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The Rec Report

Monday, 18 February 2008

 

Obama and the Faith-Based Believers

While numerous commentators have noted the resemblance that the Obama "movement" bears to religious cults and evangelical Christian revivals, few if any have remarked on the similarity that this ethos bears to the credo of the current administration. Yet we who have witnessed the postulates of faith-based politics and policies for seven blessed years cannot fail to see how the cult of "belief" seems to parallel in tone if not substance the current administration's admonitions that we not question its pronouncements and rather take its conclusions on faith. A pesky thing known as rationality is to be set aside as the devil's device.

One senses incredulity from the Obama supporter who regards hesitance as tantamount to treason on the battlefields of liberalism. Just how can we non-believers redeem ourselves in the church of Obama, or if not in that hallowed, high-church haunt, in the public sphere at large?

Resisting Obama fever posits one in a subject position analogous to that of the Victorian unbeliever, with only the political valences reversed. That is, to be a non-believer in the Obama crusade, one is deemed an "infidel," an unbeliever-at best, a stale policy wonk or at worst, out of step with the inevitable march of history toward salvation and redemption-nothing short a detractor of the Second Coming of Christ.

But, as I said, the political valences are apparently reversed from the 19th-century context where unbelief was avant-garde, because not supporting Obama can be made to appear regressive, hostile to "change." Yet to the degree that Obamania requires a leap of faith, a religious conversion, the victory of belief over doubt, I contend that one can resist and still retain one's hard-won progressive credentials.

For those who remember the Bush leaps of faith on matters as diverse yet interconnected as war, the environment, the economy, the claims of science and the evolution of species, it appears incumbent on all who would hold fast to any standards for evaluating actual progress to resist all such calls to faith-based change or belief. Skepticism is more important than ever in a world recovering from delusions. We are living in an afterlife of faith-based policies and yet we are not in heaven.

To consider how one can reframe the debate, I would like to characterize how unbelief is being produced out of belief-how evangelicalism, as it did in the 19th century, has actually fostered infidelity and aObamism, a disbelief in Obama.

The Obama occult is chaffing at many whose credentials have been tried in the kilns of political activism and yet are nevertheless facing inquisitions for heresy. How can we abstain from voicing the requisite hosannas? Isn't this the messiah we have waited for, the redeemer to free us from the bondage of Bush and "Washington." Washington and Bush-the city named for the first president and the most recent incarnation of the devil in the last. These are the twin devils and Obama is the savior. Or, to translate that into Obamania, we are the saviors we have been looking for.

Yet for battle-tried crusaders, the Obama incantations ring like Panglossian platitudes, while in the hard work ethic pronounced by Clinton, we hear reverberations of the battle-actions we have been mounting for years. In other words, some resentment for the parvenu, who only now hear the clarion calls for 'change,' is accruing on those who see the latter-day saints as somewhat dilatory. Call that selfish resentment if you will. But hear us out.

Crass materialists, we wonder what is being shrouded under the robes of the chorus and long for the concrete. Secularists, we have demanded that the warm dusk of amelioration be expressed in earthly terms. Yet, we are being figured just as the Democrats were just before the Iraqi Crusade. Our concerns are being deemed "domestic" and "mundane" as compared to the eschatological promises of the movement.

But the devil is in the details and we wonder if the details hold, if they are ever even expressed where Obama is concerned. For one, we see that the promises are often hollowed out in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the flesh for the word. See, for example, the provisions for nuclear waste after the pronouncement of curses on the Exelon evil.

Secondly, Obama's rise and the uprising that follows feels like unearned advantage to stodgy believers in meritocracy. We see in the dismissal of experience, the triumph of style over substance, the victory of glitz over hard work, something of the ageism that accompanies the US cult of youth. This is the same ethos that provides Generation Y with its sense of entitlement. This group projects onto Obama their own fantasies of immediate gratification and reward, the belief that they too can be presidents-of companies and the like-right out of school. How many of us middle-aged have been the victims of that unseen, impossible-to-refute, and seemingly sanctioned prejudice-ageism?

Lastly, and most fearfully, we see signs of the final eclipse of evidence, of empiricism, of reason. Some (conscious or unconscious) postmodernists celebrate this demise. The US, they suggest, has at last reached the longed for Mecca of equality-where even facts and fictions pass as equivalents in the realm of discourse. The juxtaposition of the different, the incommensurate, the historically removed; the loss of historical referents in the immediacy of the aesthetic moment; the hailing of the ecstatic and the redemption from "meta-narratives;" the bricolage of evangelical religion, liberal politics, and post-racial unity; the celebratory deliverance from details and specifics-these they suggest mark the new 'post-partisan' era, the end of divisive rancor, the end of ideology itself. For many, never having managed to develop a consistent worldview or ideological frame, this movement spares them a lot of work. For others, it looks like a Trojan horse that may very well smuggle in the soldiers of defeat-not of ideology, but of material change. Dialecticians, we see the material as the final determinant in a last moment that may never come. Nevertheless in it we look for the results that we seek. In the meanwhile, the hosannas continue to peal and echo against the walls of stubborn reality.

Dr. Rec, The Rec Report

Michael D. Rectenwald, Ph.D.

 

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