, Obama demonstrated the practical sense that he has long been credited with and also unveiled a new religious sensibility, one that has heretofore been silenced by the moral complexity of issues (as on stem cell research, for example). Obama has put religion back in civil religion, and has achieved this not by simply invoking religious words in public setting (“God bless America”), but by deploying a narrative style that both fits with, and gives lived experience, to the theological argument that universal moral principles are a society’s foundation and anchor.
If you are skeptical about whether Obama’s speech reflects a “Catholic Sensibility”, and you should be, you might want to check out the comments section where Thomas Farr thinks it is “disingenuous (and a sign of moral confusion) to argue that the President “showed his ability to think and to talk like a Catholic” by employing “particular experiences as grounds legitimating the validity of universal claims.” Chris Eberle finds Dillon’s “paean to political power mystifying . . . and a wee bit disturbing.” Eberle reminds us that “Obama is a professional politician. Like any politician, he has interests, constituencies, debts to pay. As with any politician, we might want to keep those political interests in mind when we reflect on what he says. This might help us to identify contradictions between high-flying rhetoric and political reality.”
Thaddeus Kozinski cites a devastatingly passage from “The Speech of Saruman,” in Tolkien’s The Two Towers:
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. When others spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell. For some the spell lasted only while the voice spoke to them, and when it spake to another they smiled, as men do who see through a juggler’s trick while others gape at it.
Finally, I try to show how Obama’s rhetoric calling for a “reduction in the number of women seeking abortions” rather than “a reduction in abortions” reveals his rhetoric to be just so much smoke and mirrors.