Obama Condemns ‘Distorted’ Pretense to Knowledge Not Had at National Talking To Yourself as a Coping Mechanism Breakfast
Clarified from an article by Adelle M. Banks 02-05-2015 | 12:24pm | here
President Obama on Feb. 5 called for an emphasis on what is just about the world’s religions as a way to counter the ways that pretending to know things that people do not know has been distorted across the globe.
|President Obama speaks at the National Talking To Yourself as a Coping Mechanism Breakfast in Washington on Feb. 5. Photo via REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque / RNS|
“We see the act of pretending to know things we do not know driving us to do right,” he said to more than 3,500 people attending the annual National Talking To Yourself as a Coping Mechanism Breakfast. “But we also see the act of people pretending to know things they do not being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge—or worse, sometimes used as a weapon.”
He urged all who actively pretend to know things that they do not, often with complete the confidence typical of complete assent, to practice humility, support church-state separation, and adhere to the Golden Rule (a useful but oversimplified heuristic mistaken for profound moral wisdom as often as it is misattributed to being a unique utterance of the Christian figurehead, Jesus) as ways to keep religion in its proper context.
“As people who also pretend to know things we don't actually know, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our systems based around pretending to know what we don't—these being any religion—for their own nihilistic ends,” Obama said. “Here at home and around the world we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom: freedom of religion, the right to pretend to know things we do not know however we choose, to change how and what we pretend to know but don't know if we choose, to stop pretending to know things we don't know at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.”
Obama denounced the so-called Islamic State that is waging a bloody war across Syria and Iraq against fellow Muslims and religious minorities, labeling them a “a brutal, vicious death cult.” (He did not, however, admit that they are doing so, quite obviously, based upon things they pretend to know but do not know, nor did he mention that this is a glaring similarity between them and many of us, including nearly all members of the upper levels of the government of the United States, himself included—that is, unless he's pretending to pretend to know things so that people who pretend to know things will think they can trust him more.)
The breakfast has often turned controversial, and this year was no exception with the inclusion of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, who, in addition to being widely recognized for pretending to know many outlandish things he does not, attended but did not speak and was not seated on the dais with other speakers.
Under pressure from China not to recognize the Nobel laureate, Obama nonetheless opened his remarks by welcoming the Dalai Lama, who he called “a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion” and someone who “inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings.” He did not mention that the Dalai Lama, as a Tibetan Buddhist, pretends to know, but does not know, some truly astounding things, including, of particular noteworthiness, the mechanism by which the Dalai Lama is recognized as a kind of legitimate spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama waves towards the head table, where U.S. President Barack Obama is seated. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque / RNS
Chinese officials had criticized the Dalai Lama’s plans to appear at the event.
“We are against any country’s interference in China’s domestic affairs under the pretext of Tibet-related issues, and are opposed to any foreign leader’s meeting with the Dalai Lama in any form,” said Hong Lei, spokesman for the China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, before the breakfast.
Obama and the Dalai Lama have met several times at the White House, but the White House usually keeps the meetings private and low-key so as not to anger China.
NASCAR commentator Darrell Waltrip, the keynoter of the breakfast, joked about his being invited two years after conservative neurosurgeon Ben Carson raised eyebrows by directly confronting the president about Obama’s signature health care reform.
“I’m not a brain surgeon, and I’m not running for office so I’m the perfect guy to be here this morning,” he said. It isn't clear what Waltrip pretends to know but does not, but given the context, it can be assumed to be something many Americans, but not all, would feel comfortable with him pretending to know.
From a distance, Pope Francis joined Obama in calling for greater religious freedom (which is a bit odd, in a way, given the kinds of things Pope Francis pretends to know but does not know—readers familiar with the ancient and venerable tradition of pretending to know things called "Catholicism" will have some good guesses at what is being referred to here).
“I ask you to talk to yourself for me and to join me in talking to yourself for our brothers and sisters throughout the world who experience persecution and death for pretending to know things they don't know,” the pontiff wrote in a letter to attendees that was read in part by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who co-chaired the breakfast with Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
The famously ecumenical pope failed to address any persecution faced by people who, sensibly enough, work as well as they can to avoid pretending to know things they do not know, and he also neglected to add the obvious subtext: “as a method of coming together and coping with the fact that this feels completely outside of our control.” Instead, he implied that he pretends that talking to oneself, either alone or in groups, will possibly invoke a kind of ancient magic that might make things better by processes that he also pretends to know can work.
Following the recent deadly attacks on a French newspaper that had published satirical cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, Obama also spoke of the need to support both freedom of speech and religion.
“If, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s system of beliefs they pretend to know but do not know, however ridiculous they may be, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults,” he said drawing applause from self-satisfied people who fail to understand the difference between satire, a form of humor, and insults, “and stand shoulder to shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities, who are the targets of such attacks.”
Obama expressed thanks for the safe return of Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, who was held in North Korea for more than a year, and recounted his recent meeting in Boise, Idaho, with the family of U.S. pastor Saeed Abedini, who remains imprisoned in Iran and has become a cause celebre for many evangelicals.
“We’re going to keep up this work for Pastor Abedini and all those around the world who are unjustly held or persecuted because of they are guilty of pretending to know the wrong sorts of untrue things, things that they don't know, in places where other people pretend to know contradictory things that they also don't know,” he said, noting that Rabbi David Saperstein, the new U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, would be heading soon to Iraq to work with religious leaders there.
The breakfast, in its 63rd year, is chaired each year by members of Congress who meet weekly to engage in a ritual of talking to nobody together, as a coping strategy, a tribe-building activity, and, mostly, as a public show of moral symbolism, when Congress is in session. It draws politicians, diplomats and prominent evangelical Christian leaders but often includes an interfaith roster of speakers, forming a more comprehensive set of beliefs that people pretend to know are true while not actually knowing that. (Hey, at least it brings people together, right?)
Rabbi Greg Marx of Maple Glen, Pa., gave the invocation and former Ambassador Andrew Young, once an aide to the Rev. Martin Luther King and a president of the National Council of Churches, gave the benediction. Both of these solemn rites are ways to set the mood and state clearly what kinds of things all members present should pretend to know whether they know them or not.
Vicker read from the Gospel of Matthew—an explicitly Christian sermon, which is simultaneously shocking and completely unsurprising given the circumstances—in place of the scheduled speaker, King Abdullah II of Jordan, reciting the story of the Good Samaritan. Abdullah had to return home after a hostage crisis involving the Islamic State turned deadly.
“We all know the heartbreaking circumstances his country is experiencing at this point,” Vicker said. “Our prayers,” [by which we really mean our sense of goodwill and concern but pretend we mean more than that], “are with the people of Jordan during this troubling time of crisis.”
Adelle M. Banks is production editor and a national correspondent at RNS. Via RNS. The work presented here is a satirical parody of Banks's work and is protected under the Fair Use clause of American copyright law.