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Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast

11:09 AM, Feb 5, 2009 • By TERRY EASTLAND
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Surprisingly, President Obama didn't mention the Second Great Commandment--love thy neighbor as thyself--in his inaugural address. But he did this morning at the National Prayer Breakfast. Obama described it as "one law that binds all great religions together," quoting equivalents to the commandment from the Torah and Islam, and noting that Buddhists and Hindus, followers of Confucius, and humanists all have such such an ethic as well. By "humanists" Obama meant non-religious or secular humanists--those who, as he said elsewhere in his remarks, "subscribe to no faith at all." Obama said that loving thy neighbor (or however you want to state this ethic) involves doing. As he put it this morning: giving "something of ourselves for the benefit of others and the betterment of our world."

In focusing on what has been called "neighbor-love" and its universality, Obama is following in the path of George W. Bush, who made those same points many times over. And what Bush started--a White House office that seeks to enlist faith-based (and non-faith-based; got to have everyone!) charities in fighting stubborn social problems, like homelessness--Obama will continue, and expand. Obama noted that his office would not blur "the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state." Obama didn't say how such blurring might occur but probably had in mind the question of whether a faith-based group may take religion into account in its employment decisions. Bush said yes, Obama has said no, and while there has been some division on this among his aides, he's likely to continue to say no.