President Barack Obama should be commended for his speech at Cairo University today. He did a marvelous job of articulating principles on which opponents can agree, thereby pointing the way toward common ground on which peaceful coexistence can be built.
While the President undoubtedly has a gift for telling people what they want to hear, his visionary speeches often do not give adequate weight to the intractable problems inherent in a situation. At times, he speaks in platitudes that, while agreeable to his audience, have no foundation in his own worldview.
The President spoke plainly about Islamic extremism, the rights of women and girls in Muslim countries, the rights of Jews to a homeland, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the legitimate aspirations of all people who live under tyranny to live in peace and freedom – and he did it in a way that would displease few in his audience. We would all love to live in the world Mr. Obama envisions. “The people of the world can live together in peace,” he said.
Like utopians of all ages, however, Mr. Obama fails to give human depravity the weight it deserves. He admits there are some who “eager to stoke the flames of division” and that others are “skeptical that real change can occur.” But he insists that ” We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning.” If only we would trust each other. If only we would listen to each other. If only we would do what reasonable people of integrity should do.
Mr. Obama’s speech should be praised, and people all over the world should work at living by the principles he espoused. But not everyone will. In fact, most will not.
One reason for that is sinful human nature. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” No amount of Pollyanna platitudinization will change that. Those who believe they are strong will always strive to establish themselves above those who are weaker. Many of them will resort to any measure necessary to achieve their goals. Many will tell people what they want to hear, then proceed to do the opposite. A few will be elected to the highest office in the land.
What troubles me most about Mr. Obama’s speech is his confusion about his own convictions.
He acknowledges, for example, that the promotion of democracy around the world has been a matter of some controversy and asserts that “no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.”
Then in the next breath he declares: “That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”
He adds that the United States “will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.”
Admirable values. I couldn’t agree more. But what makes his values right? There are many powerful people who do not share our ideals. There are some entire societies that have no concept of human rights. Mr. Obama’s liberal/progressive worldview insists that no one society has a right to impose its values on other societies, that no individual should force his or her values on another human being.
Fine. Couldn’t agree more.
But what do you then say to a society that rejects the notion of human rights altogether? What do you say to a popular dictator who says he is going to do what he wants to do and will punish anyone who opposes him?
The fact that Americans have warm, fuzzy feelings about human rights and democracy means nothing to the Kim Jong Ils of the world. Self-serving, power-hungry people care nothing for what others think. If an entire society votes, what is that but majority opinion? Haven’t majorities throughout history routinely approved of oppressing minorities?
Mr. Obama’s pious platitudes about human rights and democracy – as much as we all agree with them – mean nothing to a society that doesn’t share our values.
And they even mean nothing in a secular society like America, because it rejects the truth on which they stand: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Mr. Obama presents himself as a Christian, and that is good, because the values he preached in Cairo today are meaningless apart from the context of Christian belief. But a very large segment of those who voted for him reject Christian belief out of hand. Many of them will be angry that Obama himself publicly clings to religion, which they believe is a crutch for people with weak minds.
Yet they also cling to remnants of a bygone era that have no place in a secular world: the values of human rights and democracy that make no sense apart from the Christian truth on which they are founded. Apart from the witness of a resurrected Jesus Christ to the Word that God himself has given, no one can claim to know what is just – or unjust.
You must be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that your values are true. The alternative is either chaos or tyranny.